Zooming Japan http://zoomingjapan.com Mon, 17 Aug 2015 16:07:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Hiking Mt. Takao as a Day Trip from Tokyo http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/mt-takao/ http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/mt-takao/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 16:07:13 +0000 http://zoomingjapan.com/?p=1568 Mt. Takao is a great opportunity to get away from the hectic city life and crowds in Tokyo. That’s why it’s a popular destination for all those who want to do some easy hiking and enjoy nature. Visited: October 28th 2014 How to access Mt. Takao Mount Takao can easily be done as a day […]

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Mt. Takao is a great opportunity to get away from the hectic city life and crowds in Tokyo.
That’s why it’s a popular destination for all those who want to do some easy hiking and enjoy nature.

cute star smilie Visited: October 28th 2014 cute star smilie

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

How to access Mt. Takao

Mount Takao can easily be done as a day trip from Tokyo. It is located west of Tokyo and at the eastern edge of the Kanto Mountains.

Located at the foot of the mountain is “Takaosanguchi Station“. From Shinjuku it’ll take about an hour to get there.

 

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

From the station you can either start hiking right away or take a Cablecar (8:00 – 17:45, departs every 15 mins, one-way 480 yen) or a Chair Lift (9:00 – 16:30, from Dec-Apr -16:00, one-way 480 yen).

The latter two options will bring you up straight to an observation platform and a monkey park.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Around the observation platform you’ll have the opportunity to grab some food.

How about a “Tengu Dog”? ;)

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Mount Takao is extremely popular during autumn foliage season in the second half of November.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

I went in late October and as you can see the colors weren’t fully out yet, but at least it wasn’t so crowded.

Please note that it doesn’t only get crowded in autumn, but generally on weekends, so try to avoid them if you can.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

After enjoying the view from the observation platform you can either visit the monkey park or proceed to the mountain temple.

As you can see most signs are in Japanese only, so make sure you get a map to help you figure out where to go. (At the very end of this post, you’ll find a pamphlet in English including a good map.)

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Approaching “Yakuoin Temple” (薬王院) which was founded in 744.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Mount Takao has been a center of mountain worshipping for over 1000 years.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

The whole mountain also served as a place of ascetic training.

You can actually experience some of it at Yakuoin Temple (including waterfall asceticism, sutra reading, Zen meditation).

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

In the background you see “Relic stupa” which looked a bit like a church from farther away.

It’s the first thing you’ll run into if you take the same route as I did.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Here’s a good map in English of all the temple facilities.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Entering through the “Shitenno-mon Gate”.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

There are lots of things to do if you want to pray for good luck to the “Tengu”.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Not only can you enjoy the beautiful autumn foliage on the mountain, but also sakura.

The area around “Takaosan Senbonzakura” is a popular cherry blossom viewing spot in spring.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

You can enjoy sakura there from mid to late April when the blossoms have long disappeared down in Tokyo!

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Proceeding to the Main Hall.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

And of course there were a lot of “Tengu” statues everywhere.

Tengu (天狗) literally means “heavenly dog” and is a Shinto-Buddhist god originated from Japanese folklore.
It’s a deified image of a man who mastered “Shugendo” (ascetic disciplinary customs) associated with an ancient Japanese practice of mountain worship to obtain magical and spiritual powers.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

The two guardians of Mt. Takao look like in the photo above.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

One has a long nose, the other one a crow beak.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

The Main Hall.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

I’ve found some of the most beautiful temple / shrine seal books there. So, if you intend to purchase one, Mt. Takao is a good place to do so.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Around the main hall you’ll find impressive wooden carvings.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

5-yen coins were attached via a red rope. I’m not entirely sure what for, but 5-yen coins are often used if one wants to pray for good luck.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

If you proceed further you’ll run into the Daishi-do Hall.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

You can easily recognize the little red building because it’s surrounded by many, many stone statues.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

The Izuna Gongen-do Hall is very colorful and features impressive colorful carvings.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Once you’ve passed the temple, you’ll be at the top of the mountain where you can take a break.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

From there you’ll also have a great view.

Oh yeah … do I even have to mention it? You’re supposed to see Mt. Fuji from there, but as always ….. nope!

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

After taking a break, you should decide which of the many trails you’ll take back down.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

The one I wanted to take was closed because they found a suzumebachi (huge hornets that can kill you….) nest.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

No problem, though! Not too far away from the resting area is a tiny information center where you can ask which trail suits you best.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Most trails also have lots of interesting information, so you can observe the nature around you even closer.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

Almost back down, there was a tiny waterfall.

Mt. Takao as a day trip from Tokyo

When I finally arrived back at the Cablecar Station there was an ambulance and firefighters. Apparently an older person fell down somewhere on the same trail I just had used. I admit that it was wet (and thus slippery) due to lots of rain the previous few days and you had to be careful!

 

If you need to get out of Tokyo and like mountains and not very difficult hiking trails, then I recommend Mt. Takao!
Have you been to Mt. Takao yet?

If you decide to go, definitely take this great pamphlet in English with you as it’s providing all the information you need: Mt. Takao pamphlet (English).pdf

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Evacomics: Funny Comparison of Japan, Singapore and U.S. http://zoomingjapan.com/recommendation/evacomics/ http://zoomingjapan.com/recommendation/evacomics/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 12:43:01 +0000 http://zoomingjapan.com/?p=1564 Today I want to introduce an amazing comic artist to you. I found her blog many years ago and ever since then have enjoyed her funny comic strips where she’s comparing Japan to Singapore, the U.S. and other countries. I really love her humor and with just a few panels she’s able to convey things […]

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Today I want to introduce an amazing comic artist to you.
I found her blog many years ago and ever since then have enjoyed her funny comic strips where she’s comparing Japan to Singapore, the U.S. and other countries. I really love her humor and with just a few panels she’s able to convey things showing how they really are.

When reading her comics I often find myself smiling and nodding. If I could draw at all I would show you the differences between Japan and Germany. ;)
But as I can’t I decided to introduce you to “Evacomics” instead because it’s something you really shouldn’t miss if you’re interested in Japan and how life there really is.

 

Evacomics: Funny comics about Japan

And there’s nobody else who could introduce Evacomics better than the artist herself. I’m glad that she agreed to do this interview.

Zooming Japan: Hi, Eva. Please introduce yourself.

Eva: Hi, Jasmine! I’m Evangeline Neo, a comic artist from Singapore. I’ve been publishing my own comic series via web since 2007. I was awarded an MDA scholarship in 2003 and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. I subsequently earned a scholarship for Japanese language study and Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at Waseda University in Tokyo in 2010 supported by Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2013 I returned to Singapore and founded Evaworks Pte Ltd as a vehicle for my marketing expertise, deep cross cultural insight and entrepreneurial spirit.

Evacomics: Funny comics about Japan

Eva at Hitachi Seaside Park – a place I have yet to visit (can you believe it?)

 

Zooming Japan: Why did you decide to come to Japan and why did you leave again?

Eva: After graduating from my art school in US, I returned to Singapore to work on my comics. But seeing that the industry had not grown and sales of comic books going down, I wanted to see and experience how Japan created the vibrant manga culture and if I could learn something from it and bring back home. I had no money to study abroad so I applied for scholarships and got one offered by Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Japan) on my third attempt. I left because I graduated and did not want to sell my soul to any Japanese company for a working visa. I wanted to develop my own brand “Evacomics” so the best place is back home (and no rent!).

 

Evacomics: Funny comics about Japan

Zooming Japan: You’re drawing awesome comics comparing Japan to other countries, mainly Singapore. How did you come up with that idea?

Eva: Hint: I didn’t have a smart phone for my last 1.5 years in Japan. I didn’t look down on my phone like what most people do now, so I just observed everything around me. As a student, I had more time to socialize with many people so ideas came in through regular conversations, too.

Evacomics: Funny comics about Japan

Zooming Japan: Where / how can people enjoy your comics?

Eva: They can check out my Facebook page, blog and also Instagram.
I have a Patreon campaign now to allow supporters to directly fund me.

They can also purchase the book “Eva, Kopi and Matcha” that you see in the photo above on Amazon.

 

Evacomics: Funny comics about Japan

Zooming Japan: In your opinion, what is better about life in Japan and what is worse when you compare it to Singapore?

Eva: It’s always more interesting to have changing seasons, fresh seasonal fruits, vegetables and meat. Everything in Japan looks more visually appealing, from snack packaging to billboard ads. Scenery is also beautiful there. We have no rural area in Singapore now, no mountains, no river, no lakes.
The only thing I don’t like about Japan and the reason why I left is the working culture there. You are supposed to follow what your superiors want, work overtime and get totally exhausted. There’s no work-life-balance. Being a woman doesn’t help either. I had been looked down upon a couple of times from old Japanese businessmen. Of course, not all old Japanese businessmen are arrogant, I had professors who were absolutely cool and open-minded.

 

Evacomics: Funny comics about Japan

(*Zooming Japan: Don’t even ask what kind of weird situations I had with my students because of that …)

 

Zooming Japan: I’m writing a blog series called “A German Alien in Japan”. We all know that Western foreigners in Japan are sometimes treated differently from Asian foreigners. Would you agree? What’s your experience?

Eva: Yes, definitely. I heard from friends that companies who were hiring English teachers prefer foreigners who look more foreign (i.e. blonde hair, blue eyes). You also get more attention when you have a Western-looking foreign friend in the group … everybody just treats you kinder. For me, I looked like a Japanese, so I only got “better” treatment when I didn’t completely understand the instructions and spoke in English …

 

Evacomics: Funny comics about Japan

(*Zooming Japan: And in Germany you have to call the waiter several times and hope you’ll be able to pay any time soon. On top of that you’re supposed to pay a tip.)

 
Zooming Japan: Do you have any advice for people who want to live in Japan?

Eva: It’s probably better to save some money and then apply for a one-year Japanese course there to experience Japan and its culture. You get to learn the language, make new friends and have time to tour around. If you decide to study or work there, you can research and get interviewed directly, too. There’s also the MEXT scholarship. You don’t have to pay school fees and you get monthly allowance, too!

