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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Posts:

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

(Top 3) Chinatown’s In Japan February 21, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Kanto, Kyushu, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “(Top 3) Chinatown’s In Japan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-LA

There are 3 major Chinatown districts in Japan.  They are located in Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki.  I have had the pleasure to visit each one and all of them are different.  To me Chinatown is a tourist destination that isn’t really an actual Chinese area.  When people say you must go to Chinatown, I feel like I am about to head to a tourist trap with various vendors hawking their wares.  Japan, unfortunately, continues this stereotypical trend.  Being of Chinese descent and having visited China I feel that Chinatown is not a great representation of Chinese people or China in general.  While the surrounding areas may be more representative, I feel as if I entered an amusement park where stereotypical Chinese culture is on display.

The biggest Chinatown in Japan is in Yokohama.  Located at the end of the Minato-mirai Line, which happens to be connected to the Tokyu Toyoko Line, is the Chinatown where most people will visit when they come to Japan.  It also happens to be the most crowded and touristy of the three Chinatowns.  I found that the area is almost completely filled with Japanese people and various restaurants selling different types of buns.  I never had a great time visiting Chinatown in Yokohama and rarely recommend it to tourists.  Japanese people tend to love it there and think that the food is all authentic Chinese food.  Unfortunately most of it is Japanese variations of traditional Chinese dishes.  It can be hard to get excited when the Chinese chefs adapt their dishes to Japanese tastes, but that is how they make their money.  I may also be slightly biased due to the fact that I found a small worm/maggot in a buffet lunch and all they did was use the tongs to throw it in the garbage.  Not the most hygienic method of fixing the problem if you ask me.  If you enjoy large crowds and Japanese style Chinese food, Yokohama’s Chinatown is a nice place to visit.

As you can tell, bigger does not equal better.  Kobe has the second largest Chinatown in Japan.  It is actually called Nankinmachi (after Nanjing) rather than Chukagai (Chinese Street).  It is one of the best Chinatowns in Japan, in my opinion.  It is lined with various food stalls and a few touristy souvenir shops as well as the stereotypical Chinese style architecture of Asian styled red roofs.  Once you get past the touristy look of this Chinatown, you can get a lot of good food and a large variety of it too.  Kobe’s Chinatown is also less crowded than Yokohama which makes it a lot easier to move around.  Sometimes trying to get around in Yokohama can be a challenge as there are people spread across the entire street making it nearly impossible to move faster than a snail.  In Kobe, this is not a problem at all.  The only problem with the Kobe Chinatown is the fact that it is very touristy.  It is hard to escape the fact that they do cater to tourists but thankfully I also saw many Chinese tourists when I visited so it couldn’t be that bad.  I’m sure they are curious as to how Japan views Chinese culture just as Japanese people are curious to try sushi in other countries.

The last Chinatown, and smallest is Nagasaki.  It spans just a few blocks and it is lined with various large and small shops.  Like the other Chinatown’s, it is dominated with restaurants but the unique feature of this Chinatown is the number of other types of shops such as fireworks and medicine shops.  You can easily notice a huge difference in atmosphere in Nagasaki.  I felt relatively safe in Yokohama and Kobe however in Nagasaki I felt it was a little dangerous, comparatively.  It could also be the fact that I walked in the area around midnight.  In Nagasaki, it is common to see Chinese people as in Kobe but you can also eat the famous Nagasaki Champon, Sara Udon, and Kakuni Manju.  These are all delicious, yet Japanese variations of originally Chinese dishes.  I do enjoy them the most as they are fairly close to Chinese tastes.  Due to the size of Nagasaki’s Chinatown, it is difficult to elaborate a lot on the different things in Chinatown as there really isn’t a lot.

Chinatown in Japan is something that a resident should see once in their stay in Japan.  However for the average tourist, I doubt a trip to Chinatown would be very high on their list of things to see or do.  I find it to be overly touristy and focused on Japanese people.  As with many other Chinatown’s in various other countries, I rarely visit them.  I prefer to go to the real thing.  I have already visited Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Beijing.  I doubt I could find anything that is specifically Chinese in any Chinatown in the world, even in my hometown Vancouver.  The food is good, for the most part, but dealing with the crowds and tourist activities is not as enjoyable for me.  I would much rather go to a normal Chinese restaurant in another area than head to Chinatown.  In fact, for people looking for a more authentic Chinese food, Ikebukuro is reputed as a secret Chinatown.  Many Chinese people take up residence near Ikebukuro leading to many Chinese restaurants being located there.  It is also somewhat contentious as the Chinatown merchants in Yokohama have complained openly about the idea of starting a Chinese Business Association in Ikebukuro as they feel it will create a rival Chinatown to their destination.  I doubt things will really change in the near future but who knows about the long term.

