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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。


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Tottori July 27, 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 “Tottori” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-tottori

Tottori is a small city on the cost of the Sea of Japan in western Japan.  It is located north west of Kobe.  The city itself is not a major location for tourists, even for Japanese people.  The city has only one major reason to be.  The Tottori Sand Dunes are the major attraction with Japanese pears being the major tourist gift.  In general, there isn’t much to see or do in this small city, but if you are looking for a small Japanese city to visit, Tottori might be a good place to see what small Japan looks like.  Personally, I think there are many better places to visit than Tottori.

The Tottori Sand Dunes, or rather “dune” is a short bus ride from Tottori Station.  It isn’t very expensive to visit the Sand Dunes and there are many things you can do.  It isn’t a proper beach where you can just lye in the sun and get well tanned.  It’s a tourist attraction with people walking up and down the one dune.  There are several things you can do when you visit the sand dunes, but do be aware that when it’s raining, most of the activities are cancelled.  One of the most interesting things you can do is to enjoy a nice ride on a camel.  The price is a little steep at nearly 2000 Yen per ride, but when in your life will you ride a camel, let alone a camel in Japan!  The other major attraction is to take a horse and carriage ride.  These rides go rain or shine as the wagons are covered.  I can’t comment on the experience as when I went it was raining somewhat heavily, so the smell of the wet horses was pungent.  You can also try sand boarding, paragliding, or just take a nice walk on the beach.  Since most things were closed, I decided to take a nice walk from the main station to the coast.  There are three sections to the sand dune area.  There’s the section between the dune and the tourist centres, the dune itself, and the coast.  The area between the dune and the tourist centres has been changing over the years.  In recent years, there have been grass growing at the basin, and a small pond has been growing in size.  What was once a sand covered basin is now starting to change into a small green oasis in the middle of a large “beach”.  The dune itself is somewhat tall and requires a little energy to climb.  It’s not a difficult climb at all, but the sand doesn’t help in the ascent.  Just past the dune is a steep drop that leads to the Sea of Japan.  The views from the top of the dune are beautiful, if it was a sunny day, and the water is refreshing.  A quick trip to the shore is recommended, if anything to get your feet wet and to enjoy the sea.  The challenge of running down the dune is fun fairly easy, but one has to remember that what goes down must go up to get home.

Other than the sand dune, Tottori has several nice temples and touristy things around the city.  If you have a chance, a bicycle is more than sufficient to get around and a great way to spend a day in the city.  The loop bus would be nice as well, but I prefer to either cycle or walk around on my own.  In my journey, I decided to walk and see whatever came my way.  There is a nice small river that has various old bridges and sculptures lining it.  I also stumbled upon a small zoo, and when I say small, I mean tiny.  There were very small cages for animals such as goats, birds, and monkeys.  The cages themselves looked too small to keep the animals happy. I arrived after 5pm, so the zoo was closed, but the entire area is encased in a park.  It’s free to walk around the outside of the zoo, and the paid area of the zoo is only a single 10 metre long path that showcases, at most, a dozen or so animals.  I doubt it’s worth the admission as you can easily see the animals from outside.  There was nothing I could do to help the animals, and I could only hope that when the zoo was open, the animals are free to walk around the park, or a bigger area.

Other than that, there really isn’t much to do in Tottori.  If you go to the sand dunes, you can try to pick up a sand dune egg.  These are hard boiled eggs that were cooked in the sand itself.  It’s not particularly delicious, but it is “unique” to the area.  I’d probably recommend trying the “ago” (ah-go).  The main Japanese name is “Tobiuo” or Flying Fish.  It’s a small fish that literally jumps out of the water and can fly for several metres.  The main food to come from Tottori is rakkyo and Asian pears.  Due to the climate and poor soil conditions, these are the only foods that Tottori can produce consistently.  Rakkyo is a type of pickled onion. It’s difficult to explain, but it has a somewhat sweet taste.  It’s popular as a topping for Japanese curry or as a small side dish for lunch.  The pears themselves are generally in season towards the end of summer.  Any other time, you’d only get pear treats rather than fresh pears themselves.

If you do go to Tottori, I highly recommend renting a car.  Tottori city can be visited in a day, maybe two, but if you want to really see the area, a car is a must.  There are various beautiful beaches just outside of the city towards the west.  You can also head towards Mt. Daisen which is a large mountain that is considered to be the Mt. Fuji of the area.  Another great option is to take the San’in Railroad, run by the JR Company.  I have heard it’s a beautiful train that goes up along the coast.  You can enjoy a beautiful day going from Kyoto all the way up to Tottori, then over and along the coast.  If you have the time, and want to just enjoy a day as the world passes by, this is a good way to spend it.

Tottori Information:

Tottori (Wikipedia): http://wikitravel.org/en/Tottori

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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