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Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido June 7, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-EX

 

Japan is a small country that happens to be very long.  From end to end, Japan is well over 1000km long.  It is larger than Germany in terms of land mass and has a very diverse ecosystem.  You have the cold snowy north and the sub-tropical south.  It is a common misconception that Japan is a small country.  I would also argue that many people feel that any country that is outside of their own region is small, especially for Americans and Canadians.  It is important to know that Japan, while small overall, is actually very long which helps create the illusion that it is small.

Japan is divided into 8 main regions with a few sub-regions.  In the north is Hokkaido.  I have written a lot about Sapporo and the various festivals there.  It is a winter wonderland and also a great summer getaway.  In the winter, people head up there for skiing and to enjoy the delicious seafood.  In the summer, the seafood is still around but people go to escape the heat and humidity of the south.  Compared to other regions in Japan, Hokkaido is a relatively stable and sparsely populated region.  It isn’t the “wild west” but it isn’t like Tokyo either.  Getting from point A to point B in Hokkaido can be very difficult due to the sheer distances between cities and towns and the lack of trains can make it a difficult task.  Renting a car is definitely recommended if you want to see the local areas such as Shiretoko but it isn’t a necessity.  The bus network between cities is pretty good and you can get from Sapporo to most cities in Hokkaido by bus.  Planes are not so popular and trains are good for the major cities.  Unfortunately the trains can take a long time to get from place to place but keeping on the main belt from Asahikawa to Sapporo, then down to Hakodate via either Chitose or Niseko is relatively easy.  Be prepared for long travel times and you will have a good time.

Tohoku is the northern section of Honshu, the main island of Japan.  The main island forms an ‘L’ shape and Tohoku is at the top of the ‘L’.  It is a region that is very similar to Hokkaido yet also very temperate in nature.  The most common starting point is Sendai.  Including Sendai, all points north are considered Tohoku.  Points below Sendai are generally Tohoku as well but places such as part of Fukushima can be considered part of the Kanto plains.  Honshu itself is a very mountainous area with mountains bisecting the entire island into the Pacific and Sea of Japan side.  This creates a very distinct feel in each city depending on which coast you are on.  On the Pacific, the winters can be cold but there isn’t a lot of snow.  The Sea of Japan side which includes Akita and Yamagata receive a lot of snow in the winter.  In the summer, this area is more pleasant but the southern regions can be pretty hot and humid.  It is literally a transition between Hokkaido and the temperate south.  There are many local delicacies such as the Aomori apples and the beef tongue of Sendai.  It isn’t a popular place for tourists as there aren’t many things to see and do compared to other regions.  Hokkaido is well known for seafood and snow, but Tohoku doesn’t have a major drawing point for tourists.

Kanto is the centre of Japan.  It is a small section of Japan that includes Tokyo and located at the bend of the ‘L’ of Honshu.  It is where almost everyone goes when they visit Japan and it is a pretty small area.  The entire Kanto region can be considered as Greater Tokyo as many people do commute from the edges of Kanto to get into Tokyo.  Some would argue that there are major cities and industries as well such as Yokohama but the shear size of Tokyo makes Yokohama feel like a twin city similar to the twin cities in Minnesota.  Of course this is not the same however the idea that both cities can be considered the same city, rather twin cities, is true.  There isn’t really much to say or add to this region as most people know about the Kanto region already.  It is the heart of Japan.  Most companies and most people live in this area.  There are not a lot of historical places to visit anymore but places such as Nikko, Kamakura, and Hakone are excellent places with their own unique feel.

Chubu is a very complex region.  There are several sub-regions to Chubu due to its geography.  It is a region that is bound by Mt. Fuji, bordering the north-western area of Kanto and extending west to Kyoto.  It is also one of the most “visited” regions in Japan yet most people never stop to enjoy the region.  I am also a victim of just passing through the region more times than not.  Most people will go up to Mt. Fuji or pass through on their way to Kyoto.  The few people who do go to the Chubu region will usually head off to Niigata and Nagano or do a little business in Nagoya.  Due to the geography of the area is further subdivided into 3 regions.  The lesser known is the Koshinetsu region that encompasses Nagano, Niigata, and Yamanashi.  This area is well known for its snow and excellent onsen however the use of the name Koshinetsu is not popular.  They are more commonly known by their own respective prefectures.  The Hokuriku region is an area on the Sea of Japan side that is bordered by Niigata and Kyoto.  It is considered a northern path to reach Kansai but it is often overlooked by people.  It is still a somewhat remote area that is easily accessible by plane.  Trains do travel to the region but the new Hokuriku Shinkansen isn’t expected to be finished for a long time.  The main sections allowing access from Tokyo to the heart of Hokuriku will be complete in 2014 but the final section to Osaka has yet to be finalized.  As it stands, this area is often overlooked due to its remoteness.  The Tokai region is the most famous region as it is the main route for the Tokaido Shinkansen that links Tokyo to Osaka.  Shizuoka is one of the biggest prefectures in Japan yet very few people will visit it.  The most famous area is Nagoya where you can enjoy many delicacies.  Nagoya is not a particularly interesting for those visiting other cities but it is famous for its castle, local deep fried delicacies, chicken wings, and Toyota.  Toyota has their main factories located just outside Nagoya with a large museum as well.  Nagoya is also one of the most popular cities for people wishing to see races at the nearby Suzuka Circuit, but the circuit is located in Kansai, not Chubu.

Note:  Due to the amount of information available, this is only part 1 of 2.  Part 2 will be posted next week.

Regions of Japan Information:

Wikipedia:
Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Hokkaido:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokkaid%C5%8D_Prefecture
Tohoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dhoku_region
Kanto:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kant%C5%8D_region
Chubu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABbu_region
Hokuriku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokuriku_region
Koshinetsu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C5%8Dshin%27etsu_region
Tokai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dkai_region

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1001.html

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

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Hakone (Part II) February 2, 2010

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

If you have the energy to continue into Hakone, you’ll have to travel a bit farther than Souzan.  Most of the activities around Hakone are centred in the area between Hakone Yumoto and Souzan.  From there, you can venture out past Souzan on a cable car and head out towards Lake Ashi.  This is probably where you’ll get the best views of the countryside of Japan, if that’s what you are looking for.  Do be aware that if it’s even slightly cloudy, you won’t get the best view of Hakone.  The most famous view is from Lake Ashi where, on a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji.

Souzan is the starting point of the gondola that will take you to Owakudani, and then off to Lake Ashi.  Owakudani is generally translated into great boiling valley, or hell’s valley.  It’s an active volcano that is constantly emitting sulphur.  Be aware that you’ll be near the top of the mountain, so the weather will be cooler and because of the sulphur, it will be very smelly.  There is pretty much only one major route to follow.  Head with most of the people and look for signs and maps.  It can be a little difficult to get around, but once you are on the path, it’s pretty easy.  The people who work at Owakudani are careful about the amount of sulphur in the air and will advise you to make your way down if it’s too dangerous.  When you do get to the end of the hiking trail, there is a large boiling pool that is too hot to swim in.  It’s nice for pictures, but the main point of the journey is to buy eggs.  When at the top, you can buy the freshest boiled eggs in the area.  The eggs are boiled in the boiling sulphur water, which actually makes the shells black.  The inside of the egg is still natural, and the taste is normal, but the shell is black and a little brittle.  The main selling point is that each egg you eat can add around 5 years to your life.  This can be a lot if you are desperate.  The trip out to Owakudani is something that isn’t necessary, but if you are interested in seeing new things, and experiencing Japanese travel culture, you should head here.  The other reason to stop off at Owakudani is the ticket to get to Lake Ashi requires a transfer at Owakudani, so you might as well stretch your legs and enjoy the smell of sulphur.

Lake Ashi, as I mentioned, is probably the most famous place in Hakone, yet one of the hardest places to get to.  If you only want to go to Lake Ashi, you might be better off taking one of the highway busses out there.  From Owakudani, you can take the second extension of the cable car to Lake Ashi.  Do be aware that on major holidays, this area is also very busy and not easy to get around quickly.  Once at Togendai station, it’s necessary to transfer to one of the sightseeing boats.  During the high season, there are many boats trolling the lake.  These have been called gaudy and I can imagine why.  From the pictures, they are nothing but elaborate pirate ships that look like they were stolen from Disneyland.  It does look like a very interesting ship to travel on and I’m sure the views from the ship are beautiful.  There are only two stops, other than Togendai, for the Hakone Sightseeing Ships.  It is Moto-Hakone and Hakonemachi.  Both are equally important from what I’ve heard.

At Hakonemachi, you’ll be within the old town of Hakone.  Here, you can see some of the most historical buildings in Kanto, the greater Tokyo region.  From here to Moto-Hakone, the old Tokaido Road heads into Tokyo.  The old Tokaido Road is a historical road that was the only road in and out of Tokyo, heading west.  In Hakonemachi, you can visit the Hakone Checkpoint.  The Hakone Checkpoint is where all travellers, Japanese and foreign, had to check in to ensure they were allowed to travel within the country.  Walking to Moto-Hakone is something that has been recommended.  Along the way, you can walk down a path of cedars and once at Moto-Hakone, you can visit the Hakone Shrine.  Taking the ship to Moto-Hakone would also be special as it’s a famous place for pictures.  One of the torii, gate, is placed at the edge of the water making it a beautiful sight in the day.  If you are adventurous enough, you can continue along the Tokaido road for about an hour or so.  You’ll be able to read a small tea house and museum, as well as see some of the original unpaved road.  Do note that the road is nothing more than a walking path.

If you have two days, there are a lot of things to see and do in Hakone.  If you only have one day, it’s a little difficult, but you can get all of the main places.  If you are looking for nature and scenery, I’d recommend heading out to Lake Ashi first as it’s a little difficult to get there.  Do be aware that I have never been there so most of my descriptions are from what I’ve read on other websites.  I am also unsure as to the timing of reaching Lake Ashi itself.  Owakudani, however, is a very quick stop, so it shouldn’t take too long.   Hakone is so popular amongst Japanese people, that there are several ways to get there.  By and far, the easiest has to be by train.  All you have to do is spend a little extra to make it easy.  Going by bus is also simple.  If you are going to only one stop or overnight at an onsen, this would also be viable.  Do note that you will have to be careful of the traffic.  It can take two or three times longer to get back to Tokyo due to traffic on the expressways.  Finally, you can drive yourself.  If you have a total of four people going, this could be a lot cheaper.  Parking in Hakone isn’t difficult and with modern navigation systems, you can easily find parking.  Either way, have fun.

This is part two of a two part series.  To read more about Hakone, head back to Part I.

Note: I didn’t have enough time to head to most places mentioned in this post.  I have added pictures of the Hakone Open Air Museum to fill the space.

Hakone Information:

Hakone (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5200.html
Hakone (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Hakone
Hakone (Hakone Navi):  http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/
Odakyu Hakone Free Pass (Travel Information):  http://www.odakyu.jp/english/freepass/hakone_01.html
Hakone Open Air Museum:  http://www.hakone-oam.or.jp/english/index.html
Yunesson Spa:  http://www.yunessun.com/english/
Fujiya Hotel:  http://www.fujiyahotel.jp/english/index.html
The Little Prince Museum in Hakone: http://www.tbs.co.jp/l-prince/en/

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