jump to navigation

Sapporo February 17, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sapporo” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sapporo

This is Part V of a multi-part series chronicling my motorcycle adventure from Tokyo to Sapporo and back again.

Background:  In 2007, I had finally gotten my Japanese driver’s license and a motorcycle.  I had been an avid motorcycle rider in Canada before I came to Japan, so after 2 years of no riding, I finally bought a motorcycle and decided to go on a big adventure.  I went from Tokyo to Sapporo by motorcycle and ferry.  It was an adventure to say the least.

Leg 5 (Sapporo)

Sapporo is a beautiful city.  It’s the biggest city in Hokkaido, but it doesn’t feel like such a big city.  It’s quite similar to Vancouver.  The streets tend to be wider than average Japanese cities, and the streets are all numbered.  While the numbering is difficult to learn, it should get easier if you spend enough time in Sapporo.  In Sapporo, addresses go by the block number and compass orientation, for example, 2N 3E and so on.  It’s a little confusing at first, and since I only spent about a day in total in Sapporo,  I didn’t get used to it at all. My initial impression would be that Sapporo would be very easy to navigate, but boy was I wrong.  Going from Chitose to Sapporo wasn’t difficult.  It was navigating Sapporo itself and finding my hotel that was a pain.  I found Sapporo station relatively easily, but finding my bearings to get to my hotel itself was difficult.  I ended up finding a convenience store to get directions.  Convenience stores are my second choice for finding directions.  They are everywhere in Japan.  There was one problem.  After getting directions, I got lost again, and asked a cop for directions again when I was close to the hotel.  Once there, I parked my bike and wouldn’t touch it again for a couple days.

Getting to Sapporo is a lot easier if you are taking a train.  The train station is not the centre of the town, but it is a major centre.  Most of the city’s heart is located on the South side of the station.  I took a look at the North, but it looked similar to any other business district of Japan, so I headed south.  The first thing you will see is a nice open space with a few sculptures.  The station itself is quite beautiful.  It is very modern and suits the city’s spirit.  It is a large brown and gray building with a large blue clock in the middle.  There is shopping in every direction from the main entrance.  If you go without enough clothes, there are many shops selling warm clothing.  If you continue to look south, you will see many tree lined streets.  It’s quite beautiful, and it might be even better in the snow.  Heading south, you’ll run into the former Hokkaido Government buildings.  It’s a wonderful park to visit with lots of green trees and a couple large ponds.  I recommend taking a nice walk from Sapporo station and stopping at this site on your way to Odori Park.

By far, the most popular place to visit in Sapporo is Odori Park.  It’s the most famous park in Sapporo.  It is 1.5 km long and spans 13 blocks.  It is also the centre of Sapporo.  On one end is Sapporo TV Tower and on the other end is the Sapporo City Archive Museum.  In the February, the Yuki-matsuri (Snow Festival) is held, and in the summer, several portables are built to create a large beer garden that spans a couple blocks.  The Yuki-matsuri is the most famous event in Sapporo.  I have seen pictures and it is quite beautiful.  I will be heading there in February and will write about it in the future.  I was a little early to attend the beer gardens, but I’m sure it would be a little overpriced, but wonderful.  Each major Japanese beer label was in the process of building the gardens, so having your choice of beer wouldn’t be difficult.  It looked much better than the Tokyo beer gardens because they are all in one place, and it’s easy to choose your favourite one.  There is only one thing to know about Odori Park.  It’s very boring if there is nothing happening, unless you are a kid.  There are a few places where children can play all day and never get tired.
The final area of Sapporo that is of interest is Susukino.  It’s regarded as the Kabukicho of Sapporo, a red light district.  In this regard, it is considered a place to get sex, but in reality, it isn’t that bad.  Like Kabukicho, it’s a reputation that is hard to shake.  Being a “red light district”, it has the most restaurants in Sapporo.  There is a famous ramen street where you can get Sapporo ramen.  There are also many izakayas and countless bars.  If you are looking for someplace to get a good cheap meal, this is the place.  It is also one of the main locations for the Yuki-matsuri.  I can’t really say too much about this place as I didn’t explore too much.  If you do go, be a little more careful as things could be a little dangerous, in terms of Japanese danger.