Zooming Japan: Thank you very much for the great advice and for taking the time for this interview, Eva.

 

Evacomics: Funny comics about Japan

I hope you like Evacomics as much as I do.

 
Evacomics: Funny comics about Japan

You can stay connected with Eva and enjoy new comic strips regularly on the following platforms:

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3 English-Friendly, Must See Ainu Destinations Around Sapporo http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/ainu-destinations/ http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/ainu-destinations/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 14:52:23 +0000 http://zoomingjapan.com/?p=1561 The topic of the Ainu is something rarely discussed in Japan. They are Japan’s mysterious native people who were pushed north, oppressed, and had their language and culture legally suppressed by the Wajin (ethnic Japanese). To some, they’re an interesting, cultural curiosity rarely heard of in the outside world. While Hokkaido is known for its […]

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The topic of the Ainu is something rarely discussed in Japan. They are Japan’s mysterious native people who were pushed north, oppressed, and had their language and culture legally suppressed by the Wajin (ethnic Japanese). To some, they’re an interesting, cultural curiosity rarely heard of in the outside world. While Hokkaido is known for its onsen hot springs and fresh seafood, some people know it’s the perfect destination for a look into an almost secretive part of Japan’s history.

 

Why Study the Ainu?

Unlike with the US and the Native Americans, Japan rarely openly discusses the history of its native people or the wrongs inflicted upon them. Ainu people do not have their own land or communities, and despite efforts to keep the language alive through radio programs, the situation is looking grim. The Meiji era legally referred to them as “former aborigines” as it outlawed their culture in an attempt to integrate them into Wajin society, and for the most part, the job’s all but finished. While Japan finally recognized the Ainu as the original inhabitants of the land in 2008, many Ainu have already lost their language and culture, left Hokkaido, and joined the rest of Japan in their move towards Tokyo.

In school, students read one or two sentences about the Ainu, and mostly just that Ainu were hunter gatherers in Hokkaido. Of the schools I’ve taught at here in Japan, students and faculty have noted that the topic of the Ainu just isn’t covered. One student showed me the single example about the Ainu in her textbook I previously described. One school was especially proud that their English textbook discussed the Ainu and Japan’s responsibility in their fate, but this is also a highly academic school with a tie to a Hokkaido based rocket scientist. Outside of that, saying the word “Ainu” in school (and most non-Hokkaido places in Japan) generally involves you having to mention Hokkaido, bears, and beards before the meaning even registers to most people.

Ainu destinations in Hokkaido Ainu destinations in Hokkaido

As I mentioned in a previous article, museums here have even denied English access to Ainu research, despite specializing in indigenous studies and having nearly every other display in at least English and Japanese, if not Chinese as well. I’ve been to the Tokyo Ainu Center several times, and while they have some reasonable tourist information and early English texts on the Ainu, the staff speaks little to no English and is mostly meant for Japanese people because, well, most Japanese still don’t know much about the topic. In general, if you want to learn about the Ainu, you have to go to Hokkaido.

The Ainu of Japan have a connection to an older culture, a world where the gods literally offer their bodies to feed human kind. However, times have changed, and the Ainu of today live in a seemingly godless modern era where their practices seem backwards and barbaric. Stripped of their ability to live in the natural world and losing their connection to an oral tradition that was outlawed until recently, modern Ainu people wrestle with a truly complex set of problems all humanity should consider: When we stop worshiping nature, how do we still show it respect? How do we keep our ancestors’ languages intact in a world that increasingly has become globalized? What is the value of our culture in a world ruled by commerce? How do we move towards a united future when the mistakes of the past are ignored or denied? Alone, these problems aren’t just that of a minority group, but the Ainu do bear the burden of these combined issues.

Despite this, the plight of the Ainu is mostly restricted to those who are at least fluent in Japanese. While searching Google can give you some information, there is still a mountain of it sitting in libraries and community centers in Japan, often gathering dust. As I was told by several people of Ainu descent, there’s almost no practical use for their culture, and reclaiming it at this point often seems impossible.

Native Japanese show little to no interest in the Ainu, with outsiders seemingly showing more than natives. This is highlighted best by my own students, who had their school trip in Sapporo but the word “Ainu” never once appeared on their event schedule. The fact that there is interest about the Ainu coming from the outside world but little English access to it is an odd problem.

Although I had a long list of contacts from both the Ainu Association of Hokkaido and even the public relations department of the Hokkaido Tourism Organization, getting information beyond simple descriptions and addresses was difficult. Experts from the museums and colleges never returned my emails, Facebook/Twitter messages, or that of my PR contacts, in English or Japanese. In short, for outsiders, learning about the Ainu in Hokkaido is difficult, especially when you consider the fact that the JR system there is quite limited.

With only about four days of free time, I decided to try to find out as much about the Ainu as possible in order to help fellow tourists get the chance to also experience Ainu history and culture. All these locations are accessible from Sapporo without having to stay anywhere over night or using a car/plane/boat, just the bus or JR system. All the locations have information in English, but as with all Ainu information, the more Japanese you can read/understand, the better your experience will be.

While there may be others in the future (such as the Hokkaido University Museum which is set to reopen in July 2016), this short list is the best I could find, even with help. You may find the Hokkaido University’s Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies, but this is closed off to the public; even my press contacts were unable to help me get in. Being in Sapporo, people will also tell you about the Hokkaido Ainu Culture Research Center. No matter what some people (and even signs!) may tell you, it’s gone, merged with one of the museums on the following list. The travel center at the JR stations and the locals will all tell you about it if you mention your interest in the Ainu, but really, ignore them unless they mention the new location.

Now that you’re able to avoid the pitfalls I fell for, let’s get down to business.

 

Shiraoi’s Poroto Kotan

The Ainu museum in Shiaroi’s Poroto Kotan (which means “A Big Village”) really can’t be missed. Jasmine already covered it here on Zooming Japan, but there are some big details I want to add as someone a little more familiar with the topic. For one, this place can be a really mixed bag. Most tourists here are non-Japanese East Asians, coming from China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, etc. The tourists speak a lot of English, but the staff mostly don’t speak much. There’s a tiny “zoo” that’s quite depressing and some lectures/shows that are mostly in Japanese with some ritual Ainu language occasionally thrown in. Most of the staff seemed Japanese, but there are some actual researchers and mixed Ainu people.

Ainu destinations in Hokkaido

While it may come across as a tourist trap for those who just want to brag about doing something unique, those with a real interest in the Ainu won’t be disappointed. The amount of English in the (quite small) museum is enough that I was able to pick up a few words of Ainu without needing to use my Japanese skills, all from the mural at the entrance of the museum. Nearly all the displays are in English, and most of it’s quite easy to understand. It also has a lot of information I didn’t previously have access to. Since most English research into the topic comes from the late 1800s and early 1900s from male anthropologists and missionaries, topics such as pregnancy and raising children are rarely in English.

One of the curators, Mr. Itsuki Nakamura, was incredibly helpful. While he doesn’t speak the language, he does speak a healthy dose of English. Not only can you ask him questions, but he can help you with contacts, if you speak Japanese. He was able to put me in contact with a Japanese-Ainu mixed woman also working at the village who sang part of a yukar (oral story) in the Ainu language. On my own, I had to use a mix of Japanese, English, and Spanish to communicate with her, but as someone who is also mixed and seen as a bit of an outsider in his home country, it was a satisfying experience I never have been able to find anywhere else. Between the two of them, even with my limited Japanese, I was able to learn a lot about current Ainu topics, from culture loss to being a representative of a culture that is hard to grasp even by those of the blood.

The cafe there offers some Ainu food, but I got the feeling it was made more for tourists, lacking some of the more pronounced flavors you can experience in Tokyo’s Harukor. Sadly, this is the only place around Sapporo where you can try Ainu food. The gift store has some good English learning materials about Hokkaido and the Ainu that you could (potentially) also use to help you learn a bit of Japanese, plus some good edibles to bring home.

Speaking of gift shops, the museum’s gift shop is a treasure trove for Ainu enthusiasts. If you want a bear claw (not the donut), you can buy some, but they’ll cost you. It’s something I personally struggle with, but, sadly, animal trophies have always been one of the biggest ways for the Ainu to make money, so times haven’t changed. However, there’s also some fantastic books. If you understand absolutely no Japanese, there are some general culture books, children’s books, and simplified yukar written to help keep the Ainu spirit alive. If you can understand Japanese… my god. There were so many good books, including one that had really specific details about iomante, the releasing of a bear spirit… by killing a real bear that was raised as a member of an Ainu family. It’s obviously a sensitive topic, and this book details even how and where to cut the bear to remove the skin, with pictures, so you don’t need to know any kanji to understand some of its content.

Outside are several vendors who sell handmade wares. While there is some kitschy stuff, there’s also more authentic hand-made clothes, preserved meat, and yes, carvings. However, the carvings aren’t just bears, but also geometric designs in animal products, such as antlers, which is a little closer to something the Ainu would use to trade with before having to focus on tourism to keep their culture alive. Some of the vendors are also quite knowledgeable about the community, so you can have a cultural experience while shopping for some stuff that you won’t be seeing at the usual omiyage souvenir shops around Sapporo.

Be aware that the village is being bought by the government in 2020, when the museum is supposed to expand at the very least. People seem excited about this since the village is the only one near Sapporo that has real history, and it’s certainly different. While most amateur Ainu researchers hear about how respected the bear is, this village (and much of Sapporo) features Blakiston’s fish owl, the guardian god of the region. While you could certainly walk through the village and “be done” with it in about thirty minutes, taking the time to read the placards, check the books, and talk to the people takes hours, and it’s an experience that really can’t be had anywhere else around Sapporo.

 

The Hokkaido Museum

Remember that little museum I mentioned that’s no longer in Sapporo? Well, it merged with the Hokkaido Museum, accessible by bus from the Shin-Sapporo station. While I loved the personal feel of Shiraoi’s village, the Hokkaido Museum also has a fairly personal touch. Unlike any other museum I’ve found in Japan, this one firmly describes how the Japanese have unfairly treated the Ainu, and their World War I&II section admits more wrong doing than I’ve seen from other Japanese museums (though it’s still not perfect).

While there is a lot of information in English, it’s still got a lot in Japanese. The videos of dances and oral tales are easy enough to access at a push of a button, but other displays can be a bit more difficult to understand. Luckily, each section of the museum has several areas that try to give detailed summaries of what the various Japanese placards say. These are small essays, not a simple paragraph, so I didn’t feel like I missed out on much more than simply reading the information while standing in front of relevant displays.

Ainu destinations in Hokkaido

One display that wasn’t translated, but simple enough to understand with intermediate Japanese, was about a fake Ainu family’s experience with the Japanese for five generations. It holds few punches, centering around a modern boy asking his grandparents about his Ainu heritage, in which they discuss the hardships of their family and the loss of various aspects of their culture, including the language. It’s a modern display that’s sensitive to the fact that the Ainu aren’t dead and gone but are forced to find their way in a world that doesn’t seem to value their culture. The summary you can read is serviceable, but sadly, the full weight of the display is lost to those with zero English skills. However, it’s still something you simply won’t find outside of Hokkaido.

The museum also places the Ainu in a historical context, having displays on the people the Ainu probably came from. Jomon, Satsumon, and Okhotsk cultures are all covered and discussed in a way that you can understand how they influenced what would become Ainu culture or the interaction with the people who became the modern Japanese.

While the displays are quite nice, the basement library has some more excellent books. Again, if you can read Japanese, the value of this library goes up a lot, but even with just English, there are many books that are very hard to get a hold of, containing information that’s difficult to get in English. One such book is “Kamuy-Yukar” by Yutaka Nakagawa. Though the actual book is in Ainu, the commentary companion booklet translated by Ryumine Katayama has questions asked by non-Ainu (including foreigners) that cover subjects rarely discussed in more academic books (such as if eggs and nuts are considered gods which, apparently, they’re not; they’re just gifts from the gods).
Update: I’ve since bought the book for myself, and the commentary is mostly summaries of yukar, which you can listen to if you get a copy that includes a CD.

In terms of museums, the displays in the Hokkaido Museum are warm and personable. You’ll want to leave at least several hours open to explore the museum and library, possibly the whole day if you want to visit the nearby historic village which, sadly, has nothing in terms of Ainu content but it still an interesting place to check out. You can get a discount ticket that covers the price of both locations, but keep in mind that the historic village is mostly outdoors.

 

Sapporo Pirka Kotan

I must admit that, in a way, Sapporo Pirka Kotan is perhaps the weakest place to visit on this list. Most of the displays use rather poor English with little to no explanations, and are often the same or similar to ones you can see at either of the two previously mentioned sites. It’s about a 40 minute bus ride from Sapporo, and the bus doesn’t come by too often. At the very least though, being near a onsen means you can either get in some educational time as well as onsen time, or leave someone at the onsen while you have your research time.

The village set up outside is quite scenic, rivaling the Shiraoi Kotan by trading the lake view for a forest and stream one, but my personal favorite feature of our final entry is its library. As usual, it’s best appreciated by those who can read Japanese. However, for those who speak English, there is a very special treat.

Ainu destinations in Hokkaido Among the other Ainu books is an English copy of Ryo Michico’s “The Ainu and the Bear: The Gift of the Cycle of Life.” The book covers iomante in a very personal and human way. It’s considered appropriate for kindergarteners, but reading it as an adult who understands the ritual makes it a gut wrenching experience. Even before reading comments by the author, the reader can see the struggle between culture and necessity, the pull of survival versus the love of an animal, and a modern adult mind trying to reconcile the mythology we tell ourselves with the concept of causing unnecessary suffering.

The museum overall normally isn’t worth the trip if you’re able to make it to either of the other two sites previously mentioned, especially if you can somehow get a copy of the book, but if you have limited time and are traveling with people who aren’t really the cultural type, Pirka Kotan is still better than most Ainu displays I’ve found outside of Hokkaido. In that sense, Pirka Kotan is probably the easiest place to recommend for those just looking to get broad information on the Ainu before really committing to the day trips nearly required for the other two locations on our list.

 

I hope that the information I’ve provided is useful and saves you some time (and headaches) that usually come from attempting to get this information while on your own vacation. Though the locals will be a bit surprised that you’re interested in the history of the Ainu, they’ll also appreciate it and try to help you out. Be willing to listen to them, but also understand that, as someone who explicitly visited Sapporo for learning about the Ainu, I found little information in English, and much of it was dated. At least for the next year or five, this article should be able to help you.

Author Bio:

guest blogger

Laguna Levine is a geeky Mother lover that loves seeing mythology pop up in pop culture. He holds an MA in Linguistics and is currently teaching English in Japan. Sometimes, he also writes about video games, education, and culture, sometimes all at once! Laguna has written for MMOGames.com, GamerHeadlines and Tofugu.

Disclaimer:
“3 English-Friendly, Must See Ainu Destinations Around Sapporo” is a guest post. All the information and the photos without a “Zooming Japan” watermark are provided by Laguna Levine. Therefore Zooming Japan doesn’t take any responsibility for the content.

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One of the World’s Tallest Statues: Ushiku Daibutsu http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/ushiku-daibutsu/ http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/ushiku-daibutsu/#comments Sun, 12 Jul 2015 21:23:42 +0000 http://zoomingjapan.com/?p=1550 Japan has a lot of impressive Buddha statues, probably a lot more than you’d think. A lot of them claim to be the largest, tallest, heaviest etc. of their type, but Ushiku Daibutsu used to be the tallest statue in the WORLD until recently and is noted in the Guinness Book of Records! Visited: October […]

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Japan has a lot of impressive Buddha statues, probably a lot more than you’d think.
A lot of them claim to be the largest, tallest, heaviest etc. of their type, but Ushiku Daibutsu used to be the tallest statue in the WORLD until recently and is noted in the Guinness Book of Records!

cute star smilie Visited: October 29th 2014 cute star smilie

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

Access to Ushiku Daibutsu

Ushiku (牛久市) is a city in Ibaraki Prefecture (map). You can easily do this as a day trip from Tokyo.

Get off at JR Ushiku Station, head to the East Exit (東口) and from bus gate #2 take the bus heading to “Ushiku Daibutsu” (牛久大仏). The bus ride will take about 20-30 mins.

Explanation for the bus timetable: The very left is the station (牛久駅東口), the very right is the statue (牛久大仏) where you have to get off (for the second table it’s the other way round). The one in green is the schedule for during the week, the red one for weekends and holidays. From the bus stop you can already see the statue. You won’t have to walk for more than a minute to reach the entrance.

 

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

Ushiku Daibutsu: One of the World’s Tallest Statues

The statue was completed in 1993 and is 120 m tall. With that it used to be the world’s tallest statue until 2002. Now the highest statue is the Spring Temple Buddha in China with 128 m.

The Statue of Liberty is “only” 40 m tall.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

It’s the tallest statue in Japan. The statue itself only measures 100 m, but if you include the base (10 m) and lotus platform (10 m) it’s 120 m tall.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

The second tallest statue in Japan is the Sendai Daikannon in Miyagi Prefecture (100 m).

Even the most famous Buddha Statue in Japan, the Kamakura Daibutsu, measures only about 13 m.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

The statue is made of bronze and represents Amida Buddha which is considered to be “The Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light”.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

Visitors can enter the statue. An elevator lifts you up to 85 m and an observation platform. Apparently you can even see Mt. Fuji on a very clear day.

I doubt I even need to mention that – as always – I didn’t get to see the shy mountain.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

Besides the observation platform you’ll find a lot of information about the statue and how it was built.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to set up such a huge and heavy bronze statue.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

They also proudly present the proof that the statue has made it into the Guinness Book of Records.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

They show you how tall the statue is compared to other famous buildings like the Statue of Liberty or the Daibutsu in Nara.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

You can also get a few very beautiful shrine and temple seal books and a nice seal from inside the statue. Don’t miss your chance!

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

Before you leave, you have the opportunity to see the statue from close up. There are these golden paper strips(?!) and lots of coins sticking to it.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

Right next to the statue is a lovely Japanese garden.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

It might be worth visiting in April as the cherry blossoms and “shibazakura” will turn it into a pink paradise.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

Right behind the statue there’s a little petting zoo with lots of cute animals. There were a lot of rabbits, I thought I was on “Rabbit Island” again.

If you buy the “set ticket” entrance to the zoo is already included.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

An adorable goat was chilling in the shadow. It didn’t look like it was keen on being touched, so I left it alone.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

Pot-bellied pig?? Awww~

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

There were hundreds of adorable squirrels! You could feed them and they were jumping around and on you like crazy. It was a great opportunity to take photos of them from close-up.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

On my way back I noticed that the statue’s image was reflecting as if saying goodbye to the visitors.

Ushiku Daibutsu Ibaraki

 

If you like tall statues or Buddha statues, I highly recommend visiting. It really makes a nice day trip from Tokyo!

I went in late October and a few autumn colors were already out, but the best time to visit is probably April with all the cherry blossoms and “shibazakura” surrounding the statue.

 

T O U R I S T    I N F O R M A T I O N
Opening Hours: 9:30-17:00 (Mar – Sep, till 17:30 on weekends); 9:30-16:30 (Oct – Feb)
no entrance 30 mins before closing time
Holidays: none
Entrance fee: 800 yen (Apr – Nov for adults), 700 yen (Dec – Mar)
Time required: 40-60 mins (more if you also want to hang out with the animals)
TEL: (+81)029-889-2931
Website: http://daibutu.net/
Access: Take a train and get off at JR Ushiku Station. From the east exit take the bus from gate #2.

*Please Note: Prices as well as opening hours / holidays are subject to change. Please make sure to follow the provided link to the official website to check out the latest updates.

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Omiyage: The Culture of Souvenirs in Japan http://zoomingjapan.com/culture/omiyage-culture-in-japan/ http://zoomingjapan.com/culture/omiyage-culture-in-japan/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 12:23:55 +0000 http://zoomingjapan.com/?p=1540 Maybe you’ve already heard the word “omiyage” before. Maybe you also know that it translates to “souvenir”. But it’s not exactly the same as a souvenir. If you live in Japan or if you visit a Japanese family you should know about the gift-giving and omiyage culture in Japan. What exactly is “omiyage”? Omiyage (お土産) […]

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Maybe you’ve already heard the word “omiyage” before. Maybe you also know that it translates to “souvenir”.
But it’s not exactly the same as a souvenir. If you live in Japan or if you visit a Japanese family you should know about the gift-giving and omiyage culture in Japan.

Omiyage culture in Japan

What exactly is “omiyage”?

Omiyage (お土産) consists of the two kanji 土 (earth / ground) and 産 (product), so it’s basically a local product used as a gift or souvenir.

 

The difference between “souvenir” and “omiyage”

A souvenir is usually something you buy for yourself to remember the trip. Maybe you also buy something for family members or send a postcard.

There are souvenir shops for that purpose all over the world, also in Japan, where you can find various products such as keychains, ballpens, mascots etc.

Strictly speaking, a Japanese omiyage is different from a souvenir. It’s not something you buy for yourself, but solely for others. And as it’s considered an obligation, it’s important to know about the omiyage culture in Japan. You’re expected to bring omiyage back from your trip not only for family members or friends, but also for your classmates or co-workers and superiors.

This culture of obligated gift-giving can be observed in various situations in Japan. One example is the “giri choco” (duty chocolate) you’re supposed to give to your male co-workers on Valentine’s Day.

Omiyage culture in Japan

What’s so special about omiyage?

Omiyage are often related to a certain local region in Japan. It proves that you’ve been to that certain region and gives the receiver a chance to try a regional product that can only be found in that area of Japan. Each and every region in Japan is famous for certain types of food or sweets.

So, you’ll find a lot of goya and sweet potato products in Okinawa, apples in Aomori, melon and lavender products in Hokkaido. The list is endless. It’s fun to try to explore the delicious specialities of each and every region, but you’re supposed to share them with others.

The omiyage culture is a big deal in Japan. You’ll find a huge corner in every souvenir shop in Japan solely dedicated to the food-related omiyage.

They often contain individually wrapped sweets (mochi, dango, cookies), so it’s easy to share them.

It’s also important to check how many items are in a package to see if it’s enough for the people you’re going to share it with.

This is something I always struggled with. In my head I had to go through the number of my co-workers and superiors and then find a fitting omiyage package that came with the right amount of goodies. It’s rocket science I tell you!

Omiyage culture in Japan

Of course there are also seasonal omiyage like cherry blossom themed sweets.

The origin of omiyage

It’s not clear when this tradition started. However, it started with the pilgrims of Japan who were supposed to bring back a “souvenir” from the shrine they visited as a proof that they actually went there (e.g. charms, rice wine cups). Whoever they shared these items with would also be blessed just like the pilgrims.

When the railway system was built and then expanded it was finally easier to take food as omiyage with you despite limited food preservation techniques back then. That’s how the current omiyage culture was born.

 

Omiyage culture in Japan

What’s a good omiyage?

The best omiyage is always something to eat. And you won’t struggle to find such a omiyage.

Japanese souvenir shops are full of them. On the contrary, you’ll have a hard time choosing just ONE.

Just make sure you buy it on the last day of your trip, so the food won’t go bad while being carried in your suitcase for days. Also think about the means of transportation and choose accordingly. If you already know you’ll have a bumpy trip and don’t have a proper suitcase, then cookies might be a bit dangerous.

Also make sure that it has a nice packaging and that it represents the region you went to.

Another good omiyage idea is something expensive with a label on it (e.g. brand skin care / cosmetics, ballpen). But that’s usually not something you’re expected to give your co-workers or superiors. It’s maybe a good idea if you visited your home country and come back to Japan. Abroad the culture of “food souvenirs” is not very common.

Yet a lot of my students ended up bringing food back from their trips abroad to share with us teachers (chocolate from America, cookies from Disneyland etc.). That’s just how important the “food-gift-giving culture” is in their heads.

Omiyage culture in Japan

Momiji Manju (紅葉饅頭) from Miyajima with different fillings are very popular.

Of course, it’s not forbidden to buy omiyage for yourself.

If there’s a certain product you’re really interested in or if it looks especially delicious, why not buy a small box for yourself?

I always do that.

 

Omiyage culture in Japan

The prices vary, but expect to pay around 500 – 1500 yen for one omiyage box. Usually they have the same product in different sizes (e.g. with 6, 12, 18 items in it), so you can choose the right one for your purpose.

You also might consider weight. Boxes containing pudding or drinks are naturally a lot heavier than a box of cookies.

 

Omiyage culture in Japan

You probably already know that Japan has a myriad of different KitKat flavors. Not only do they have seasonal flavors and randomly release new ones every few months. They also have limited versions for each and every region of Japan. In the photo above you see “Yubari melon” for Hokkaido and “zunda” for Tohoku.

While this is maybe not a good idea to bring as a omiyage to your workplace (I sometimes did in addition to a “proper” omiyage), it’s very popular to share among students or friends.

Of course, it means big business for the sweet producers in Japan just like Valentine’s Day or Christmas. And the labels “limited (to this region)” are evil, because they really work. You want to buy it so badly because you can only obtain it right here, right now. There are many omiyage that have become super popular representing a certain region such as “Shiroi Koibito” (Hokkaido) or “Tokyo Banana“. But there are also many omiyage that can be bought everywhere.

 

Omiyage culture in Japan

It’s been implemented so deep into the Japanese culture, that people do it without thinking about it. And it’s also very common to see someone off with the words: “I’m looking forward to a nice omiyage.”

Students love sharing omiyage with each other. They usually don’t buy something expensive as they will share it with all their classmates (= 30+ people). And while I personally thought it’s a hassle in the beginning, I came to like this part of Japanese culture a lot.

Whenever school vacation was over, the kitchen table at work was full with various omiyage from all over Japan (or even from abroad). It’s such a pleasure to try all the goodies.

It’s true that you have to spend some extra time and money just to get them, but it’s really not a big deal at all. And as you’ll receive omiyage in return, there’s nothing to complain about in my opinion.

 

What do you think about Japan’s omiyage culture?

  • Do you think it’s just another stupid obligation?
  • Do you think it’s ok to “be forced” to bring something?
  • What has been your favorite omiyage thus far?

Don’t be shy and share your opinion in the comment box below! ^^

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Visiting Japanese Filming Locations of Dramas and Movies http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/japanese-filming-locations-dramas/ http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/japanese-filming-locations-dramas/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 14:49:59 +0000 http://zoomingjapan.com/?p=1527 Japan has so many sights to offer that it’s sometimes hard to choose. As you might know, I’m “hunting” Japanese castles. Others might go for gardens, sacred places or onsen. But there’s something else you could do and that is visiting Japanese filming locations of dramas and movies. It goes without saying that you’ll naturally […]

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Japan has so many sights to offer that it’s sometimes hard to choose.
As you might know, I’m “hunting” Japanese castles. Others might go for gardens, sacred places or onsen.
But there’s something else you could do and that is visiting Japanese filming locations of dramas and movies.

It goes without saying that you’ll naturally run into lots of shooting locations of Japanese dramas and movies, but there’s also plenty of filming settings of Hollywood movies to discover!
In this article I’ll show you a few of them and also tell you where to find them.

 

Filming Locations of Japanese Dramas and Movies

The following is just a super tiny selection of places you could visit. The majority of dramas takes place in Tokyo and surroundings, so you’ll naturally run into drama settings. But if you have series or movies you especially love you probably want to visit meaningful settings and take photos there.

Also, if you’re into taiga dramas (*historical fictional TV series), then visiting the Kyoto Studio Park is a great option as well.

Now, apart from the ones I introduce here, how would you find out about those Japanese filming locations, you ask?

There’s a really awesome website that lists all the important shooting locations and tells you how to get there. Unfortunately the website is in Japanese and thus far (I started using it in 2006) nobody has translated it into English. (Hey, don’t look at me!! …..cute emoticon sweatdrop2)

It’s definitely a great resource!

So, without further ado let’s check out some of the Japanese drama and movie settings in Japan:

 

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

Lockheart Castle (Gunma Prefecture)

Lockheart Castle near Numata in Gunma Prefecture (map) is a photogenic castle in a small medieval European town. It’s known as a sacred ground for lovers.

The castle was originally built in 1829 in Carluke (Scotland) by the Lockhart Family. In the 1980s it was moved to Japan via the Trans-Siberian Railway. It was restored in 1993 and became the first European castle that was restored in Japan.

Nowadays you find a lot of interesting things such as a Teddy Bear Museum, Santa Museum or a Bridal Dress Museum.

 

Shooting Location of the following Japanese dramas:

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Yukan Club Castle.

Image Credit: Yukan Club @ NTV

The castle is also famous as it served as filming location for various popular dramas such as Yukan Club (有閑倶楽部), Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge (ヤマトナデシコ七変化), Kaibutsu-kun (怪物くん) or Atashinchi no Danshi (アタシんちの男子).

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.  Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge Castle

Image Credit: Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge @ TBS

If you’re into Japanese dramas I’m quite sure you’ve seen this castle somewhere before.

How to get there:

It’s easier to access by car, but you can also use public transportation. From JR Numata Station take a bus heading for 中山本宿 (Nakayama Honshuku?) and get off at “ロックハート城前” (Lockheart-jou-mae).

 

Yonaguni Island (Okinawa)

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

Yonaguni Island is Japan’s westernmost island. It’s actually closer to Taiwan than to any other part of Japan.

You’ll also find the westernmost point of Japan there. There are mysterious underwater ruins that can be explored. I fell in love with this remote Okinawa island. It’s part of the Yaeyama Islands – and I highly recommend visiting all of those islands!

How to get there:

The fastest way to get to Yonaguni is to take a plane from Ishigaki Island. You can also take the Fukuyama Kaiun (福山海運) ferry, but it doesn’t run daily.

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

It’s also the shooting location for the famous drama “Dr. Koto – Shinryojo” (ドクターコトー診療所). The clinic you see in the photos was built specially for the drama and the islanders still preserve it as there might be a third season. I really hope there is!

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Dr. Koto.

On the roof of the little clinic. You can enter for a small fee which they use to preserve the location. You can also take various photos in there. It looks exactly like in the drama.

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Dr. Koto.

Even if you don’t plan to visit Yonaguni Island I wholeheartedly recommend the drama “Dr. Koto”.

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Dr. Koto.

Drama images credit: D-Addicts (copyrighted by Fuji TV Japan)

 

Ebisu Garden Place (Tokyo)

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

Ebisu Garden Place (恵比寿ガーデンプレイス) is located in Tokyo, so it’s rather easy to visit.

The area has a lot of restaurants and shops, so it’s a nice place to hang out in Tokyo. It’s only a short walk away from JR Ebisu Station (Yamanote Line).

 

Drama: Hana Yori Dango

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Hana Yori Dango.

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Hana Yori Dango.

Image Credit: Hana Yori Dango @ TBS

Fans of the series “Hana Yori Dango” (花より男子) have probably recognized it immediately. It’s the dating spot used by Domyoji and Tsukushi in the drama as well as the setting of their wedding in the movie from 2008.

If you haven’t read the manga or watched the drama, that’s another recommendation for you! cute emoticon wink

There are several other spots in and around Tokyo that served as shooting location for Hana Yori Dango, so if you’re a hardcore fan you can visit all the spots quite easily!

 

Sagachou Murabayashi Building (佐賀町村林ビル)

 

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

This is just a random building, not a tourist spot, so you cannot enter.

The exact address is: 東京都江東区佐賀1丁目

I can barely remember how I got there. That was before I moved to Japan and a Japanese friend guided me there. But nowadays with smartphones and Google Maps it shouldn’t be difficult! ;)

 

Drama: Bambino

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Bambino.

Image Credit: Bambino @ NTV

The building was the “Trattoria Baccanale” (a restaurant) in the drama “Bambino!” (バンビーノ!) which aired in 2007.

 

Small shrine in Akihabara

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

I didn’t actually look for this one, but stumbled upon it by coincidence. It’s really not that difficult to find when you go shopping in Akihabara.

It looked somewhat familiar, so when I got home I checked and saw I was right!

 

Drama: Akihabara@Deep

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

Image Credit: Akihabara@Deep @ TBS

The shrine popped up in the drama “Akihabara@Deep” which aired in 2006.

 

Movie: Norwegian Wood

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

I’m quite sure most of you have at least heard of the popular novel “Norwegian Wood” (ノルウェイの森, Noruwei no Mori) by the famous novelist Haruki Murakami.

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

Images Credit: Norwegian Wood – Toho

In 2010 they released a movie featuring Kenichi Matsuyama (who became especially popular thanks to his role as “L” in Death Note).

A lot of scenes in the movie play outside in the woods. It’s a really beautiful scenery and I went to the actual shooting location(s):

 

Tonomine Highlands (Hyogo Prefecture)

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Norwegian Wood.

The Tonomine Highlands are located in Kamikawa Town of Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県神河町砥峰高原).

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

The specific shooting locations are marked. It’s not only a filming setting for this movie, though. When I visited they also mentioned a taiga drama that was filmed there.

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Norwegian Wood.

A good time to visit is early autumn as the highland is famous for its field of “susuki” (薄, Japanese silver grass).

 

Mineyama Highlands (Hyogo Prefecture)

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies. Norwegian Wood.

Another shooting location of “Norwegian Wood” is nearby. It’s a small forest within the “Mineyama Highlands” ( 峰山高原リラクシアの森).

 

How to get there:

To be honest it’s probably best using your own vehicle. I also came by car.

If you have to use public transportation, you’ll take a train from Himeji to Teramae (Bantan Line). From there you’ll have to take a taxi (~ 20 mins). During the high season in autumn you could also reserve a shuttle bus. More information is available in Japanese only.

 

 

Japanese Filming Locations of Hollywood Movies

I’m sure you all are well aware of the fact that there are quite a few foreign movies that were filmed (partly) in Japan: “Lost in Translation”, “Black Rain”, “The Grudge”, “Wasabi”, “The Wolverine” …. there are so many!

I’m just going to add a few filming locations here, feel free to mention any others you know of!

 

Engyoji Temple in Himeji – The Last Samurai

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

Engyoji Temple (円教寺) on Mt. Shosha in Himeji is just a short bus ride away from the famous Himeji Castle. You have absolutely no excuse not to visit!

It’s especially beautiful during autumn with the colorful foliage.

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

It’s one of the film settings of “The Last Samurai”.

I spoke with a monk there and he told me they have added quite a few things like the cherry trees. In reality, there are none.

The locals are very hyper when you ask them about it. Some of them saw how Tom Cruise got to the shooting location by helicopter.

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

Ken Watanabe and Tom Cruise sitting on the floor of the main temple building.

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

These cherry blossom trees were added by computer.

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

Images credit: The Last Samurai – Warner Bros. Pictures

How to get there:

Take Shinki Bus #8 from JR Himeji Station or from Himeji Castle and get off at “Mt. Shosha Ropeway” (書写山ロープウェイ). The bus ride will take about 30 mins. Instead of using the ropeway you could also hike up the mountain in about an hour.

 

Memoirs of a Geisha – Fushimi Inari

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

This is another filming setting that most of you might have already visited: Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

Image Credit: Memoirs of a Geisha – Columbia Pictures

This is exactly where Chiyo is running as a child in “Memoirs of a Geisha”.

 

Gunkanjima (Nagasaki) – James Bond: Sky Fall

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) is a deserted island near Nagasaki City. You can take a guided boat tour.

It’s like a ghost island, really creepy, but totally worth a visit!

Japanese Filming Locations of dramas and movies.

Image Credit: Sky Fall – Columbia Pictures

The island was featured in a recent James Bond movie called “Sky Fall” – in case you were wondering if the island was real or not.

Of course, they added quite a few things that aren’t really on the island.

The island was also featured in the music video of B’z “My Lonely Town”.

 

As you can see I could go on forever. There are several settings that pop up in every other drama or movie such as Tokyo Tower, for example.

But it’s fun to explore these and it’s a great feeling to stand in front of an actual shooting location – especially if you’re a fan of that series or movie.

I hope that this article was at least a bit helpful. Feel free to ask away if you have any questions.

Now, it’s on to you. Tell me if you have been to any filming settings in Japan yet and how you found out about them! ^__^

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The Long Tradition of the Kyoto Gion Matsuri http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/kyoto-gion-matsuri/ http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/kyoto-gion-matsuri/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 23:37:25 +0000 http://zoomingjapan.com/?p=1513 I know that I really don’t need to promote Kyoto anymore, but there’s one festival you shouldn’t miss if you’re in Japan in July – and that’s the Kyoto Gion Matsuri. Visited: July 2012 and 2013 What is the Gion Matsuri? The Gion Matsuri (祇園祭) which takes place every year in July is one of […]

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I know that I really don’t need to promote Kyoto anymore, but there’s one festival you shouldn’t miss if you’re in Japan in July – and that’s the Kyoto Gion Matsuri.

cute star smilie Visited: July 2012 and 2013 cute star smilie

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

What is the Gion Matsuri?

The Gion Matsuri (祇園祭) which takes place every year in July is one of the largest and most historical festivals in Japan.

Most of the events are held near Kyoto’s Gion district which is also where the festival got its name from. It has a long history and the floats used in the parade are breathtaking.

 

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

Access to the Kyoto Gion Matsuri

Depending on the day of your visit the following stations are convenient to access the festival location(s): Shijo, Karasuma, Kawaramachi, Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae and Karasuma-Oike Stations. As the festival takes place throughout the whole month of July, it’s better to ask at the tourist information center inside of Kyoto Station to make sure you know where events are held on a certain day.

So, as you can see it’s called “Gion Matsuri”, but the majority of events is held on the opposite side of Kamogawa River.

 

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

When is the Gion Festival?

In fact, the festival takes place throughout the entire month of July. The highlight is the parade on July 17 called “Yamaboko Junko” (山鉾巡行).

In 2014 they resumed another parade after a hiatus of 48 years which is held on July 24th. It’s similar to the one on the 17th, but with fewer and smaller floats.

Not only the parades, but also the three nights before them are absolutely worth attending.

July 16 and 23 are known as Yoiyama (宵山), July 15 and 22 Yoiyoiyama (宵々山) and July 14 and July 21 as Yoiyoiyoiyama (宵々々山). Try to say that three times quickly! ;)

 

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

On the days before the parade you can check out the floats from close-up. Tourists can even access some of the floats.

Floats are displayed in their respective districts. This is a great chance to get some photos of all the details of each and every float.

They also put up wooden signs in front of each float explaining the name and some of the float’s features. There’s also an English explanation.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri Kyoto Gion Matsuri

You can observe the participants of the parade who are practicing their performances, for example.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

There are food stands, souvenir shops and all sorts of interesting things related to the Gion Matsuri, so take your time and explore!

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

Also, some private houses in the old kimono merchant district open their doors to the public. You get to see some valuable items such as folding screens. It’s a great opportunity to visit and observe traditional Japanese residences of Kyoto.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

The really exciting part happens in the evening when streets are closed to traffic from 18:00 – 23:00. There are various food stands and entertaining events to check out. Remember that this only goes for the three nights before the parade!

 

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

I’ve just introduced the main events, but there’s something going on almost every single day in July. Here’s a rough schedule for the Gion Matsuri (credit: Wikipedia):

  • July 1: Naginata-boko Osendo (From 10:00 at Yasaka Shrine, this year’s sacred page boy visits Yasaka Shrine.)
  • July 1-5: Kippuiri (opening ceremony in each participating neighbourhood)
  • July 2: Kujitorishiki (lottery to decide parade order)
  • July 7: Shrine visit by chigo children of Ayagasaboko
  • July 10: Lantern parade and cleansing of the portable shrines
  • July 10-13: Setting up the floats (for the parade on July 17th)
  • July 12-13: Trial Pulling of Floats
  • July 14: Yoiyoiyoiyama (various events)
  • July 15: Yoiyoiyama (15:00-18:00: traditional Japanese theater performances at Yasaka Shrine)
  • July 16: Yoiyama (from 18:30 at Yasaka Shrine traditional court dance)
  • July 17: Yamaboko Junko Parade (main event)
  • July 18-20: Setting up of floats (for the parade on July 24th)
  • July 21: Yoiyoiyoiyama
  • July 22: Yoiyoiyama
  • July 23: Yoiyama (e.g. 15:00 at Yasaka Shrine – traditional biwa music)
  • July 24: Parade of Yamaboko Floats
  • July 25: Kyogen Performance (comical theater performance at 11:00 at Yasaka Shrine)
  • July 28: Cleansing of portable shrines (mikoshi-arai) by sacred water from Kamogawa River
  • July 31: Nagoshi Summer Purification (Closing Ceremony at Eki Shrine)

 

Kyoto Gion Matsuri Kyoto Gion Matsuri

The Festival Floats of Gion Matsuri

There’s a total of 32 floats consisting of two different types called “yama” and “hoko”. The floats are commonly called “Yamaboko” (yama + hoko).

All of them are decorated with beautiful tapestries from Nishijin and from all over the world. On the days before the parade you can get close to the floats and take photos of the beautiful decorations. Many traditional musicians and artists are sitting in the floats – adding to the already heavy weight.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

Yama Floats:

The 23 “Yama floats” display scenes from Chinese and Japanese history and mythology. They’re usually decorated with mannequins of famous people, shrine gates, portable shrines or pine trees.  An average of 15-25 men have to drag them through the streets:

Weight: 1,200–1,600 kg
Height: ~6 m

Kyoto Gion Matsuri Kyoto Gion Matsuri

Hoko Floats:

You can easily recognize them because of their sheer size. There are 9 “Hoko Floats” and they have a long pole representing the 66 spears used in the original purification ritual (more about that later). The hoko floats are extremely heavy and at least 30-40 men are needed to carry, push or pull them. In order to coordinate the whole team, there are usually two men with  fans.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri Kyoto Gion Matsuri

Weight: about 12,000 kg
Height: ~25 m from ground to tip / ~8 m from ground to roof

 

Kyoto Gion Matsuri Kyoto Gion Matsuri

History of the Gion Festival

The Gion Matsuri is actually one of Japan’s oldest festivals with a history of almost 1200 years.

Just like many other places Kyoto had to deal with all kinds of disasters (quakes, fires, floods, epidemics). In order to keep these away so-called “goryo-e festivals” have been held. The first one of this kind took places in 869 during the Heian period in order to put an end to a series of plagues that happened back then.

Emperor Seiwa wanted special prayers to be recited to ask the god of Yasaka Shrine, Susanoo-no-Mikoto, for help. Additionally, 66 decorated halberds (one for each province of Japan at that time) were set up at Shinsen-en Garden along with portable shrines (mikoshi). This seemed to do the trick. The disasters didn’t haunt Kyoto as often anymore. And whenever there was another plague, they repeated the whole procedure. And so the Gion Festival was born.

In 970 it became a yearly event and – with just a few exceptions – has been continued ever since.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

Soon the festival was accompanied by dances, musicians, floats and many other entertaining things. In the beginning it was just a purification ritual. However, in the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333) families of the craft and kimono industry used it as an opportunity to show off their expertise. The floats became bigger and bigger so wheels had to be added. They were too heavy to carry around, they had to be rolled instead.

Thanks to Kyoto’s growing prosperity textiles from other countries were imported and added to the floats from the late 16th century onwards.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

Unfortunately the floats were destroyed by fires many times, especially during the Edo period (1600-1868) and the Meiji period (1869-1912). However, the citizens of Kyoto worked hard to rebuild them each time so that the festival could continue with its yearly schedule.

Even nowadays, the floats are kept in special storehouses in the merchant district of Kyoto and the local people take care of them.

 

 

Main Event – The Parade “Yamaboko Junko”

The parade on July 17th is without a doubt the highlight of the entire Gion Festival. If you can, I highly recommend visiting on that date.

The parade of the Yamaboko floats is held from 9:00 to 11:30 on July 17th (and July 24th with fewer and smaller floats). They will be dragged from Shijo towards the City Hall in Kyoto. You can see a detailed map of the float procession here.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

Every year the families who’re in charge of taking care of the floats will draw lots to decide in what order they will take part in the festival.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri Kyoto Gion Matsuri

The procession is very slow and there are several good spots to view it from. If you want to secure a good spot, you might want to come early enough. Especially the spots around the intersections are popular! However, at some point you might want to walk around. It’s boring to just stay at one spot for the entire time. At least I couldn’t do it.

You also can get paid seating (~ 3180 yen), but you need to reserve in advance. Personally, I don’t see the point unless you cannot stand / walk for a few hours.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

One of the most exciting things to experience during the parade is when the big-wheeled “Hoko Floats” have to be turned around at the intersections of Kawaramachi-Shijo, Kawaramachi-Oike and Oike-Shinmachi. This is tricky and requires teamwork, strength and patience.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri

If you’re in Kyoto in July, make sure to check out at least some of the various events. Of course, the parade on the 17th and the 3 nights before that are probably the highlight. Personally, I enjoyed the atmosphere of the night before the festival the most.

But the parade is extremely interesting. You shouldn’t miss it!

 

T O U R I S T     I N F O R M A T I O N
Event Date: July 1st – 31st
Main Event: Yamaboko Junko Parade on July 17th (9:00 – 11:30)
Entrance fee: free
Time required: stay as long as you can ;)
TEL: (+81)-75-343-0548 (Kyoto Tourist Information)
Website: http://www.kyotoguide.com/
Access: Various stations such as Shijo, Karasuma, Kawaramachi, Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae and Karasuma-Oike Stations.

*Please Note: Prices as well as opening hours / holidays are subject to change. Please make sure to follow the provided link to the official website to check out the latest updates.

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Akiyoshido: Japan’s Most Impressive Limestone Cave http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/akiyoshido/ http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/akiyoshido/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 19:41:55 +0000 http://zoomingjapan.com/?p=1506 Japan has some really impressive limestone caves. The largest one is called “Akiyoshido” (Akiyoshi Cave) and can be found in Yamaguchi Prefecture. But it’s not the cave alone that’s breathtaking. Read on to find out why you shouldn’t miss this sightseeing spot in Japan!~ Visited: February 2012 Akiyoshido (Akiyoshi Cave) in Yamaguchi Akiyoshido (秋芳洞) is […]

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Japan has some really impressive limestone caves.
The largest one is called “Akiyoshido” (Akiyoshi Cave) and can be found in Yamaguchi Prefecture. But it’s not the cave alone that’s breathtaking. Read on to find out why you shouldn’t miss this sightseeing spot in Japan!~

cute star smilie Visited: February 2012 cute star smilie

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

Akiyoshido (Akiyoshi Cave) in Yamaguchi

Akiyoshido (秋芳洞) is Japan’s most spacious limestone cave. It’s located in Mine City, Yamaguchi Prefecture (map) of the Chugoku region. Together with Akiyoshidai (Akiyoshi Plateau) it forms the Akiyoshidai Quasi-National Park (秋吉台国定公園).

 

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

Entrance of the cave at the cave’s lowest point.

Access to Akiyoshido

To get to the Quasi-National Park you can take a bus either from Yamaguchi Station or Shin-Yamaguchi Station. The latter is where the Shinkansen stops.

Get off at the “Akiyoshido Bus Center” (秋芳洞バスセンター). From there it’s a 10-mins walk to the entrance of the cave. Here’s the bus timetable and fares.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

Beneath the Akiyoshi Plateau you’ll find many “limestone caverns”, but the biggest one is the Akiyoshi Cave. It’s known as the largest cave in the Orient.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

The cave is about 9 km long, only 1 km is accessible to the public.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

It’s not only said to be the largest, but also the most beautiful cave in the Orient.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

Throughout the year it keeps a constant temperature of about 17°C, so dress accordingly.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

The cave received its name from Emperor Hirohito who visited in 1926.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

In 1952 it became a designated Special Natural Monument.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

There are several spectacular sights you can enjoy like this “Cave Mt. Fuji”.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

They gave the formations fitting names. As you can see, there’s also an English translation.

But even without any name, these are extremely impressive!

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

Terraces of limestone pools filled with water that look like many tiny rice paddies.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

The cave is also home to 6 different types of cave bats.

Unfortunately I didn’t see any. I was luckier in smaller caves in Japan, but you’re also more likely to run into creepy things such as geji-geji in smaller caves. No, thanks!

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

At most points the cave is well-lit, but you still should bring a tripod!

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

After the roughly 1 km walk through the cave (which will take you about 30 mins), you can use either an elevator to get up to the plateau or the “Kurotani exit”.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

The tunnel leading out has various, huge illustrations of Ghibli-like landscape pictures of the plateau that awaits you above the cave. So, take your time and have a closer look at them.

 

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

Akiyoshidai (Akiyoshi Plateau)

Welcome, up there! Let’s breathe some fresh air!

Like I promised it’s not the cave alone, there’s something even more impressive above the cave known as the “Akiyoshi Plateau” (秋吉台).

It’s a plateau with the highest concentration of karst formations in Japan, stretching on an area of 130 km², including over 400(!) limestone caves. Akiyoshido which I just introduced is by far the biggest of them.

 

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

About 300 million years ago the plateau used to be a coral reef.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

There are several walking trails that let you explore the area.

But if you have a car, you can also just pass by the main road and get a good view onto the karst formations.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

The landscape changes drastically with every season.

I went in February and as you can see it was somewhat yellow- / brown-ish.

In winter it sometimes snows, so the landscape is white.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

In spring and summer a fresh green will welcome you.

And in autumn it’s almost reddish.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

You can see a few different pictures of each season here.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

If you have some time, there are some other, smaller caves you could also explore such as “Taishodo” or “Kagekiyodo“.

Akiyoshido Limestone Cave and Akiyoshidai Plateau in Yamaguchi

Lovely manhole cover featuring Akiyoshidai’s pretty landscape.

There are many other sights in Yamaguchi prefecture worth checking out, so you might want to spend more than just a day trip there.

If you’re in a hurry, you could just stop by in Yamaguchi on your way from Fukuoka to Hiroshima or Osaka (or vice versa) as there’s a Shinkansen stop (“Shin-Yamaguchi”) along the way.

 

Please note that Akiyoshi Plateau is open 24/7 and free of charge. The following is only valid for Akiyoshi Cave:

T O U R I S T    I N F O R M A T I O N
Opening Hours: 8:30-16:30
Holidays: none
Entrance fee: 1200 yen (adults); 600 yen (kids); 950 yen (high school students)
Time required: 40-60 mins
TEL: (+81)0837-62-0304
Website: http://english.karusuto.com/
Access: Take a train to JR Yamaguchi or Shin-Yamaguchi Station and from there a bus to Akiyoshido Bus Center. From there it’s a 10 mins walk to the cave.

*Please Note: Prices as well as opening hours / holidays are subject to change. Please make sure to follow the provided link to the official website to check out the latest updates.

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Why You Should Pay More Attention to the Chugoku Region of Japan http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/chugoku-region-of-japan/ http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/chugoku-region-of-japan/#comments Sun, 07 Jun 2015 20:42:48 +0000 http://zoomingjapan.com/?p=1390 I bet you’ve heard about the Kanto and Kansai regions of Japan. Maybe you’ve also heard about Kyushu. But do you know anything about the Chugoku region of Japan? Most of you might have been there already without noticing. Yes, there are a few popular sights such as Hiroshima, Miyajima, Okayama, but the Chugoku region […]

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I bet you’ve heard about the Kanto and Kansai regions of Japan. Maybe you’ve also heard about Kyushu. But do you know anything about the Chugoku region of Japan?

Most of you might have been there already without noticing. Yes, there are a few popular sights such as Hiroshima, Miyajima, Okayama, but the Chugoku region has a lot more to offer than that and I bet most of you just leave after visiting the places I’ve just mentioned. That might be a big mistake!

Today’s article is supposed to be just a quick overview for inspiration, so that you won’t miss anything in case you plan to visit Hiroshima, for example. I cannot add detailed descriptions for all of these sights here, this would become a book! But don’t worry, I’ll post about all of the sights mentioned in this post in greater detail very soon.
If you have any questions or if there are any sights you’d like to hear more about ASAP, drop me a comment below!

 

The Chugoku Region of Japan and its prefectures

The Chugoku region of Japan (中国地方, chuugoku chihou) is located in Western Japan on Honshu. Geographically it’s between Kansai and Kyushu and thus a great gate if you want to visit either of those. It’s also not too far from Shikoku.

Chugoku region of Japan

The Chugoku region consists of 5 of Japan’s 47 prefectures: Okayama, Hiroshima, Tottori, Shimane and Yamaguchi.
Okayama and especially Hiroshima are quite popular – even among foreign visitors. But the other three prefectures don’t get much attention – even Japanese tourists don’t know much about those. I remember reading about Tottori and Shimane that they’re one of the least visited prefectures in Japan. And that’s a shame, because they also have a lot to offer!

I’ll introduce some of the highlights of each prefecture. Please note that this is only a rough overview and that there’s a LOT more to see.

 

Okayama Prefecture

Okayama Prefecture (岡山県) is located right next to the Kansai region of Japan (map). It borders Hiroshima and Tottori prefectures (Chugoku) and Hyogo Prefecture (Kansai). It faces the beautiful Seto Inland Sea and Kagawa Prefecture (Shikoku), so you can easily access the Shikoku region from Okayama. Okayama City (岡山市) is the capital.

Chugoku region of Japan

Okayama City: Korakuen Garden

Korakuen Garden is one of Japan’s top 3 landscape gardens and worth a visit (especially in spring and autumn).

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Okayama City: Okayama Castle

Right next to the Korakuen Garden is Okayama Castle also known as the “Crow Castle”.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Kibi Plain: Lovely Temple and Shrine Cycle Tour

Just a bit outside of Okayama City is the lovely Kibi plain where you can take a bicycle tour to see various impressive temples and shrines. Make sure to also try “Kibi dango” while there.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Kurashiki City: History, Museums and a Lovely Canal

Just a short train ride away from Okayama’s castle and garden is Kurashiki City (倉敷市). It makes a nice (half-)day trip.

It’s a historical city with a canal that dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867) when the city was a major rice distribution center. Along the canal you can find a lot of interesting museums and old houses. The canal makes you feel like you’re in the “Venezia of Japan”.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Kurashiki City: Seto-Ohashi Bridge

Six bridges that span five islands – and the sight of the beautiful Seto Inland Sea. The Great Seto Bridge (瀬戸大橋) connects Okayama Prefecture (Honshu) with Kagawa Prefecture (Shikoku). It’s the world’s longest two-tiered bridge system. One of the best viewing points (where I also took the photo above) is Mount Washuzan in Kurashiki. It can be accessed via Kojima Station.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Takahashi City: Bitchu Matsuyama Castle

In Takahashi City (高梁市) you can find one of Japan’s 12 original castle keeps: Bitchu Matsuyama Castle. It’s a bit farther out, but there are also a few nice temples and shrines (such as Raikyuji) nearby. A must-see for castle lovers.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Soja City: Kinojo Castle

The Demon’s Castle can be found in Soja City (総社市). The view from up there is stunning. The Kibi plain cycle tour ends at Soja Station, so maybe you want to do this as well.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Tsuyama City: Tsuyama Castle – a cherry blossom paradise in spring

Maybe you have figured it out by now, but Okayama Prefecture is really great for castle lovers like me. *g*

Actually Tsuyama Castle used to compete with Himeji Castle, but unfortunately it was destroyed in 1874. Not much remains nowadays. Yet it’s absolutely worth a visit in spring as it’s one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots in the Chugoku region if not in all of Japan.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Tsuyama City: Shuraku-en Garden

The entrance to Shuraku-en Garden (衆楽園) is free. It was constructed by Mori Nagatsugu in 1657. The current structures of the garden date back to the original one.

 

 

Hiroshima Prefecture

I don’t think Hiroshima Prefecture (広島県) needs a lot of introduction. It’s located in the middle of the Chugoku region (map). Its capital is Hiroshima City (広島市).

Chugoku region of Japan

Miyajima and its Famous Floating Red Gate

Miyajima is one of the most popular tourist spots and also one of “Japan’s Top 3 Views“.

Did you know that the famous Kintaikyo Bride of Iwakuni (Yamaguchi Prefecture) is really close from there? Curious? Scroll down. ;)

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Hiroshima City: A-Bomb Dome // Peace Memorial Park

Of course, Hiroshima is most famous for the atomic bomb attack in 1945. The Peace Memorial Park is always worth a visit.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Hiroshima City: Hiroshima Castle

While not an original castle keep, it’s still a really lovely castle and can be easily accessed. No reason not to visit.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Fukuyama City: Fukuyama Castle

If you’ve ever taken the Shinkansen to go from Kansai to Kyushu, you might have passed by this castle in Fukuyama City (福山市). Historically not very interesting, but yet an extremely beautiful castle tower – especially in spring.

It’s just a few steps away from the train station, so hop out if you have some extra time!

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Onomichi City: Temple Walk

Not too far away from Fukuyama is Onomichi City (尾道市). It’s famous for its temple walk, but you’ll also get a stunning view once you’ve reached the top of the hill. Onomichi also has a LOT of cats, so cat lovers definitely should pay a visit.

Furthermore Onomichi is the starting point for the Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route which will lead you over several bridges and islands of the Seto Inland Sea, ending in Imabari City (Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku). Something I always wanted to do. This is still on my bucket list.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Okunoshima – Rabbit Island

If you have an extra day in Hiroshima, why not spend some time with the bunnies of Okunoshima?

 

Tottori Prefecture

Tottori Prefecture (鳥取県) touches all of Chugoku’s prefectures apart from Yamaguchi (map).
Tottori City (鳥取市) is the capital. This prefecture is often overlooked by tourists. I have no idea why.

Chugoku region of Japan

Tottori City: Sand Dunes

Yes, this is Japan! Tottori has the largest sand dunes in all of Japan. (You can also find sand dunes in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka.)
It’s absolutely stunning and that alone should justify a visit in Tottori.

Chugoku region of Japan

You can also enjoy various wind sports such as paragliding. There are always great sand sculputures on display as well.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Tottori City: Tottori Castle Ruins

Only ruins are left of the former Tottori Castle. but it’s a popular spot for hanami in spring.

If you have some time and are fit enough you can hike up to the top of the mountain where once the main castle keep was standing. From there you’ll have a breathtaking view over Tottori City. You can even see all the way to the ocean and the sand dunes!

Tottori City also has some nice onsen.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Kawahara Town: Kawahara Castle Museum

Historically this castle has no value, but the museum inside displays everything you need to know about the history and culture of Kawahara Town.

Chugoku region of Japan

Maybe the castle museum doesn’t sound very exciting, but the view you get from up there surely is. You can see the sand dunes on one side and the Chugoku mountains on the other. It’s a lovely town – and great if you want to take a “timeout” in the Japanese countryside.

If you go in late February / early May, you can also enjoy the “plum-grove park” with about 1000 plum trees.

I recommend a car as public transportation is limited, but I managed without a car, so you can do it, too.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Yurihama Town: Encho-en Chinese Garden

Encho-en (燕趙園) is the largest Chinese-style garden in Japan and a symbol of friendship between Tottori Prefecture and Hebei Province.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Hokuei Town: Detective Conan Fans Should Drop By!

Hokuei Town (北栄町) as well as the Chinese Garden are on the way from Tottori City to Matsue City. I visited the garden, Hokuei Town and Matsue Castle all in one day without being rushed!

Hokuei Town is a must-see for all Detective Conan fans as Gosho Aoyama was born there.

Chugoku region of Japan

Hokuei Town: Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory

Because it’s Gosho Aoyama’s home town, you’ll find the “Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory” there. It’s full of his works, mainly Detective Conan.

Chugoku region of Japan Chugoku region of Japan

And even while you walk throughout the town, you’ll run into various “Case Closed” stone statues. Some of them are as tall as an adult!

 

Shimane Prefecture

Shimane Prefecture (島根県) is one of Japan’s “longest” prefectures (map). It’s the second least populous prefecture in Japan after Tottori. Jeez, these two prefectures really need more love! The captial is Matsue City (松江市).

There are some famous sights in Shimane such as Matsue Castle, Izumo Taisha Shrine and the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, but in fact there’s more you might want to check out before leaving Shimane again.

Chugoku region of Japan

Matsue City: Matsue Castle

Matsue Castle is one of Japan’s 12 original castle keeps. It’s also called “black castle” or “plover castle”. It’s absolutely worth a visit, not only for castle fans.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Izumo City: Izumo Taisha Shrine

Izumo Taisha Shrine (出雲大社) is one of the most ancient and important Shinto shrines in Japan. It’s a really impressive shrine you shouldn’t miss when you’re in Shimane.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Tsuwano Town

Tsuwano Town (津和野町) is geographically closer to Yamaguchi Prefecture’s capital. Thus, it makes a nice day trip from Yamaguchi or Hagi City, but not from Matsue. Many people mistakenly think that Tsuwano is located in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

It’s a lovely, small town surrounded by mountains. You can find the Tsuwano Castle ruins on one of the hills. There’s also a preserved samurai district.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Tsuwano Town: Taikodani Inari Shrine

It doesn’t always have to be the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine of Kyoto! Tsuwano is known as “Little Kyoto” and has its own impressive Inari Shrine with lots of red gates. After all it’s one of the five greatest Inari Shrines in Japan.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Tsuwano Town: Tsuwano Catholic Church

The chruch was built in 1931 by a German Catholic priest. Right next to the church you can find a waterway with lots of colorful carps.

 

You can also find the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine in Shimane Prefecture which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and thus probably worth a visit. I haven’t been there myself yet.

 

Yamaguchi Prefecture

Yamaguchi Prefecture (山口県) is the “last” prefecture on the main island, Honshu (map). Thus it’s the connecting point to Kyushu (Fukuoka Prefecture). The capital is Yamaguchi City (山口市), but the largest city is Shimonoseki (下関市).

Chugoku region of Japan

Yamaguchi (especially Shimonoseki) is famous for blowfish (フグ, fugu). If you happen to be there, TRY IT!

I’ve eaten it many times. I really like it, though the raw version doesn’t really have any taste in my opinion.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Yamaguchi City: Rurikoji Temple

Rurikoji Temple’s 5-storied pagoda is quite famous and a national treasure. In fact, it’s one of Japan’s three greatest pagodas.

So, it’s no surprise that Yamaguchi City is often called the “Kyoto of the West”.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Yamaguchi City: Ichinosaka River

This is a small insider tip from someone who has lived in the Chugoku Region for 4 years (= me! *g*). The Ichinosaka River in the center of Yamaguchi City is a lovely cherry blossom viewing spot. In early June you can enjoy hotaru (fireflies) there as soon as it gets dark. It’s kind of on the way from Yamaguchi Station to Rurikoji Temple.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Yamaguchi City: Xavier Memorial Curch

This church was built in 1952 to remember the time when Francis Xavier visited Yamaguchi 400 years ago.

Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan as a missionary. You’ll find his traces in Kyushu nowadays (especially in Kagoshima, Nagasaki).

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Yamaguchi City: Joeiji Temple Sesshutei Garden

This garden was created about 500 years ago by the famous painter and garden designer Sesshu.

If you like Zen buildings and Zen gardens, you really shouldn’t miss this one!

 

Chugoku region of Japan Chugoku region of Japan

Shimonoseki City: Kaikyo Yume Tower

Shimonoseki City (下関市) is not the capital but yet the biggest city in Yamaguchi Prefecture. It’s famous for blowfish. If you want to eat it, there’s your best chance.

The Kaikyo Yume Tower (海峡ゆめタワー) is the tallest tower (153 m) in Western Japan.

Chugoku region of Japan

Shimonoseki City: Kaikyo Yume Tower Observation Platform

This is the stunning view you’ll get. The bridge you see in the photo above connects Yamaguchi Prefecture with Fukuoka. That means what you see on the right is already Kyushu!

Chugoku region of Japan

North side view from the Yume Tower.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Shimonoseki City: Akama Jingu Shrine

The shrine is dedicated to the loser of the Battle of Dan-no-ura, Emperor Antoku of the Heike Clan. You’ll find his imperial mausoleum there as well as a few interesting statues and a treasure hall.

Near the tower there are a lot of other interesting sights in walking distance such as the Shimonoseki Aquarium (Kaikyokan).

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Shimonoseki City: Chofu Teien

Chofu Teien (長府庭園) is a spacious, beautiful Japanese garden. It was originally the residence of a high-ranking samurai.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Shimonoseki City: Kanmon Bridge

Kanmon Bridge (関門橋) connects Honshu (Shimonoseki) with Kyushu (Mojiko). It’s among the 50 longest suspension bridges in the world.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Shimonoseki City: Kanmon Pedestrian Tunnel

The really cool thing about the bridge is the following: You can actually walk from Honshu to Kyushu! It’s one of the world’s rare undersea tunnels. With only about 700 m one-way a lot of people walk from either side to do sightseeing in Shimonoseki or Mojiko likewise.

You can collect stamps on either side as well!

It shows you exactly when you’re leaving Honshu (Yamaguchi Prefecture) and entering Kyushu (Fukuoka Prefecture). It’s a pretty unique and a cool experience!

Another photo-worthy sight in Shimonoseki is the view onto the bridge that connects to Tsunoshima. Unfortunately I haven’t been there yet, but it’s on my bucket list.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Hofu City:  Hofu Tenmangu Shrine

Most tourists will probably never come to Hofu City (防府市) which is a shame. I admit there’s not that much to see.

However, the Hofu Tenmangu Shrine is one of Japan’s “Three Great Tenjin Shrines” together with Fukuoka’s Dazaifu and Kyoto’s Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. It’s also known as Japan’s first Tenmangu shrine.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Hofu City: Mansion and Garden of the Mori Family

Not too far away from the shrine you’ll find the mansion and garden of the Mori Family which you could visit as well.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Iwakuni City: Kintaikyo Bridge and Iwakuni Castle

The Kintaikyo Bridge (錦帯橋) of Iwakuni City (岩国市) is famous! Not only is it beautiful, it’s also made entirely of wood without the use of any nails, buit in 1673. It’s crossing the Nishiki River. It’s most beautiful in spring as cherry blossom trees have been planted all along the riverbed.

On the top of Mt. Yokoyama in the background of the photo above you can see Iwakuni Castle. From up there you have a stunning view onto the bridge and Iwakuni City.

As it’s very close to Miyajima – and Hiroshima City – it can easily be done as a day trip from there.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Mine City: Akiyoshi Cave (Akiyoshido)

In Mine City (美祢市) you’ll find Akiyoshido (秋芳洞) Japan’s largest and maybe most impressive limestone cave.

The cave alone would be enough reason to visit, but we’re not done yet, because right above the cave you’ll find this:

Chugoku region of Japan

Mine City: Akiyoshi Plateau (Akiyoshidai)

Akiyoshidai (秋吉台) is a plateau with the highest concentration of karst formations in Japan.

The plateau used to be a coral reef about 300 million years ago! This kind of landscape is rare in Japan.

The landscape changes depending on the season. I took the photo above in February, but in spring and summer it’s all green, in winter it’s (often) white, in autumn it’s reddish!

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Hagi City: Daishoin Temple and Tokoji Temple

Hagi City (萩市) is a small, pleasant castle town, bearing lots of history. So, it’s especially interesting if you’re interested in the Mori Family or the “Choshu Five“. The city is also famous for its pottery (Hagi-yaki, 萩焼).

You can follow the traces of history by visiting the various temples and shrines. Most of them can be reached on foot or by bicycle.

Two of the most famous ones are Daishoin Temple (大照院) and Tokoji Temple (東光寺). Daishoin was constructed as a family temple of the Mori Clan. Its main attraction is the burial side of half of the Mori lords (see photo above).
Tokoji Temple offers beautiful Zen temple buildings.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Hagi City: Hagi Castle Ruins

Hagi Castle was built in 1604. Unfortunately only ruins remain in Shiuki Park. It’s a very spacious park featuring a lot of stray cats.

 

Chugoku region of Japan

Hagi City: Enseiji Temple = Detective Conan “shooting location”

Enseiji Temple (円政寺) was apparently featured in episode 519 of “Meitantei Conan” (Case Closed).

Have I convinced all Detective Conan fans to visit the Chugoku region of Japan now? cute emoticon laugh ….

 

There’s one more stunning sight in Yamaguchi Prefecture I yet have on my bucket list, so I need to mention it here as well. It’s so beautiful, I have no words! It’s a bit far out, so you better have your own vehicle: Motonosumi Inari Shrine in Nagato City

 

 

And that’s it. I hope I was able to convince you that the Chugoku region of Japan is well worth a visit beyond Hiroshima and Okayama. If you have the feeling there are other sights worth mentioning, then feel free to help me out in convincing people why they should pay more attention to the Chugoku region. *g*

Let me know what you think and if you have any questions, drop me a note in the comments below!~cute heart and music

The post Why You Should Pay More Attention to the Chugoku Region of Japan appeared first on Zooming Japan.

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