Spring in Japan: My trips in 2012

Spring in Japan is one of my favorite times to travel!

I just came back from a 9 days vacation (Golden Week) a while ago. In the past few months I’ve traveled so much, it’s crazy!

I’ve done 2 major trips (5 days to Kanto / Chubu in April and 9 days to Tohoku / Hokkaido in May) and several day trips all around Honshu.
Here’s a small preview of it! Enjoy~smilie

Spring in Japan – My most recent vacation in May 2012:

It was the first time in 5 years that I had Golden Week off! smilie
Golden Week consists of a few consecutive national holidays and thus is the most favorite time for traveling among Japanese people.
Hotels, trains etc. everything is more expensive and immediately booked out during that season.
Yet I decided to take that challenge – and it wasn’t as bad as expected, really! I didn’t even take reserved Shinkansen tickets (I never do) and yet got to sit all the time! smilie

This time I went to Tohoku and Hokkaido.
I’ve been to Tohoku only once (Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures) in 2008, many years before the Great Earthquake and Tsunami hit.
I wanted to explore the rest of Tohoku and FINALLY set foot on Hokkaido.

With that trip finished I have now visited* 41 of 47 prefectures. 6 more to go! smilie
(*UPDATE: I’ve been to ALL 47 Japanese prefectures now)

I was quite unlucky with the weather during all of my recent trips. I got hit by a typhoon every single time. Had to spend time in the cold completely soaked. Spent the nights using a hair dryer to dry my clothes and shoes instead of sleeping. smilie
There was even a tornado smilie nearby during my last vacation. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news?? Crazy weather!

Anyways, despite the horrible weather I didn’t give up. I was out in the middle of a typhoon to take photos, only worrying about my camera, but not me.
Several times got stuck at stations because trains decided to stop running due to strong winds and rain.
I do not wish that bad luck to anyone when traveling here in Japan!!

Enough of my blabbering, let’s have a look at some photos!~

Spring in Japan: Baseball Game and Cherry Blossoms in Yamagata

At first I went to Yamagata Prefecture. Yamagata City has a nice castle park with many cherry blossoms.
As it is very cold in Tohoku compared to the rest of Japan, cherry blossoms usually bloom at the end of April / beginning of May, so I came just at the right time!
There was also a high school baseball game going on, on the castle park grounds!

Spring in Japan: Yamadera in Yamagata

Very close to Yamagata City is the famous Yamadera (山寺) which literally just means mountain temple and that’s exactly what it is! Only that there are various bigger and smaller temple facilities on the mountain.

Spring in Japan: Kaminoyama Castle in Yamagata

Also very close to Yamagata City is Kaminoyama City which is famous for onsen (hot spa) and on top of that has quite a nice little castle.

Spring in Japan: Cat Island, Manga Island, Tashirojima after the tsunami

I went to Tashirojima, also known as Cat Island which was hit really hard by the tsunami last year!
I always wanted to go but after the tsunami hit it was so difficult to find any information in English OR Japanese about the condition of the island.
I was able to find out that the people and cats are still alive, but that was about it.
Now I was able to confirm with my own eyes what’s going on there.
I’ll post about it soon and provide you with all the necessary information you’ll need.

In the photo above you see one of the small “houses” of “Manga Island”. You can stay in those. Or I should say, in the past you could.
Right now it’s not possible.

Spring in Japan: cats of Cat Island, Tashirojima after the tsunami

Well, apart from all that you mainly go to Cat Island for all the cats, of course!! And they were all happy and genki!!
Expect tons of cute kitty photos and also see how I paid a visit to T.H.E. cat shrine there!

Spring in Japan: Ishinomaki in Miyagi was hit hard by the tsunami

Ishinomaki City was one of the areas that was hit the hardest by the tsunami. If you want to visit Cat Island that’s where you start from. From there you’ll take a ferry.
After I came back from Cat Island I had some spare time so I walked around the coast to see nothing but devastation!!
It’s been over a year since the tsunami hit, but you think it was yesterday when you look around!
It was HORRIBLE!! smilie

Spring in Japan: Ishinomaki in Miyagi was hit hard by the tsunami

Many houses are still left the way they were when the tsunami hit. Laundry still hanging, plates with food on it etc.
Of course it also stank like hell! I felt like throwing up while taking the photos. Not because of the smell, but because I realized how HORRIBLE it must have been. :(

Spring in Japan: Ishinomaki in Miyagi was hit hard by the tsunami

It’s also dangerous to go too close to those houses, I guess. They look like they could fall apart any minute.
I think one reason is that there’s not enough money to take care of the houses. Another problem is that there’s no space to put the trash.
There were already HUGE piles of garbage around from the leftovers of the tsunami anyways.
At least the houses were still there. Next to many houses you only saw the foundation. Whole houses were gone!
Some big ship was still hanging between houses!

