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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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Tokyo (Ueno – Ueno Park) May 18, 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 (Ueno – Ueno Park)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mW

West of Ueno Station brings you to Ueno Park.  This is probably the biggest reason people visit Ueno, at least as a tourist.  The park is one of the largest in Tokyo.  The park area itself contains a temple, a zoo, three museums, and various activities any other park would have.  The park itself is nothing special.  There are few places to actually enjoy a nice picnic.  Most of the paths in the park are paved, with little to no areas to sit and relax.  It’s a very typical Tokyo park.  The best time to visit the park itself is during the cherry blossom season, in spring.  There are over 1000 cherry trees in the park allowing you some of the best views of the park itself.  During the cherry blossom season, the city brings in extra lights to light up the cherry blossoms at night.  While most parks do the same, Ueno Park is one of the most beautiful to see.  As with any other park with lots of cherry blossoms, the park will be extremely busy at the peak of the cherry blossom season.  It’s advised to be careful as you will more than likely have to navigate between people to get around.  At night, it can also get very noisy as many office workers are drinking and fairly drunk at that time too.  Many people do avoid the park for this very reason.  The daytime is still very tame, but in true Japanese tradition, at least nowadays, it’s best to see the blossoms at night.

Ueno Park has four major religious structures.  The first you will encounter, near the entrance, is Kiyomizu Kannondo Hall/Temple.  This hall is famous once a year for its “Dolls Funeral”, or Ningyo Kuyo.  This funeral for dolls is related to the Hinamatsuri.  The Hinamasturi is a “Dolls Festival” where Japanese people display dolls for a happy life for their daughters.  It’s an elaborate festival that is celebrated at ones home.  There can be several dolls, and when Japanese people get older, they must decide what to do with them.  Some believe that they are spirits and must be treated with respect.  Due to this superstition, they cannot throw them away.  Several temples and shrines around Japan hold a type of Ningyo Kuyo each year in order to wish them luck in their next life.  The Ningyo Kuyo at Kiyomizu Kannondo is not very large, but there are probably hundreds of dolls, including stuffed animals such as Mickey Mouse, that are “cremated” at this time.  It can be interesting to watch, but I believe there are more interesting versions outside Tokyo, but unfortunately I do not know them.  Next Hanazono Inari Shrine, which is dedicated to the Inari, or fox.  These shrines can be very interesting as they tend to have several red gates and stone foxes with red bibs.  Toshogu Shrine is the next religious building.  It’s a small shrine located deep within the park.  It is linked to the shrines in Nikko, however this shrine is not as grand.  Unfortunately, I have never been to the shrine itself, but it is recommended to enter nonetheless.  The last religious structure to visit would be Benten-do.  It’s a hall dedicated to a female Buddhist god.  This hall is supposed to be popular for various reasons; probably wealth and knowledge, but unfortunately, I have forgotten the true meaning.  I have also heard that couples should avoid going to this hall together as it could create bad luck for their relationship.

In terms of museums, you have the Tokyo National Museum, The National Science Museum and The National Museum of Western Art.  The Tokyo National Museum is located at the northern end of Ueno Park.  It is the biggest and most important museum of the park, for obvious reasons.  On display are various paintings, writings, pottery, and of course the standard statues of various eras.  It’s a wonderful way to learn and hopefully appreciate the history of Japan.  It can be difficult to visit the entire museum in just a couple hours.  I would suggest arriving somewhat early and to allow yourself enough time to take your time throughout the museum.  If science is more interesting, the National Science Museum is an interesting place to visit.  They have various exhibits in and around the museum itself.  It is a relatively compact space and worth a visit with children.  The quality compared to a science museum in your own hometown will depend on what is available.  Many of the exhibits are interactive, as any good science museum is, but do look at their website and see if they have anything you’d be interested in seeing before heading in.  The last museum located in Ueno Park is The National Museum of Western Art.  I have never ventured inside the museum; however, there is a famous sculpture by Rodin, “The Gates of Hell” located outside the museum itself.  This gate alone is worth a quick walk up to the museum.  There are also a few other sculptures located around the National Science and Western Art Museums that are picturesque.