Sapporo is a wonderful place to visit, and I definitely want to go again and again.  If you can visit Sapporo directly, I do recommend it.  If you are spending a couple weeks in Japan, and can afford the plane ticket, it’s worth it.  If you have a JR Pass, I don’t recommend it because there are no Shinkansen trains that go to Sapporo.  It takes too much time to get there by train at the moment.  Hokkaido itself is quite easy to explore by train, so if you fly to Sapporo and have a JR Hokkaido pass, you can enjoy yourself for a full week or two and still have things to do.

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。

Advertisements

Happy New Year January 1, 2009

Posted by Dru in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Happy New Year” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-6c

Happy New Year!!!

It is now 2009, in Tokyo.  This is the first year of my blog,  but my 4th New Year in Japan.  New Year’s in Japan is a very different experience compared to Canada.  I’d say that it’s much more boring.  Of course, if you have a lot of foreigner friends, and they happen to be in Japan at the same time, it can be fun, but generally, there isn’t much to see or do.  I recommend avoiding this time if you are planning to visit Japan.  There are only a few exceptions.

In Japan, you generally have 5 days of holidays before you head back to work.  This season, we’ll have 6 days, due to the orientation of the week.  Many people will actually have 9 days as Monday is also a holiday.  Traditionally, the end of the year is spent doing many things.  It begins on December first.  Many people go to bonenkai parties.  These are essentially the same as any other Year End Party or Christmas Party, however, in Japan, these are still a little different.  Some people will go to a party every week.  Others, just one.  The most I heard was someone had to go to a party almost everyday before the holidays.  These Year End Parties aren’t easy either.  While it may sound easy, you have to remember that you are drinking until you nearly throw-up, and quite often you go beyond that.  You also have to function normally at work the next day as well.  While you may think that these parties can be “skipped”, many times, people go to parties that their clients are holding.  If they don’t go to these parties, they could be seen as not being a team player, or not caring for their own clients.

The actual holidays start around December 30th.  The end of the year is generally a very busy time to take a train or plane out of Japan.  If you plan to go from Tokyo to Osaka, or Hokkaido, and vice versa, you will have a very tough time.  Prices are increased for planes, and chances of getting a spot on a Shinkansen could be impossible.   Everyone usually goes home at least once during the holidays.  The best people go home for the entire holiday, whether they want to or not.  The other major thing to do for the last two days of the year is to clean up.  Unlike North America, Japanese people do their “Spring Cleaning” at the end of the year.  In this time, people tend to just throw away old junk and clean behind the shelves.  Depending on the house, it could take a day, or it could take five days.

On New Year’s Eve, there are no parties.  If you are a foreigner, you can always have your own party, but if you are planning to go out, good luck.  Most shops close early, and almost nothing is open after 9 pm.   There is only one interesting thing to do, if it’s your first time in Japan.  Go to a temple or shrine.  Meiji Jingu is the most famous in the West.  Thousands of people go throughout the night and literally throw money towards the shrine.  Dozens of guards are lined up and the police work all night helping you be orderly.  There are other temples and shrines to visit, but I have never been to any of the major ones.  Visiting a local shrine is much easier, but not as exciting.  It does provide a very interesting insight into what could be normal for other Japanese people.

On January 1st, there is absolutely nothing to do.  Some major electronics shops and restaurants may open, but generally, just stay home.  After, you can enjoy the shopping bonanza.  The first two days after the new year is Japan’s biggest sale time.  It’s akin to Black Friday in America and Boxing Day in Canada.  The morning of January 2nd, there are usually lines of people waiting to enter every shop.  Deals can be had for almost everything.  If you are strong, and brave, you can easily enjoy the shopping and the hunt for bargains.  If not, try to go a week later.  Sales tend to last for the entire month, but pickings can be slim after the first week.  The first day is the best in terms of selection, and obviously things get worse from there.  There is another interesting thing you can buy.  “Fukubukuro”.  These are “lucky bags”.  Hundreds, if not thousands of people will line up  at various shops to buy these lucky backs.  To buy one of these bags, you can spend as little as 5000 yen and as much as 500,000 yen.  You will often get double the price you paid, but there is one catch.  You don’t know what you are getting.  They just sell sealed bags stuffed with goods and you have to hope you get something nice.  Recently, there have been more and more bags where you can see what is inside.  If you are worried about size, they usually have signs that say who they are for.  In most cases, only certain people buy them.  Most people don’t.