Yet the city hasn’t given up!! Everywhere banners that say “Ganbarou!” “Hang in there!smilie
I saw messages of people from all over Japan wishing the people of Ishinomaki all the best. Truly moving!
Japanese people were very happy to see me, a foreigner, there. Obviously ever since the tsunami hit not many foreign tourists dared to come.
Look forward to that blog post with more details – if you can handle the horror.

Spring in Japan: Castle Park in Akita

Next I went to Akita Prefecture. Akita City has another nice castle park. I was fascinated by the pond full of cherry blossom petals!

Spring in Japan: Cherry blossoms in Kakunodate, Akita

Kakunodate is a quite famous cherry blossom viewing spot in Tohoku, yet not the most popular.
Luckily the Yoshino Somei cherry blossoms were at full bloom at that time.
The weeping cherry trees Kakounodate is famous for were already finished :(

Spring in Japan: Hanafubuki, cherry blossom blizzard in Kakunodate

At least I got to see some more awesome Hanafubuki there!

Spring in Japan: Osorezan, Mt. Osora in Shimokita, Aomori

The day the strong rain hit I went to Osorezan (Mt. Osore, a volcano) on the Shimokita peninsula in Aomori Prefecture.
It’s truly a holy and beautiful place and along with Mt. Koya in Wakayama Prefecture and Mt. Hiei in Kyoto is ranked as one of the 3 most sacred places in Japan!!
You can only visit from May to October which makes it even more special!

Spring in Japan: soaked cherry blossoms

After the strong rain and wind hit Tohoku the weather stayed horrible for the rest of my vacation. smilie
At least there was one positive thing about it! Beautiful soaked flowers everywhere!!

Spring in Japan: Ne Castle, Hachinohe, Aomori

Next destination was Aomori Prefecture. In the picture you see Ne Castle in Hachinohe.

Nebuta Lanterns of Aomori

Aomori and Hirosaki are famous for their great Nebuta and Neputa festivals (more details in the actual blog post) where they use huge lanterns. They were truly impressive!

Spring in Japan: Hirosaki Castle, Aomori

Hirosaki Castle Park in Aomori Prefecture is ONE of the most POPULAR cherry blossom viewing spots in WHOLE Japan!!! So, there were millions of people, but the weather wasn’t on our side.
I wasn’t very impressed of Hirosaki. It was rainy and dark the whole time.

Spring in Japan: Hirosaki Castle Park, Aomori

Nobody took a boat tour in the cherry blossom filled castle moat. I can imagine how wonderful it must be in good weather!

Japanese temple or shrine seal

At least I got some more seals in my temple / shrine seal book!! I’m in the middle of my second book right now and I only started 16 months ago!

Spring in Japan: Matsumae Castle, Hokkaido

From Aomori Prefecture it’s really not far to Hokkaido anymore, so I took the chance and went there.
You’ll go there via an underwater tunnel. Pretty cool!
The weather was still horrible, so I decided to take a 6h (round trip) bus ride to visit Matsumae Castle, “near” Hakodate City.

Spring in Japan:  Night view from Mt. Hakodate, Hokkaido

It was a miracle but it cleared up that night and I was able to see one of the so-called “million dollar views”!
The night view from Mt. Hakodate is not only said to be one of the best in Japan, but also in the world!!!

Spring in Japan:  Night view from Mt. Hakodate, Hokkaido

And the moon paid a short visit as well. I simply love that photo!

Spring in Japan: Fort Goryokaku, Hakodate

Fort Goryokaku, Japan’s first Western style fortress, in Hakodate. It’s star-shaped and has hundreds of cherry blossoms trees.
The day started sunny but turned out to be rainy again.

