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Tokyo (Asakusa – Part II) January 19, 2010

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

The main attraction has to be Sensoji.  This is a widely used word for an entire complex that stretches from Kaminarimon all the way to several temples and shrines located at the end of the Nakamise Shopping Arcade.  Just before you enter, next to the gate at the end of the shopping arcade, there is the Denpoin temple.  It doesn’t look very interesting, but from some reports, there is a nice garden located within that temple’s grounds.  It is now closed to the public.  The first thing you will notice is the grand roof of Sensoji.  It towers above the building itself, but it’s someone hidden by two rows of smaller buildings; these buildings, just before Sensoji itself, is where you can buy various charms and fortunes.  This temple is one of the few where you can buy fortunes that also come in English and a few other languages.  The temple also has one of the most beautiful purification fountains in Tokyo with a very intricately designed dragon.  When inside the temple, you’ll be able to purchase more charms, make donations, and pray.  Immediately next to Sensoji is the Asakusa Shrine.  This shrine is very popular as they have the sanja festival.  It’s one of the great festivals of Tokyo and well worth a look if you have a chance.

Among the other things to do in Asakusa is to head to the Sumida River.  This river is one of the most famous in Tokyo.  Near the station, you can enjoy a view of Asahi Brewery’s headquarters.  It’s very distinct building is designed to look like a tall glass of beer, while just below it is the Asahi Super Dry Hall.  Atop the black box hall is a golden flame, which in reality looks like a big lump of poo.  From here, you can head down to a small pedestrian path/park along the Sumida River.  It’s popular for runners, as well as homeless people.   Located within the same general area is the Tokyo Cruise terminal.  From here, you can catch a river boat that takes you along the Sumida River out towards Odaiba.  From what I’ve heard, this is a very beautiful cruise and worth the costs.  Do be aware that the boats run every 30 minutes to an hour.  If cruising isn’t your thing, you can also head over to the department store, Matsuya.  If you are looking for a little fun, there is a small amusement park located behind Sensoji.  This also provides good access to Kappabashi Street.  This street is famous for selling restaurant related goods.  You can get everything you need to open your own restaurant, but the main focus is on knives.  Many people come here to buy top quality Japanese knives.  While you can buy them at various department stores, this is the heart where you can get everything.

Overall, Asakusa is an essential place to visit when coming to Tokyo.  You will see one of the most famous temples in Tokyo, be able to get all of your souvenirs in one place, and experience a rickshaw tour.  There are also several ways out of Asakusa, so you can enjoy a nice cruise on the river, or even get out of the city and head to Nikko for a temple getaway.  Asakusa is also very important as a place for budget travellers.  This is where most of the youth hostels and Japanese style inns are located.  While it’s not the most centrally located area of Tokyo, it can be the cheapest.  While the accommodations can be cheap, do be aware that you may end up spending more money on transportation to go places, especially if you are trying to make use of your JR Pass.  Asakusa is only serviced by the subways and private companies, so the JR Pass is almost useless here.  However, it’s still a very fun place.

This is Part II of a II part series.  For more information on Asakusa, please read Part I.

Asakusa Information:

Asakusa (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3004.html
Asakusa (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asakusa
Asakusa (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Asakusa
Asakusa (English):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index_e.html
Asakusa (Japanese):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index.html
Kaminarimon (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaminarimon
Kappabashi (English):  http://www.kappabashi.or.jp/en/index.html
Kappabashi (Japanese):  http://www.kappabashi.or.jp/
Kappabashi (Bento.com):  http://www.bento.com/phgal-kappabashi.html
Tokyo Cruise (Japanese – Note:  There is a little English in the menus): http://www.suijobus.co.jp/index.html
Asakusa Hanashiki Amusement Park (English):  http://www.hanayashiki.net/e/index.html
Asakusa Hanashiki Amusement Park (Japanese):  http://www.hanayashiki.net/

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Asakusa – Part I) January 12, 2010

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

Asakusa is one of the must see places in Tokyo.  For any resident, however, it’s a place to avoid, unless you live in the area.  It’s a typical tourist location.  There is really only one thing to do in the area, but it can take up to half a day to complete it.  Asakusa itself is one of the oldest entertainment districts in Tokyo, and one of the oldest neighbourhoods.  If you take the Shitamachi bus line from Tokyo Station, you will essentially be travelling in the oldest areas of Tokyo once you reach Ueno.  You can see some of the oldest houses in the area if you know where to look.  You can also enjoy the beautiful Sensoji temple or shopping for very kitsch souvenirs.  Be aware that this being a tourist trap, you may want to keep a closer eye on your wallets and purses.  It can get very busy, which can bring out the pickpockets.  Do note that this is still Japan, so the chances of a pickpocket are still extremely low.

The best thing to do when arriving in Asakusa is to get there early, say 9 or 10am and head straight for Sensoji.  Head to exit 1 from the Ginza line and A4 from the Asakusa line.  From here, you can head straight to Kaminarimon, or Kaminari Gate.  This is the main entrance to Sensoji, and Nakamise Shopping Arcade.  This gate will be very busy and any pictures are sure to include other tourists.  This spot is also popular for hiring rickshaws.  Prices can vary and they are all eager to take you around the streets for a private tour.  Prices start at 5000 Yen for one person, for 30 minutes, 8000 Yen for two people, all the way up to 30,000 Yen for over 2 hours.  These people can be very colourful, but do your best to find someone who can speak English, at least a little, so that you can understand the history of the area better.  The gate itself is fairly large and lit up at night.  There are four large statues located within the gate.  The two facing the street are Shinto gods, while the opposing two are Buddhist gods.  While these are not the most fascinating statues in Japan, they are the easiest to access and it provides a taste of what you can see in other areas of Japan.

Once past the gate, you will be within the Nakamise Shopping Arcade area.  This area is where tourists tend to buy everything.  You can get things from key chains, head bands that say “Japan” with the rising sun logo, and even yukatas.  While you may think you are buying a kimono, do note that you are more than likely buying a basic yukata.  There are a few shops selling these clothes and they can be very beautiful.  It may not have a traditional print, but for most tourists, it’s still very popular.  You may even get a small deal if you buy a few of them as gifts.  If you are looking for real kimono, you would be looking at spending at least 100,000 Yen for a very basic one.  About half way up the street, there is a small branch leading to Shin-nakamise Shopping Arcade.  This one offers a more modern style shopping and it feels like you are in a smaller Japanese city.  There are shoe shops, drug stores, and various restaurants and snack shops.  It’s worth a quick romp, but do note that things probably won’t open until 10am.  Towards the end of Nakamise, there are lots of food shops selling Dorayaki, a pancake like sandwich with sweet red bean paste inside, and senbe, a Japanese rice cracker.  These places aren’t the cheapest, but they are very good and made fresh.  I’d suggest buying some if you want to try traditional Japanese junk food.

This is Part I of a II part series.  Please continue reading about Asakusa in Part II.

Asakusa Information:

Asakusa (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3004.html
Asakusa (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asakusa
Asakusa (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Asakusa
Asakusa (English):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index_e.html
Asakusa (Japanese):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index.html
Rickshaw Information (Japanese):  http://www.jidaiya.biz/kanko-j.html
Tokyo Shitamachi Bus:  http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/english/bus_guide.html

Matsuyama July 14, 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 “Matsuyama” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-cN

Matsuyama is a city located on the western side of Shikoku.  It is, by some standards, considered the largest city on Shikoku, but this is debated with the city of Takamatsu.  The city itself has a very small feel, yet has enough shops to keep city folk happy.  It is also an excellent place to see different things at a somewhat relaxed pace.  You’ll be able to see a castle, onsen, parks, and temples, all in one city.  If you don’t have a lot of time, Matsuyama is a great place to see everything in a couple of days.

The heart of Matsuyama has to be the castle.  Matsuyama-jo is located on Mount Katsuyama.  This is a relatively small mountain that provides a nice getaway from the city itself.  There are about four different routes to climb Katsuyama to reach Matsuyama-jo.  Heading to the east side of the mountain is by far the easiest way to get to the top.  You can ride the gondola, or take the chairlift.  Both take roughly the same amount of time to reach the top.  The chairlift is a single chair that slowly climbs the mountain.  It is a very Japanese style of moving people.  It is very peaceful, providing beautiful views of the city as you climb the side of the mountain.  Riding the gondola is better if you have many small children with you.  The gondola is usually packed, so the view depends on where you are inside the car.  At the top of the gondola station, you’ll be greeted by many shop keepers trying to entice you to buy one of the citrus fruit drinks and bring a bottle home with you.  It is a nice refreshing drink, especially if you decide to hike up the mountain, but a little expensive.  Depending on the day you visit the castle, you might also find a few activities in the outer courtyard.  On the day I visited, there were opportunities to dress up in period clothing, such as a samurai, or in an old style kimono.  The castle itself is a well preserved original.  As I mentioned before, Shikoku has many wonderful and original, castles, unlike Honshu, the main island.  This one is no exception.  Upon paying the entrance fee, you will have a great opportunity to have spectacular views of the city.  The inside of the castle is extremely busy.  You must remove your shoes and wear slippers as you walk through the castle.  Unlike Kochi-jo, there isn’t much to see or do in this castle.  It is too busy to place dioramas, so you can only enjoy the original architecture and views from inside the castle.  It was amazing to see the Japanese people lining up in a very orderly fashion to leave the main tower of the castle.  If you have the energy, I would also recommend hiking down the mountain and taking a look at a shrine located halfway up the gondola.  If you head to the south side of the mountain, you can also visit Bansuiso.  It is a French style villa that is now part of an art gallery.  Unfortunately, I didn’t visit this gallery, but if I do return to Matsuyama, I will.

Matsuyama has two stations named Matsuyama, JR Matsuyama and Matsuyama-shi.  When you travel to Matsuyama, it is important to know which one you are at.  JR Matsuyama is a nice station, but it is highly focused on travellers only.  There are very few things to do around the station itself.  Located a fair walk west of the station is Matsuyama Central Park.  It is a more secluded park that is probably used by locals rather than everyday tourists.  It does have its own “castle”, but it is modeled after European castle walls, rather than Japanese style castles.  Matsuyama-shi station is more interesting.  It is the start of Matsuyama’s long shopping arcade.  As I have said, countless times, shopping arcades in Japan tend to look and feel the same.  Matsuyama’s shopping arcade is no different.  It is definitely worth a visit as it is somewhat unique.  I would probably take a quick look through the arcade, but focus more on the area just below Matsuyma-jo.  Around the gondola, you will be able to enjoy a more touristy and local experience.  This is also the location of the Matsuyama Guesthouse.

Matsuyama Guesthouse was my home for one night.  As a tourist on a budget, hostels are a great way to save money.  Although the sign says it’s a guesthouse, you can also rent rooms for one night.  The day I arrived, the hostel filled up completely.  There were two long term guests.  One was a New Yorker who had lived in China for a couple years.  He was just starting out in Japan, and decided Matsuyama would be his base.  There were also a couple of American hikers who were hiking all around Shikoku, but had to stop and return to Tokyo as they needed to get back to work.  An older Australian couple also came by.  They shared their stories of travelling throughout Japan and how they were going to another country, maybe Korea, to visit their son.  I also got to meet a Dutch “kid” who just finished High School and wanted to spend his GAP year in Japan.  At night, they had a special party for either Kids Day or Green Day.  In May, Japan has Golden Week, 5 consecutive days off, including the weekend.  With so many new guests, I guess we had to party.  We had some homemade okonomiyaki, cold sake, and some umeshu.  It was a wonderful time, but unfortunately, I couldn’t stay more than one night.  They were fully booked the next night.  The host of the hostel is very friendly and very kind.  Her English may not be perfect, but she tries so hard and she is always smiling.

Overall, Matsuyama is a wonderful city that is a must visit if you go to Shikoku.  While in Matsuyama, I would also recommend heading over to Dogo.  It is a very short tram ride, and I’ll talk about that next week.

Please feel free to visit Guesthouse Matsuyama and read their blog.  Unfortunately, their blog is only in Japanese, but the pictures are always nice.

Website: http://www.sophia-club.net/guesthouse/
Blog: http://www.sophia-club.net/blog.php

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Hiroshima November 11, 2008

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “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。

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