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Regions of Japan – Kansai to Okinawa June 14, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Kyushu, Okinawa, Shikoku, 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 – Kansai to Okinawa” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-F0

Kansai is probably the second most popular area to visit by foreigner.  It is home to Japan’s second largest city Osaka, after discounting Yokohama.  It is also home to the most historically important cities in Japan, Kyoto and Nara.  Kobe is another major city but like Yokohama it can be considered as a suburban city of Osaka.  Kansai is also home of Wakayama which is famous for their Buddhist temples and the ability of foreign guests to spend a night and wake up to the prayers within the temples and Himeji, home to Japan’s most famous castle.  There is so much to talk about in Kansai that it is impossible to summarize it in one paragraph.  The people are very distinct and they have their own dialect.  It is often considered the comedy capital of Japan due to the number of comedians who call Kansai their place of origin.  The people are very outgoing and it is often easy to strike a conversation with a stranger compared to the cold and private Kanto region.  It is often a bit colder than Kanto but the warmth of the people more than make up for it.  There is a bit of a rivalry between people from Kansai and Kanto but I do believe it is more in jest rather than prejudice.  As for the food, Kansai is considered the capital for Japanese “soul food”.  They have things such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki.  They are experts in yaki soba and tonpei yaki.  It is mostly fried food but it is delicious.  Kyoto is a small exception as they specialize mostly in traditional Japanese foods that cost an arm and a leg at times.  Either way Kansai is a food lover’s paradise, unless you are trying to eat healthily.

The western end of Honshu is Chugoku.  It can easily be misinterpreted as China as Chugoku is also the same word for China.  This region is best known as the home of Hiroshima and Okayama however the Sea of Japan side includes Tottori and Shimane which are wonderfully beautiful rural areas in Japan.  The Yamaguchi prefecture is also a beautiful place but I have yet to visit that region.  The Sea of Japan side of Chugoku is best characterized as a rural area that appears to be disconnected to Japan itself.  The people seem to not worry about anything and tend to live life as an independent region to the other regions.  They are a proud area that is popular for domestic travel.  The southern region, in contrast, has been stigmatised by the tragic bombing of Hiroshima.  Most people will overlook Okayama and just visit Hiroshima.  It is a very important historical location and it is a place I highly recommend people to visit if they get the chance.  Unfortunately it can be a terribly humbling place due to the amount of artefacts that remind us of the terrible outcome of the atomic bomb.  You can’t travel within Hiroshima city without seeing reminders left right and centre about the bombing itself.  The people in the city are great and they try to live their lives as normally as possible.  The food is delicious.  They are famous for their oysters as well as okonomiyaki.  Of course Kansai is famous for okonomiyaki but the Hiroshima style is different and in my opinion, better.

Shikoku is a small island that is located just below Honshu.  It is an area that only a few Japanese people visit if they don’t have family in the area.  It also happens to be one of my favourite areas to visit.  It is a diverse region that is made up of 4 prefectures.  Each area is also unique.  The eastern side of Tokushima and the southern prefecture of Kochi often fight over who is better.  There is a very old and popular festival in both prefectures that are visited by thousands of Japanese people each year.  Both festivals claim to be the best and most exciting festivals in Shikoku and to be honest they are both wonderful to see.  While I haven’t been to either in person, it is difficult to travel the region and not see video of the traditional dancing during the festivals.        Ehime is the western prefecture that is well known for its onsen, Dogo onsen.  It is considered the oldest onsen in Japan and has various healing factors.  A little north of Matsuyama is Imabari which is famous for its towels.  In the north, you can also visit Kagawa.  It is famous for its udon noodles and also for Naoshima which is a famous art island.  It is a small island that is filled with various modern art sculptures.  Most of it is free however the main museums are not.  Overall, Shikoku is a very diverse region that rivals most regions of Japan.

Kyushu is the final region.  It is the western most main island of Japan.  It is famous for its food and onsen as well as its nature.  Most people will travel only as far as Fukuoka and northern Kyushu.  This is the area that has the best onsen as well as the best food.  Fukuoka is well known for its regional delicacies as well as being close to Nagasaki.  Nagasaki is not as popular but important for foreign tourists.  The southern region is not as well known but they are famous for shochu and various poultry and pork products.  One of the more interesting, yet overlooked, areas is Yakushima.  It is a small island just south of Kyushu’s main island and setting for Hiyao Miyazaki’s Princess Monomoke.  It is one of the few natural environments unique to Japan.  South of Kyushu is the Ryukyu Island chain which encompasses Okinawa.  Most people will lump Okinawa and the Ryukyu into Kyushu but that shouldn’t be the case.  Okinawa is, in its own right, a separate area.  They have a different history compared to Japan and have been fighting for their own rights as a small “nation within a nation”.  The entire chain of islands is beautiful, from the pictures I have seen, and make a nice vacation spot with lots of opportunities to relax on the beaches.  The culture is very unique with a unique style of music, dress, and language.  The food has been heavily influenced by the regional natural fruits and vegetables as well as the heavy presence of the US military.  One of the most famous items has to be Taco Rice which is basically taco filling on a bed of rice.  They also make use of bitter melon which is unique in Japan as other regions cannot grow bitter melon easily.

There is one region that almost never gets named when talking about regions of Japan.  These are the Izu and Ogasawara Islands (Bonin Islands).  These are a set of small islands that stretch south of Tokyo for over 1000kms.  The Izu Islands are a set of islands that are somewhat populated.  They have a lot of tourism however don’t expect access to be easy.  Farther away are the Ogasawara Islands in which only two islands are inhabited.  The Ogasawara Islands are historically more important that the Izu Islands.  Iwoto, or previously known as Iwo Jima is part of this group of islands where the US fought hard to get a foothold in taking down the old Imperial Japanese Army.  It has been a long time and few people visit these sets of islands.  In fact it is very difficult to get to any island other than Chichijima and Hahajima.  Most people in Japan never even consider visiting these islands so they have evolved into a very self sufficient area.  It is hard to believe that they are Japanese yet they are very much Japanese.

As you can see, Japan is a very long and diverse country.  Each region ranges from cool temperate to sub-tropical.  Japan is bound by 4 seas and 1 ocean.  There are 4 main islands and hundreds of other small islands that span over 1000 kilometres from one end of Japan to the other.  There are several mountain ranges and many diverse rivers.  Each region has their own distinct version of Japanese culture along with their own distinct foods.  People imagine Japan as being a homogeneous culture but they either forget or neglect that there are two indigenous groups, the Ainu in Hokkaido and the Okinawans in Okinawa.  You can also see the various culture differences between each region of Japan that is accentuated by the differences between people in the Kanto region and the Kansai region.  It is a wonderful country with many things to see.  Visiting only a few areas is not enough and visiting at one time of the year is not enough.  It can take a lifetime to fully explore every corner of Japan and even then you’d still have trouble experiencing everything.

Regions of Japan Information:

Wikipedia:
Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Kansai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansai_region
Chugoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABgoku_region
Shikoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikoku
Kyushu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ky%C5%ABsh%C5%AB
Ryukyu Islands:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryukyu_Islands
Okinawa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okinawa_Prefecture
Izu Islands:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izu_Islands
Ogasawara Islands: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonin_Islands

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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Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I] September 21, 2010

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 “Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tq

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while now, you know that I have had many trips in and around Japan, along with many road trips.  I have been taking road trips almost every year now on either a motorcycle or in a car.  In 2007, I took a trip to Hokkaido by motorcycle.  It was my first road trip, and a terrible one at that.  I was alone, cold and wet.  For my second trip, I rented a car for just a day and drove up to Nikko.  The route brought back a few memories of my trip to Sapporo, but with all the comforts of a car.  It was a pretty easy trip, but it taught me the pain of driving in the city, and trying to return to the city on a Sunday night.  One word can sum up that experience, traffic.  Last year, I had my epic adventure, and the last one on my bike.  I took a trip by ferry and rode my bike around Shikoku for two weeks.  It was a wonderful holiday that restored my faith in driving and riding in Japan.  It helped a lot that I went with a friend from Osaka.  Recently, June 2010, I embarked on my big road adventure of the year.  I headed to the San’in region, along with Hiroshima.  What follows is a recounting of what happened as we conquered the roads that lay ahead of us.

As many of you know by now, I have written about my adventures in San’in already.  I have talked about Tottori and Shimane.  My journey started with a flight from Tokyo to Tottori.  I left in the early morning and had time to spend an entire day in Tottori city.  I visited the Tottori Sand Dunes and that was pretty much it.  The actual adventure didn’t start until the next day.  We got up early again as we had a long day of driving ahead of us.  Thankfully, we had two drivers, one being myself, and the other being my friend from Osaka.  We rented a Mazda Axela, which is a Mazda 3 in North America.  It was a little big for what we needed, but we were expecting a total of 4 people in the car, but one person bailed as she booked the wrong tickets for the trip.  The car itself was big for what we needed.  We could have gotten a compact car instead of this one, but the added size made the trip very comfortable.  When we got the car we spent a few minutes fiddling with the GPS navigation system before we took off.  The GPS was easy for us to understand, but it would take at least 2 more days before it was easy to use.  If you ever rent a car in Japan, be sure to learn a little Japanese, or have a good understanding on how to guess the menu system.  It was difficult to use, but we all had various degrees of Japanese knowledge which helped us a lot.

Our first leg of day 1 was a trip along the coast.  We started with a short drive on the mainland to avoid the traffic and made good time.  We reached our junction, ignoring our GPS all the time.  We had our own route planned and the GPS was guiding us to the “best” route but not the most scenic.  Thankfully, we had enough knowledge of the road to navigate smoothly and soon enough we were pros at navigating.  When we hit the coast, we took our sweet time and stopped at a couple beaches. We got our feet wet and took many pictures.  It was a perfect start to the day.  Driving up and down the coast on the Sea of  Japan is amazing. I have heard from many motorcycle riders that the coast is amazing, and I would have to agree.  I would love to just rent a car, or even bring a bicycle to the area and just enjoy the trip.  I was told by a friend that taking the train is also spectacular, but I tend to get a little antsy on trains after a few hours.  At least with a train, I could drink alcohol and not worry about getting into too much trouble.

My friend from Osaka did the first leg of driving.  He handled the coast very well, which was pretty easy.  There weren’t too many turns and the signs were easy for us to read.  We had one tough section through a small town called Hawai.  The pronunciation is the same as Hawaii, and the town played with that name a lot.  Everywhere you went, you saw Hawaii signs and tourist attractions that were a little tongue in cheek with references to the beautiful island resort.  After the town, we switched drivers as my friend had bad experiences driving on small country side roads.  It was my first time to drive in a few months and over a year since I had last driven on the left side of the road.  It was a little shaky at first, but I got my road legs back very quickly.  Aside from getting used to the car, which happens with almost any new car I drive, things were easy.  We were quickly headed down the road that we chose, but we soon reached what looked like nothing more than an access road.  Being in the countryside of Tottori, some of the main highways between cities are more akin to an access road rather than a true road.  Unlike North American streets where designated highways must meet a certain criteria, in Japan, it just indicates the road.  Our first “moment” came as this access road was about 1.5 lanes wide and we came across a truck.  It was a big truck and a challenge.  I was facing the challenge of passing this oncoming truck with only a few centimetres on both sides of the car.  The truck driver was kind enough to stop on the side and let me do all the work, but considering his side had a wall, and mine a drop into a field, it wasn’t that bad.  Creeping slowly, I passed my first hurdle.  Little did I know, this would only be the beginning of our journey of the day.

The route we took to Daisen, our first real destination, was simple enough and only a few points of caution.  My map had a few warnings that the road we were about to embark upon was closed during the winter months due to the weather.  This didn’t worry me too much.  We had a nice car, supplies to keep us fed and hydrated, and lots of time.  By the time we reached the road, things changed very quickly.  The first challenge of a small countryside road was past, but we had another road that was also only 1.5 lanes wide.  Being the countryside, and having seen the last stretch of road, I thought that this would be a short stretch of narrow roads.  I was wrong.  We also had to contend with a few construction signs with which we had no idea what they meant.  After our trip, we reviewed photos of the signs, and the sign said that cars were not allowed in, but when we went, it had a sticker on top saying it was “cancelled”.  Essentially, we got lucky.  We ended up doing most of the trip up and around Daisen on the narrow style road.  I have had experience on these types of roads before in Canada.  In Victoria, there are a few nice places like this.  The road is narrow and the vegetation is abundant.  On this road, it was the same.  The overgrowth from the bushes and trees made it a challenge to drive.  Being a kinder driver, I took a little more time to get around, along with the fact that I was worried about oncoming traffic, whatever it may be.  We spent roughly an hour or so going up, down, and around the north side of the mountain in what was one of my toughest drives ever.  The road was immaculate, and the beauty of the forest was unrivalled.  If I had the chance to skip that area, I would probably say no.  It’s something that has to be seen and experienced.  Before long, we were at Daisen-ji and taking a long deserved break from the car.

Note:  This is part one of a two part series.  Please continue reading in Part II.
For further reading about the San’in region, please follow the links below:

Driving Information:

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – English): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chugoku_Expressway

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/中国自動車道

Izumo Orochi Loop (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/奥出雲おろちループ

Drive Plaza (Information on Expressways in Japan including travel times – JAPANESE): http://www.driveplaza.com/

About Touring in Japan (English): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto/map_e.html

How to Cycle Around Japan (This is for cycling, but it’s very useful for driving as well): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto_e.html

Touring Mapple (Official – Japanese): http://touring.mapple.net/

Rental Car How To (Japan Guide) [Note: There are links to major car rental companies towards the bottom of the page]:http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2024.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。


Miyajima Redux September 14, 2010

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 Redux” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tA

It has been a couple years since I last visited Miyajima, and I was excited to return to an area that I found to be the most beautiful place in Japan.  Since I last visited, I have made visits to the other three Top 3 Views of Japan, and I still think it’s the most beautiful of the three.  I have been to various areas including a trip around Shikoku, and a trip to the San’in area, and I still think Miyajima is beautiful.  While the natural beauty wasn’t as special this time around, the actual island didn’t disappoint me too much.  The second time around was not as good as the first time, but it was still great to say the least.

The first time I went to Miyajima, I went on a busy weekend.  I had time to see almost everything, and I did almost everything.  One of the main places I wanted to visit was the top of the mountain.  I enjoyed my trip up a rickety ropeway but this time, I was burdened with a choice to either hike up or not go to the top as the ropeway was closed.  I didn’t mind too much, but with the hot weather and the fact that I had been travelling for about a week already, I wasn’t up to the challenge of hiking up to the top.  Especially when I knew I would have to rush a little to get things done.  Instead, I decided to relax in the village and just absorb the atmosphere.

The first thing people should be doing is head straight to Itsukushima Jinja and the Torii.  It’s a short walk and you can see it from the ferry as you approach Miyajima.  The walk over on the weekend can be extremely busy with tourists taking up every available piece of real estate.  It’s a simple walk to get to the torii, and the best location for the view is generally reserved for those on tours.  They set up a set of benches/steps for groups of 10 or more to join together for a photo with the torii.  This area is the best for photos as you can see the torii with the main island in the background.  Like my last trip, I arrived at low tide, so I immediately made my way out to the torii.  Unlike last time, there were only a few people around the torii.  I was able to get more photos and not worry too much about getting in the way of other people.  Nothing had changed at all.  The gate was in the same location, with the same paint.  Although the paint did look a little older, it was still an amazing sight.  From there, I went into the shrine as it is a must see, even for a second time.  I headed in and felt that things were different.  With less people, pictures were much easier to take.  The only sad part was that there wasn’t a wedding happening this time.  I did get more time and things went much faster as there were very few people in the shrine itself.  Do be aware that on weekdays, while there are fewer tourists, there are hundreds of school kids taking educational tours of the island.  It’s tough to get around, but if you just wait a few minutes, they’ll soon pass.  The peak of these tours occurs around noon and in the early afternoon.

Afterwards, I headed over to a few of the other shrines in the area before my major task of the day, shopping!  I spent nearly the entire day in the shopping street of Miyajima.  Miyajima is famous for its wood products.  I have mentioned that Miyajima has the largest wooden rice spatula in the world.  You can still buy wooden rice spatulas (obviously not the largest one) as well as other wood products.  Finding things such as wood bowls and cups are harder to find, but chopsticks and chopstick rests are easy.  I was also introduced to an interesting character that looks a bit like a bald Buddhist monk.  Of course, they have the typical tourist goods such as t-shirts, pens, and whatnot.  I also had a lot of time to think about my gifts for friends.  Miyajima is the best place to buy momiji manju.  It’s a maple leaf shaped “pancake” with a sweet filling.  Typically, you’ll find red bean paste or custard, but in Miyajima you can also find macha, chocolate, and cheese.  There are a lot of flavours to choose from and I highly recommend trying them all.  I went to one famous shop that was recommended by the Japanese travel books.  The shop is easy to find.  It is the only shop that sells cream cheese filled momiji manju.  It can be easy to miss, but if you are looking for it, you will find it.

I also had a chance to eat in Miyajima.  It was the first time I had deep fried oysters.  Hiroshima is a region well known for its oysters.  They typically grill oysters in their shells and you can buy them for a few hundred yen each.  Being a weekday, these oysters were a little scarce, so I decided to go into a small restaurant and order a fried oyster set lunch for about 1000 yen.  I don’t normally enjoy oysters, but this time, it was delicious.  It was dangerously hot and I nearly burnt my tongue, but somehow, they got me to enjoy it.  Miyajima is also famous for its Anago, or salt water eel.  While it wasn’t in season, it was still a specialty of the area.  I can eat oysters, but I can’t eat eel, so I didn’t get a chance to try it.  While I was in Miyajima, I had a chance to run into a small liquor shop.  Of course it was focusing on souvenirs, but liquor was still a major presence.  Hiroshima is not well known for its liquor, but there is one brand of liquor that I generally recommend.  Kamotsuru is an old brand of sake that is somewhat well known in Japan, but well known in Hiroshima.  It is one of my favourite brands of sake and you can pick up bottles of it easily in Miyajima.  I was lucky to meet the store owner who gave me a little information (in Japanese) about the different varieties of Kamotsuru.  While I would recommend trying to speak a little with her, it’s best to wait until you are at Hiroshima Station and at a department store to get information as store owners in Miyajima have very limited English skills.  I have talked with many shop clerks about sake, so it’s easier for me to understand what they are saying.  Essentially, just buy what you want and hope you have the right type.

Miyajima is a wonderful island that will always leave me wanting more. I would love to be able to visit it again when the tide is in, and to go back to the peak of the island. It’s hard to find the time to go to Hiroshima, but I’m sure I’ll go back again someday. If you ever make it to Hiroshima, it is a shame if you don’t visit Miyajima as well. It’s not that close, but it is close enough that an extra day would not hurt.

The Miyajima series continues with Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan) and Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections).

Miyajima Information:

Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3401.html
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Miyajima

Itsukushima Jinja (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itsukushima

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。

Ferries of Japan May 4, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Ferries of Japan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-fk

Taking a ferry in Japan can be a completely new experience for anyone.  Taking a ferry in any country can be new.  Previously, my main experience on a ferry was in Vancouver.  Sailing between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay (Vancouver to Victoria) was a common experience.  It is only an hour and a half on a large sized ferry.  Usually there is a cafeteria and lots of seats to relax.  It plied the waters of the Georgia Strait and went between Mayne and Galiano Islands.  The trip was just over an hour and a half and it was a beautiful trip.  You can see the beauty of the natural forested islands.  The trip itself was generally calm, but at times, it could be rough.  As a motorcyclist, it was also great because you could easily get a spot on the ferry at anytime.  First off, you are usually the first to board the ferry.  You were boarded at the front of the ferry (first to exit) where no other cars could park.  From there, you had a wooden block placed under your bike for safety.  The car deck was also very flat as there were no places for tie downs.

My other experience on ferries was between Dover and Calais in the 90s.  My first crossing was in a hover craft.  Unfortunately, I heard the sailing has stopped.  The hover craft was a nice experience, but nothing to call home about.  It was noisy, bumpy, but fast.  It was akin to being on a small prop plane.  The second trip was on a standard ferry.  I was on a tour, so we walked on.  There was a nice large shop and by the time you finished exploring the ship, it was pretty much time to disembark.  I can’t remember the time it took to cross, but it should be about an hour and a half as well.  Finally, I had a chance to take a ferry between Hong Kong and Macau.  It was so long ago that I can’t remember it very clearly.  It was, for the most part, a short and forgettable experience.  Out of all of my experiences, I’d say the Dover Calais trip on a regular ferry was the best.

Japan is a whole new breed of ferry services.  It is distinctly Japanese.  I have only taken ferries because I was travelling on my motorcycle.  The first trip was a short hour and forty minute ferry ride.  It was between the fishing village of Oma and Hakodate, Hokkaido.  This short ferry ride is a typical ferry in Japan.  It is not too big and not too large.  The car deck was somewhat dangerous on a motorcycle, but I had a nice small area to park.  They would put a towel over my bike to protect it, and tie it down on both sides.  This is a very common thing to do in Japan.  Usually, motorcycles are the first to board, but it doesn’t mean they are the first to disembark.  Generally, they are the last, as the door can be in a difficult position.  It really depends on the ferry, as always.  The trip itself is not special.  There is nothing to really see until you reach Hakodate.  I’d say it was somewhat boring as well.  My second trip on a ferry in Japan was from Tokyo to Tokushima, as chronicled in my Shikoku adventure.  This is a very different breed of ferry.  It is much bigger.  There are two car decks, but only one is for passenger cars.  These ferries are mainly for transporting cargo, rather than passenger traffic.  However, they double as passenger ferries to service long haul routes.  During the busy times, there are dozens of motorcycles strapped to each other with barely any room to walk between each bike.  Thankfully, they still tie them down regardless.  This ferry has all the amenities to survive for weeks, if you have to.  The ferry from Oma to Hakodate had very few amenities.  Mainly drinks, some snacks, and maybe a little alcohol, generally nothing special.  It also smelt bad.  The ferry from Tokyo to Tokushima was a luxury liner compared to the other ferry.  Depending on the ferry, you might get your own restaurant, but both offered vending machine food, desert snacks, alcohol, and alcohol snacks.  You could also buy ice cream, play slots, and take a bath.  While the toilets weren’t great, you had pretty much everything you could need.

In general, ferries all over the world differ slightly from each other.  When travelling long distances, it’s always important to know what to bring and to always be prepared for rough seas.  I was lucky that I rarely travelled in rough seas.  Most of my trips were nice and smooth, with only a couple on rough seas.  I would highly recommend a nice leisurely trip on a ferry if you can afford it and have the time.  It’s a great way to relax and just think.  However, as most people who visit Japan come for only a week or two, it’s not the most viable option.  For those living in Japan, it’s a great way to have a new experience in life, and I highly recommend it.

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 Great Motorcycle Adventure – Part II (Wrap Up) September 1, 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 “The Great Motorcycle Adventure – Part II (Wrap Up)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-eP

By now, you have finished reading about Shikoku and you know what to expect if you visit Shikoku.  In this post, I’m going to be a little greedy and talk about my adventure, personally.

Preparing for this adventure was a chore in itself.  There are a million things to do, and a million things to plan.  I purposefully left everything till the last few weeks, but kept a basic plan in my head.  I never even had a good idea of how long I’d like to stay in each area until a week before leaving.  In fact, I never even locked my plans on how to get to Shikoku until the last second, literally.  I decided to take the ferry, roughly two nights before I left, and didn’t even reserve a spot until the day I left.  There are two main reasons why I chose to take the ferry.  The first, I didn’t feel like riding for 8 hours on the expressway, getting lost, looking for gas, and generally being bored on my own.  The main reason I took the ferry was that a friend of mine was also heading to Shikoku at the same time.  Instead of driving, or riding a motorcycle, he and a friend of his decided to ride their bicycles from Kochi to Matsuyama.  It was also a great adventure, and I felt honoured to be starting our journey together.  In fact, we almost didn’t even start together.  They barely made it onto the ferry as they were late arriving at the terminal.  On the ferry, I also met a German man who was on a trip to Kyushu.  It takes roughly two days to reach Kyushu, but we had a great time drinking, eating, and talking.  I believe I made the right decision.

My friend, John, has his own podcast.  You can view it here:  http://weblish.net/
Please subscribe to his main Weblish Podcast (Episode 40 a~f) to see his own documentary of his trip in Shikoku.

Upon riding down the ramp at Tokushima, I had to wait roughly 20 minutes for my friend to arrive.  He had to get gas, and he also got lost looking for the terminal.  I was getting antsy to get out as it was a beautiful day and I was hoping to head up to Naruto for the whirlpools.  As we were looking for the hotel, we had a little accident.  My friend dropped his motorcycle.  This was our only bad luck, in terms of riding.  It took us about 30 minutes to find the hotel, but when we did, we were just happy to be in Shikoku.  My friend, however, had no energy and needed to get off the bike for the day.  This would actually be the mood of the entire trip.  Ride a little, and then relax for the afternoon and night.  We toured Tokushima before going to bed.  The hotel was great, and I wish I could have gone back.  The owner had a big Ducati in the garage, free motorcycle parking, and free wifi in our room.  What more could we ask for?  He even gave us a little advice when we left for our trip.  Unfortunately, when we returned to Tokushima, the hotel was fully booked.

Riding down route 55 was excellent.  It was our first full day, and like any other adventure, we got lost.  The first time we got lost was when the road just stopped.  They were still building a bypass.  Thankfully, we needed the break anyways and it was relatively easy to get back on route.  We got to see pretty much everything I wanted to see, in terms of sights.  We saw a dam, the beach, and the cape.  It was a beautiful road and I wish I could go back again, someday.  I’m not finished with Muroto.  I only wish I had an extra 10 hours to enjoy some of the sights that we passed, especially the beaches.

Kochi was our first rest day.  Since we don’t ride much, it was a good opportunity to keep our batteries full.  We had a great time walking around and seeing all of the people.  My only regret is not bringing flip flops to walk around in.  It was only the third day and my feet were already starting to hurt from walking in motorcycle boots.  This was also the day that we decided to not use our motorcycles aside from getting from A to B, as we didn’t want to look for parking, and risk getting lost.  It is way too easy to get lost, especially without a navigation system.  We did have a map, but it was for the entire region, so it wasn’t detailed enough for us, wherever we went.  If I lived in the area, I would definitely want to explore the area a lot more.

Our next leg of the trip took us from Kochi to Ozu.  We had a tough time finding a hotel as we were in the middle of Golden Week.  We were lucky to find a room in a town we wanted to stay in.  We thought about taking route 56 all the way to the second cape, but thought we had better skip it as we took too much time taking route 55.  We also started our adventure on the expressway for the first time.  I can’t tell you how much time you can save if you take the expressway.  People go much faster, and there are very few cars.  It’s expensive overall, but well worth it, even for short distances.  We cut through the middle of the cape to reach Uwajima.  We had several plans for the day as we didn’t know how long it would take us to reach Ozu.  We decided that taking a junction to Uwajima, first, and then heading north to Ozu would be better as we had a lot of time.  We got lost in Uwajima, but that was to be expected.  We were more lost when we were in Ozu.  We saw a beautiful European style castle or palace on the side of the mountain, but we didn’t have time to go looking for it.  We both thoroughly enjoyed Ozu.  It was the kind of small town Japan that you can only dream of.  It wasn’t very small, but small enough that you can walk everywhere.  The town had a train running through every hour or so, the shops closed very early, and there really wasn’t a lot to do except enjoy the scenery.  It was extremely peaceful.

Our final touring leg was to head out to Misaki and then head to Matsuyama.  This was probably the biggest disappointment of the trip for me.  Misaki turned out to be nothing special.  It was a nice challenge, but the area wasn’t that beautiful.  It could have been all the clouds, but I’m not too sure.  I enjoyed the coast from Ozu to Matsuyama, and loved the beach at Futami.  I hope to return someday and just spend a few hours relaxing.  We spent a little too much time there, and we were very anxious about Matsuyama.  Being the height of Golden Week, we had no place to stay, and we might have to find an internet café or something.  Thankfully, we found the Matsuyama Guest House, with an excellent host.  We met many great people and had the time of our lives.  I can’t say how greatful I was for staying there.  My only problem was the two men we shared a room with.  They were Americans who were hiking along the 88 temple route.  Matsuyama was their last stop before returning to Tokyo for work.  I can’t describe the stench that they and their clothes produced, but needless to say, I didn’t sleep well.  I got up early the next morning and went for a walk on my own to collect my thoughts.  It was about the time that my friend and I were starting to feel a strain on our relationship.  There is only so much two people can do together before they start to get upset at each other.  They can be the best friends in the world, but unless you live with them for a long time, it can be difficult.  Matsuyama itself was a great place, but not a place that I would want to visit again.  I came, I saw, I left.  I wish I went to the Dogo Onsen, and I would love to visit the Dogo Brewery again, but in reality, there isn’t much for me to see or do anymore.