Spring in Japan:  Catholic Church in Hakodate, Hokkaido

Hakodate is actually very similar to Yokohama and Kobe. The city has a lot of foreign houses and also churches as the port was opened for foreigners a long time ago.

Spring in Japan:  Morioka Castle Ruins, Iwate Spring in Japan: Takkoku no Iwaya in Hiraizumi, Iwate

On my last day I finally got some nice weather again, but only for the first half of the day.
Left: Morioka Castle ruins in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture.
Right: Takkoku no Iwaya, Bishamondo in Hiraizumi City, Iwate Prefecture

And that was my most recent vacation!

There’s still a lot more ahead, but I decided to split this post into 2 pages as suggested by MoreThingsJapanese (thanks, man! smilie).
What do you think about that? Is it rather annoying or does it work out better for your? Please let me know!
Don’t forget to hit the PAGE 2 BUTTON right now!!!!! smilie

This spring in Japan I travelled a lot! In the beginning of April I had a short 5-days vacation, so I went to Kanto and Chubu. I haven’t been there in a while. I wanted to visit a friend and also do some traveling while there. After all traveling during spring in Japan is so much fun!

Spring in Japan: Kanamara Matsuri, Penis Festival in Kawasaki Spring in Japan: Kanamara Matsuri, Penis Festival in Kawasaki

On April 1st I went to Kawasaki City to see the “Kanamara Matsuri“, among foreigners also known as “Penis Festival”. smilie
(I hope nobody is offended by these photos! I mean there were babies and kids around, too!)

Spring in Japan: Kanamara Matsuri, Penis Festival in Kawasaki

I thought it was just a weird dream, but I really followed Pikachu who was following a big, pink penis!! Welcome to Japan!!
More about the festival and the tradition behind it in a future blog post.

Chiba Castle

From Kanagawa Prefecture I went to Chiba to see Chiba Castle.

Nokogiriyama, Chiba

And from there I was off to “Nokogiriyama“. Truly beautiful!

Great Buddha, Tallest Buddha Statue of Japan, Nokogiriyama, Chiba

Need a reason to go there on top of the nice view? Nokogiriyama has the tallest / highest Buddha statue in Japan! Much taller than the famous one in Kamakura!

China Town, Yokohama

My hotel was in Yokohama, so I spent a bit of time there, too. It wasn’t my first time there.

Spring in Japan: Sankeien Garden, Yokohama

Sankeien Garden, a Japanese style garden not too far from the city center. Unfortunately the cherry blossoms weren’t really blooming at the beginning of April yet.

Yokohama, Sakuragicho at night

Yokohama at night is always interesting.

Spring in Japan: Odawara Castle

A strong typhoon hit the region, trains stopped moving, but I went out to see Odawara Castle anyways.
I’m actually surprised that the photo looks so peaceful. It was almost IMPOSSIBLE to stand outside at that time.

Spring in Japan: Hamamatsu Castle

From Odawara (after waiting for HOURS because the local train lines all stopped and I had to take the Shinkansen in the end) I went to Shizuoka Prefecture.
The next day was still cloudy and extremely windy. I started in Hamamatsu City.
In the photo you can see Hamamatsu Castle. At that time Shizuoka Prefecture’s cherry blossoms were already in full bloom! Not so in Tokyo, Chiba or Yokohama!

Hamamatsu Sand Dunes

Hamamatsu’s Sand Dunes. Quite ridiculous compared to the ones in Tottori Prefecture – which I visited last year in spring! (blog posts of both will follow in the future..)

Spring in Japan: Kakegawa Castle

For castle lovers like me the area between Hamamatsu and Shizuoka is absolutely awesome!
I also went to Kakegawa Castle which is pretty much between those two cities.

Spring in Japan: Tanaka Castle, Fujieda, Shizuoka

And while I was at it I also visited Tanaka Castle in Fujieda City.

Spring in Japan: Shunpu Castle, Shizuoka

Last but not least I also visited Shunpu Castle in Shizuoka.