Ueno Zoo is a popular destination for people, especially for Japanese people.  It is split up into two sections that are separated by a monorail.  Within the main section is a 5-storied pagoda.  It can be impressive.  The west side of the zoo, there is a children’s zoo.  This is mainly a petting zoo for children to hopefully enjoy feeding various small animals.  The zoo used to have a panda, but unfortunately, it died a little while ago.  The zoo is a popular place on weekdays for schools to have a field trip.  It’s also popular among locals on dates, or bringing their families for a nice day out on the weekends.  As you approach, you are sure to hear and see lots of kids.  Bring your patience cap when you visit and all will be fine.

Ueno Park is a wonderful place to visit.  You can spend as little as an hour just wandering around, or up to a several days exploring all of the nooks and crannies that are to be found.  If you are visiting during the day, it is lovely.  There is a down side to the park when things get dark.  Because it’s an open and public park, it never truly closes.  It is open 24 hours a day, so when the sun goes down, all of the homeless people in the area venture into the park.  They can come out of nowhere and set up a small “tent” out of cardboard boxes.  It’s a little scary at first, but you have to realize that homeless people in Japan are very different than Canada, or America.  They tend to be very quiet and to themselves.  As long as you don’t stare, you’ll be fine.  You can even strike up a conversation with one of them if you dare.  Either way, Ueno Park is something you should see, especially if you are in the area.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town and Ueno – Ameyokocho.

Ueno Information:

Ueno Zoo (English):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/main.html
Ueno Zoo (Japanese):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/zoo/ueno/index.html
Ningyo Kuyo:  http://www.jnto.go.jp/eventcalendar/search_result_en.php?num=719
Japan Guide (Ueno Park):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3019.html
Wikitravel (Ueno):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Ueno
Wikipedia (Ueno):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ueno,_Tokyo
Tokyo National Museum (English):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/en/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
Tokyo National Museum (Japanese):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/jp/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
National Museum of Science and Nature (English):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/english/
National Museum of Science and Nature (Japanese):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/
National Museum of Western Art (English):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/en/
National Museum of Western Art (Japanese):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/jp/index.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。

2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part III) May 12, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part III)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-an

Note:  Any and all descriptions of sculptures and activities are for 2009.  The sculptures are guaranteed to change, and some of the activities may also change.  It’s best to check just prior to going.

10-chome saw a return of large sculptures.  The first was a medium sized zoo.  It featured various animals that could be seen in Asahikawa.  They called it the Snow Festival Zoo, but in reality, it was almost an exact copy of the animals in Asahiyama Zoo.  However, it was a nice sculpture.  The main attraction has to be the Northern Animal Families.  This was sponsored by STV (Sapporo Television).  This sculpture featured three families, the Blakiston’s fish owl; the Steller’s Sea eagle; and the Ito (a type of salmon).  Unfortunately, the bird’s beauty and size overshadowed the fish, and I doubt many people recognized them.  I really enjoyed this sculpture and I feel it was the most beautiful large sculpture of the entire festival.

11-chome and 12-chome could be rolled into one block.  11-chome had an “International Gourmet Corner” and the 36th International Snow Sculpture Contest.  They had 12 entries from 12 countries.  Thailand’s “Garuda and Naga” won the competition with Lithuania’s “GLOVE” coming in second.  I agree with the winner being “Garuda and Naga”, however, I didn’t like “GLOVE”, but it was artistically pleasing compared to the others.  In 12-chome, you will be able to see various different sculptures made by volunteers and locals alike.  They tend to be simple and feature a lot of characters that are well known in Japan.  By the time you reach this area, you will be tired of sculptures and in need of a break.  I would, however, advise against going to this area at night as there aren’t enough lights to truly show these sculptures.

After you finish with Odori Park, Sapporo Dome offers something for everyone.  Outside the dome, you can do various activities such as snow rafting and tube slides.  You can also build your own snowman and make your own skis.  There are a few places to get a good beer and food and various other sculptures.  Inside the dome, you can enjoy the Snow Market, eco advertising, and various other corporate booths promoting various things.  I never made it to this area as it’s focused towards families rather than single adults, so I never even thought about heading to this spot.  If you have children, I would definitely recommend this place as it looks like a lot of fun.

The final place to visit during the Snow Festival is the Susukino Ice Festival.  The ice festival is 6 blocks of small ice sculptures.  The entrance had a sculpture of Hokkaido’s famous clock tower.  From there, you will be greeted by various peacocks, angels, and everything you can think of.  Some notable sculptures were a few bars promoting the different Japanese drinks such as Sapporo Classic (beer), and Suntory Whiskey.  While I never visited this site during the day, I’d highly recommend visiting at night as the sculptures look extremely beautiful under the street lights.