Nagasaki (Part II) November 9, 2010

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

One of the better areas of Nagasaki is the Glover Park area.  It’s a large area at the south end of Nagasaki itself.  The area contains Glover Garden, Oura Catholic Church, and the nearby Holland (Dutch) Slope.  The Holland Slope is something that can easily be skipped.  It’s a nice place with lots of history.  There are a few items of interest, but in reality, other than a few plaques and an old style road, it’s not special.  The Oura Catholic Church is something that should be visited.  While entrance to the church requires a fee, visiting the grounds outside is free.  You can easily just walk around the outside and not worry too much.  Inside, you will see a typical western style church architecture and art.  It is the oldest church in Japan and a national treasure.  The inside of the church is not particularly interesting, but paying the fee means they can help maintain the church for historical reasons, at least I think so.  Outside, you can learn a lot about the history of the Catholic Church in Japan.  The church is dedicated to the 26 martyrs, Catholics who were crucified when Christianity was outlawed, and also the history of Catholicism during this period.  You can see a few of the artefacts on how they hid their faith within Buddhism and Shinto.  The outside ground of the church was quite interesting as you can see the Japanese influences on the surrounding gardens and their take on Catholicism.

From the church, it’s a relatively short walk to Glover Garden.  It’s a long way to the top of the hill, but when you pay the admission and get to the top, it’s a nice place to relax.  If you are from outside Asia, you might not care too much for the park.  There is a lot of history in this open air museum.  You will see old buildings of the former government officials and other foreign dignitaries in Glover Garden.  You will be able to see the history of Japan during the Meiji Restoration, I think.  It’s the period of time when Japan was becoming westernized and leading up to the period before World War II.  You can see Europeans in traditional Japanese clothes, and vice versa.  While I didn’t care too much for the buildings, I will say that the entire park was beautiful and worth a visit.  What you take from it will depend on your own personal mindset.   If you keep in mind that the architecture will be more European with Japanese accents, you’ll be able to appreciate it a lot more.  I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a top 10 in Japan.  It was a must see for me though.

Nagasaki has two places in two different “Japan’s Top 3” lists.  The Top 3 list was created, in my opinion, to spark interest in various regions and promote tourism within Japan.  Unfortunately, this has become so rampant that the top 3 lists are losing their value, and in all honesty, I don’t think some of them warrant a mention.  For example, I mentioned earlier that the Nagasaki Chinatown was small and not very interesting, yet it’s part of the top 3 Chinatowns in Japan.  In fact, Chinatowns in Japan are far from exciting.  The second point of interest for Nagasaki, in terms of top 3 items, is the night view.  Nagasaki is part of the top 3 night views, along with Hakodate, and Kobe/Osaka.  I spent some time going to Mt. Inasa to check out the night view one evening.  Going there, you have to go through the Fuchijinja (shrine).  It’s a small shrine that is located next to the ropeway at the base of Mt. Inasa.  The ropeway is, of course, the easiest method to access the top of the mountain.  The shrine itself is beautifully set and there are some interesting smaller shrines just above the main shrine.  They have 6 shrines dedicated to the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.  It was the first time I had seen something like that in Japan, and I’d recommend a quick trip up to see these small shrines.  To reach the top of Mt. Insasa, you have to either take the ropeway, or drive up to the top.  When you go up to the top of Mt. Inasa, it’s nice to get their a little early to see the sunset along with the night view, of course.  It doesn’t take long to take a few pictures and return back to Nagasaki.  At the top, if you arrive a little late, in time for the sunset, there isn’t much to do.  Most of the shops are closed before dinner, and to be honest, there aren’t many shops at all.  I was surprised that a Top 3 Night View had so little in the way of things to do, and the ropeway closed early as well.  I’d say it’s worth the trip to the top as the view is very nice.  Whether I’d say it’s one of the best in Japan or not is debatable, but if something is recommended, why not try it.

Nagasaki is a lot bigger than you can expect.  You don’t have to do too much to get around and see everything.  While you can walk around and see almost everything without using public transportation, I didn’t get a chance to see some of the other famous sights, such as the peace park, and a Chinese temple.  It was a little far from the area I was staying in, but if I do go back to Nagasaki, those are two places that I will have to visit.  I do think that visiting Nagasaki is an important place, and there is a lot more to do than you would expect.  Whether you rush and do everything over a couple days, or take your time and spend several days there, you will leave very happy.

This is Part II of a two part series on Nagasaki.  To read more on Nagasaki, please head over to Part I.

Nagasaki Information:

Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Nagasaki
Japan’s Top 3 (Wikitravel): http://wikitravel.org/en/Japan%27s_Top_3
Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2162.html
Nagasaki Tourism Agency: http://www.nagasaki-tabinet.com/mlang/english/

Oura Church (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ōura_Church
Meganebashi (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megane_Bridge

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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