View from Nihondaira, Shizuoka

Now, you’re probably wondering: What about Mt. Fuji???? Shizuoka is all about Mt. Fuji, isn’t it??
Uhm … not really, but of course I tried. And as always with Mt. Fuji I wasn’t lucky.
I mean … I went to Yamanashi in winter (when it’s supposed to be clear and you can view Mt. Fuji easily, but I couldn’t), climbed Mt. Fuji in summer a few years ago during a typhoon …. so why should it work out this time, right?
Although it was sunny, Mt. Fuji was hiding!!
I went to Nihondaira which is super famous for one of the most beautiful views of Mt. Fuji (cherry blossoms, ocean and the mountain), but …. Mt. Fuji was shy as always.
If you look closely enough you can make out its snow-covered peak in the photo, though. Good luck!

Shizuoka Sengen Shrine

At least I got to see a nice festival at Shizuoka Sengen Shrine in Shizuoka City!

And this was my shorter spring vacation trip in the beginning of April. Lots of cherry blossoms in the past few months, huh? Trust me if I say you’ll get never tired of them!!

Let’s now continue with a few day trips I did in the past few months (from February to April 2012):

Spring in Japan: Mt. Yoshino, Nara

Mt. Yoshino in Nara Prefecture. A very popular cherry blossom sightseeing spot in Kansai! Spring in Japan is truly beautiful!

Takarazuka Theater

Takarazuka Theater in Takarazuka City, Hyogo Prefecture.

Osamu Tezuka Museum in Takarazuka

Osamu Tezuka (the father of all manga and anime) Museum in Takarazuka.

Sasayama Castle, Hyogo

Sasayama Castle in Hyogo Prefecture.

Tetsujin 28 statue near Shin-Nagata Station, Nagata, Kobe

Giant Robot Statue close to Shin-Nagata Station, near Kobe.
The Tetsujin 28 statue was built to help rebuild the Nagata ward of Kobe after the Great Hanshin Earthquake 1995. The Nagata ward was one of the worst hit areas.

Kobe Port

Kobe Port. I’ve been to Kobe several times by now.

Hagi Castle Ruins, Yamaguchi

Hagi Castle Ruins in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Akiyoshi Cave, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Mine City, Akiyoshido

Akiyoshi Cave (one of the biggest limestone caves and very famous) in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Taikodani Inari Shrine in Tsuwano

Tsuwano’s Taikodani Inari Shrine in Shimane Prefecture.

On the last page you’ll find some cute souvenirs I bought during my recent trips, so hit the PAGE 3 button if you’re interested! :D

Last, but not least here are some souvenirs that I bought during my last trip this month:

Maneki Neko, Japanese souvenirs

My Maneki Neko collection is growing bigger and bigger! Don’t ask me how many I have by now, I can’t count them anymore! *g*

Maneki Neko, Japanese souvenirs

Sakura-themed Maneki Neko that move with the power of (sun)light! So cute! And cherry blossom room sprays!

Japanese souvenirs

I love to buy good luck charms, wishing plaques and whatnot at temples and shrines!

Daruma, Japanese souvenirs

Much cuter than the usual type of Daruma, don’t you think?

Japanese souvenirs Japanese souvenirs

A handmade decoration fan of the Neputa Festival in Hirosaki.

Japanese souvenirs

And lots of other things.
What you see here is only about 20% of what I bought. Yeah, I’m kind of crazy about souvenirs. I do save a lot of money and don’t spend much in daily life, but when I go traveling I explode! *g*

Japanese KitKat flavors

And I’m truly turning Japanese as souvenirs also include food!
Each region has their own special KitKat flavor that you only can buy there. I grabbed the ones that are limited to Hokkaido and Tohoku, of course.
Haven’t tried them yet, so I can’t say anything about the taste!

Japanese souvenirs, omiyage

As I don’t really live close to Tokyo, I also grabbed something limited to Tokyo when changing Shinkansen at Tokyo Station! Usually I prefer the famous “Tokyo Banana”, but I’ve never tried the little “Witch Oven” thingies and I have to admit they were truly yummy!

cherry blossom flavored sweets

And of course I also bought a lot of sakura products! The cherry blossom donuts you see in the picture are so delicious!!! smilie
I also bought sakura tea and jam! The jam is yummy as well. Have yet to try the tea!~

I hope I got you into travel mode now!?! Don’t you feel that spring in Japan is a great time to come to Japan and travel?

Thanks a lot for reading!~smillie

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