Once January 4th comes around, things return to normal, relatively, and people go back to work and enjoy working hard.

I hope you all have a safe and Happy New Year.

Hiroshima November 11, 2008

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Hiroshima” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-2z

In February 2006, I made my first trip to Hiroshima.  In October 2007, I made my second trip to Hiroshima.  Hiroshima is a well known city.  It’s the first city to be attacked by a nuclear bomb in 1945.  Today, Hiroshima is better known for being the home of Mazda and Hiroshimayaki (Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki).  The city itself is very similar to many other medium-small cities in Japan and has a very interesting street car system.

In 2006, I arrived into Hiroshima in the afternoon.  I had previously spent a couple days in Kyoto and was extremely tired.  I had a nice curry rice lunch before embarking on the trek into the city itself.  My first afternoon/night was spent at Hiroshima castle.  It’s a very nice place to visit and relax.  There are many places to climb and explore.  It is best to go there early as the castle grounds close early.  Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive until after the castle itself closed, and the grounds were also closing.  All I could do was take a few pictures and venture back into the city.  On my second trip to Hiroshima, I had a lot of time to enjoy things.  I could visit some of the ruins of the old army barracks, explore the outer wall, and quickly visit one of the restored sentry walls.  It was a very peaceful place.  I do recommend visiting the guard wall located at the main entrance of the castle grounds.  It’s very beautiful and it has a unique smell.  The castle itself isn’t amazing.  The outside is the best, but paying the entrance fee is nice to get a good view of Hiroshima city.  Inside, it’s a museum where you can look at how the castle used to look, and even try on a few pieces of samurai armour.  Bring a drink when visiting the castle grounds as you will probably get thirsty.

The second place you must visit when going to Hiroshima is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.  It’s a section of Hiroshima that was the focal point of the nuclear bomb.  It’s something you should see when you go to Hiroshima, but be warned that I found it very depressing.  It’s a necessary place to remind us of how devastating a nuclear bomb can be.  The first stop for most visitors would be the Atomic-bomb Dome.  It’s the ruins of Hiroshima’s Industrial Promotional Hall, and one of the only standing buildings in Hiroshima after the bomb.  It’s a humbling sight and when I visited the Dome, it was cloudy, cold, and surreal.  I had a truly eerie feeling looking at the dome.  After visiting the Dome, a quick walk around the Memorial Park is a must.  There are various memorials and statues erected to remind us of the death after the bombing.  The Peace Memorial Museum is something I wouldn’t recommend unless you have extra time and nothing better to do.  The artifacts and mannequins are amoung the most sobering and depressing things I’ve seen in my life.  They have a few recreations of the aftermath of the bombing, various descriptions of what happened, and also many artifacts from after the bombing.  The images you will see will be burned into your mind forever and you will probably feel extremely depressed.  I regret entering the museum, yet, I’m happy I did.  It’s a necessary evil in order to understand the true effect of nuclear weapons.

When you have finished visiting the sights in Hiroshima, the main shopping district is very close.  There are many things to see and do, but if you have been to other mid sized cities in Japan, the shopping arcade will be nothing new.  However, do try to find some okonomiyaki, oysters, and momiji manju.  When you need some dinner, Ebisucho is a good place to find good eats.  There are also many good restaurants near Shintenchi.  If you are looking for gifts to bring home, the best place to visit is Hiroshima Station.  Inside the station, there is a huge Omiyage floor with lots of things to buy.  If you are travelling by Shinkansen to Tokyo, make sure you stock up on food and drinks on the way home.  It’s a very long journey if you are using a JR Pass, or about 4 hours if you use a Nozomi train.