After Matsuyama, we had to decide whether to risk heading to Takamatsu, with a chance of showers, or stay another day in Matsuyama.  We decided to risk it as the chances were low.  We weren’t so lucky this day.  We had a small shower on the expressway, and another one when we got in to Takamatsu city itself.  It took us a little while to find our way to the hotel, but overall, everything was fine.  We had a free computer in the hotel, and they even covered our bikes so it wouldn’t get too dirty from the rain.  The hotel was run by an older couple, like a family business, but it was part of a small franchise.  We were thinking of heading to Kotohira before getting to Takamatsu, but we changed our plans when we saw the weather forecast for the day, and also when we thought about parking.  We also made our first big mistake of the day.  We tried to take a train, but misread the timetable.  Instead of having an extra train on holidays, it said there was NO train on the holidays.  We had to wait at the station for over one hour.  We could have walked back, but in our motorcycle boots, probably not.  We also didn’t know about bicycle rentals, which would have helped us a lot, but that’s for our next trip.

We used Takamatsu as our base for three nights.  We spent a day in Kotohira and a day in Naoshima.  There isn’t much to say or add as my previous posts describe it much better.  My only regret was that it was raining so much in Naoshima that I didn’t get a chance to ride a bicycle on the island.  I will definitely have to return for that adventure.  At the time, I didn’t know about an island called Shodoshima.  It is another famous island that is close to Naoshima.  It is famous for being the olive capital of Japan, and known for a replica 88 temple pilgrimage.  Thankfully, I can also reach this island from Okayama, which is a place I’m considering to visit.  Okayama is famous for its black castle.  It was built to rival Himeji castle.  It would make a nice long weekend trip, if I get a chance.  If I do return to Takamatsu I will definitely have to enjoy the delicious Udon, but for now, I’ll be content with the udon in Tokyo.  Takamatsu is no longer on my list of places to visit.

Upon returning to Tokushima, I finally got to see one of the main things I wanted to see since I started planning my trip.  The Naruto Whirlpools are famous in Japan and I had to see them.  I was a little sad that we didn’t see them when we arrived, but I was still very happy to see them at the end of the trip.  By this time, my friend and I had nothing to really talk about, and we were basically trying to plan the end.  He ended up leaving a day early so he could be with his girlfriend and also go to a food festival in Osaka that was held once every four years, or something like that.  I couldn’t blame him at all.  I would have done the same.  My only problem was that the ferry I wanted to take was fully booked and I didn’t know if I could go home the next day or not.  The day that he left Shikoku, I had a full day to myself and my thoughts in Tokushima.  The city itself is very boring unless you get out.  I didn’t want to do that as I was tired from the travelling and really wanted to go home.  I ended up just walking back and forth in town until my feet gave up.  I had to change hotels as well because the one I stayed in was fully booked that night.  Needless to say, I had a restless night.

The morning of my potential departure from Shikoku was an early one.  I arrived at the ferry terminal very early, about 1 hour before they even opened.  I was the only idiot there that early.  I got my ticket to wait and didn’t even know if I could get on or not.  About one hour before we could board, one of the staff said I had a place, but I couldn’t understand him well enough.  Thankfully, I met a very nice old man, who reminded me of Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid (“Best Kid” in Japan).  He was kind enough to help me, just a little.  We did have a nice conversation before boarding the ferry.  The ferry ride home was the same as when I went to Shikoku.  The only difference was that I had my own bunk, and there wasn’t a “restaurant”.  Instead, they only had vending machine food.  It was still good enough.  I ate and drank all day and night until it was time to sleep.  I can’t tell you how different it was to sleep in a bunk versus the floor of a tatami room.  The only problem was that the curtains of the bunk kept all the air in, and I woke up suffocating in my own carbon dioxide.  Arriving in Tokyo, I was greeted by the fresh morning air; it was about 6 am.  I had a nice short ride home where I put my things away and could finally say “tadaima” (I’m home).

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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