My final impression was that this is definitely a festival to visit.  I think it’s beautiful and very impressive.  Aside from the people and the cold, it’s great to go north and see the beautiful snow.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t do everything that I wanted to do.  That’s the problem with visiting and not living in this beautiful city.  If you do go, try to visit the festival, both in the day and at night.  You will see different sides of this festival.  Unfortunately, after a few hours, you will be sick and tired of all the snow sculptures and everything will start to look the same.  Dress very warm and do as much as you can in the short time you have at the festival.

Information:

Sapporo Snow Festival (English): http://www.snowfes.com/english/place/index.html
Sapporo Snow Festival (Japanese): http://www.snowfes.com/
Sapporo Snow Festival (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapporo_Snow_Festival

Note:  Part III of a 3 part series .  (Part I) (Part II)

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。

Asahikawa March 31, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Asahikawa” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-9y

Asahikawa is a major city located in the middle of Hokkaido.  It is also known as the coldest city in Japan.  The city is served by a small airport that has daily flights to various major cities in Japan and special flights to Korea from time to time.  The easiest way to get around is to rent a car, or by bus.  The trains run roughly every 30 minutes making it difficult to plan anything.  The city is also very easy to navigate, so driving shouldn’t be a major problem for anyone, even a foreigner.

There are three major things to see or do in Asahikawa.  Asahiyama Zoo is the second busiest zoo in Japan, after Ueno Zoo in Tokyo.  It is well known in the summer for its bird display and various exotic animals.  They have many large cats and monkeys on display, but in the winter months, they are fairly inactive.  The main attraction in the winter is the sea animals.  The main attraction is the penguins.  There is a large pavilion where you can walk within the penguin pool.  It’s very nice to watch penguins flying overhead.  When you watch them swim from above, it looks like swimming, but when you are below them, it appears as if they are flying.  It’s quite beautiful.  The pavilion is also based outside where you can get very close to the penguins.  It’s possible to touch them, but you aren’t allowed.  In winter, you can also watch a “Penguin March”.  They take a nice slow walk around the zoo, but the main feature of the walk is that you can see the penguins without any glass in front of you.  You can almost touch the penguins, but it’s not allowed, of course.  The Penguin March itself is quite simple and boring as they have King Penguins, but from time to time, some Gentoo Penguins also join the walk.  These are much smaller, but more active, providing a better show for the audience.  While the penguins are the main attraction the second biggest attraction during the winter months are the polar bears.

These majestic bears tend to just sleep during the day, but they have a few unique attractions.  The first is an observation bubble.  You can pop your head up from a tunnel and see the polar bears resting.  It’s to simulate the feelings a seal would have if it were to be attacked by a polar bear.  The other attraction is the pool where the bears play around.  In the summer months, the zookeepers tend to add fruit encased in ice as a special treat.  Watching the bears can be fun, but it is very busy, and timing is everything.  The last attraction is the Leopard Seal pavilion.  Its main feature is a glass tube where the seals can swim up and down.  It allows you to enjoy a full 360 degree view of the leopard seal swimming.  It is a very cool sight to see and highly recommended.

The second thing to do in Asahikawa is to eat ramen.  Asahikawa is famous, like most places in Japan, for its ramen.  The ramen itself isn’t that special, but it does have a slightly distinct flavour.  It has a stronger fish taste to it, in general.  Myself, I can’t really tell the difference, but it is a very nice lunch if you are outside all day in the freezing cold.  The last thing to do in Asahikawa is to visit the Otokoyama sake factory.  It is one of Hokkaido’s most famous brands and it tastes wonderful.  It’s a nice way to end your day and pick up a few gifts for some friends.

If you are intending to go to Hokkaido for a vacation, Asahikawa is a wonderful place to visit.  It isn’t the best place as a base for your trip, but it can be a base for part of your trip.  In the winter, it’s good for a few days of skiing, but in reality, it’s not close enough to any famous ski hills.  In the summer, it’s good because it’s very close to Furano.  However, it is better to stay in Sapporo as Asahikawa can easily be finished as a single day trip.  As I have said in the past,  Hokkaido is a wonderful place to visit, and I hope you can enjoy a trip there someday soon.

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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