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。

Matsushima (Top 3 Views of Japan) September 2, 2008

Posted by Dru in Japan, Tohoku, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please head over there to read “Matsushima (Top 3 Views of Japan) along with the pictures.  The original will remain here for the time being.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-1I

On August 30, 2008, I went to Sendai and Matsushima to see one of the Top 3 Views of Japan.  The trip to Sendai is roughly 1.5 hours by Shinkansen.  If you are unlucky and can’t get the fastest train, it takes roughly 2 hours or so.  Beware that the JR East Shinkansen is fairly confusing the first time around.  You can easily take the wrong train if you aren’t careful.  However, it’s a lovely system with many destination points.  Getting to Matsushima from Sendai is also very easy, but be careful.  Trains tend to run twice an hour, so don’t go into the station too early or you’ll end up waiting 20-30 minutes like I did.

Matsushima is considered one of the Top 3 Views of Japan.  The bay contains hundreds of pine covered islands no bigger than a car.  It is not considered a top destination by most people, and probably shouldn’t be considered unless you have some extra time.  While the bay is considered one of the Top 3 Views, I was disappointed.  I must give one caveat, and that’s the fact that I didn’t go on a boat cruise of the islands.  I’d like to do that in the future someday to truly make a good decision, but as it stands, I can’t.  Visitng Matsushima requires about one day to see the major areas.  However, it can take two days to truly explore the area.  First, I headed out to Oshima.  This is a very small island that is probably skipped by most tourists.  I recommend it for the quiet atmosphere and the wonderful caves.  The caves themselves are amazing.  There are so many of them.  To be honest, the caves are more or less like an enclave.  Simple holes dug into the rocks.  Most of the Buddhist images inside them have deteriorated, but the area itself is still nice.  Up next, I headed to Godaido.  It’s a nice small island with a hall in the middle.  It’s a popular place for people to look around, but I found it to be less inspiring than a place to look at.  The last place I went to was Fukujima.  It’s connected by a long pedestrian bridge.  There is a toll to pay, but it’s worth it.  The island itself is small and easy to walk around within an hour.  Beware that the path starts off paved, but turns into a grassy mess.  Instead of having a nice hard path (which is buried), they covered the path in a spongy type grass.  Since the day I went was just after a heavy rain, the grass was waterlogged and I got a little dirty.  However, if you are careful, you will stay clean.  Before leaving, I decided to check out the Aquarium.  It’s very small, and not really worth the admission (700 Yen), but if you have some extra time, it’s nice to go there.  If you have a fascination with penguins, you’ll enjoy it.

I returned to Sendai and took a small rest after I checked in.  I then braved the cool slightly rainy night to look for Gyu-tan.  Cow/beef tongue.  No, it isn’t an entire tongue.  It’s thin slices of cow tongue that has been grilled.  It’s  actually very delicious, if not, tough.  It took a while, but I finally decided on one shop that was about 15-20 minutes from my hotel.  It was a small little izakaya that wasn’t friendly for non-Japanese speakers.  I struggled with the menu, but did have a nice selection of food.  I’d highly recommend the place if I could remember the name.  The staff was also very friendly.  I returned to my hotel for a traditional beer (I seem to always have a beer back at my hotel whenever I travel in Japan) and went to bed.  For my second day, I decided to move my train time up a couple hours.  My original plan was to leave after 8pm, but it was a little too long to spend in Sendai.  To be honest, other than the food, there isn’t much to do.  It’s like any other medium/small sized city in Japan.  I took a quick ride on the Sendai Loop Bus and stopped at Sendai Castle.  I don’t recommend this unless you want a nice view of the city itself.  The bus ride is nice, and the view at the castle is nice, however, the castle is not a castle.  Rather, it’s ruins of the original castle.  The only interesting thing, aside from the view of the city, is the statue of Date Masamune and a nice walk in the park.  Other than that, it’s just eating.

So, any tips when travelling to Sendai/Matsushima?  If you have lots of time, it’s a nice place to visit.  If you have a free weekend, it’s nice to visit.  Can you live there?  To be honest, I think so.  However, I can imagine getting tired of the place very quickly.  While the train can be expensive, Sendai itself is a fairly cheap place.  Spend your money right, take your time, as always, and you’ll have fun.  Go in Winter and enjoy a lot of good skiing, or so I’ve been told.

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。

%d bloggers like this: