Monthly Archives: January 2013

Exploring Aomori

Welcome back to Exploring Japan, where I take you on a quick tour of a different prefecture each week.  This week is Aomori.

Aomori is the northernmost prefecture on the main island of Honshu in the Tohoku region. It has a population of 1,373,164.  The capital city is Aomori, not surprisingly.  The 5 largest cities are:

  1. Aomori (302,068)
  2. Hachinohe (235,464)
  3. Hirosaki (180,917)
  4. Towada (65,072)
  5. Mutsu (59,951)

Aomori is another prefecture that is losing people to other regions of Japan, particularly the big cities.

Castles

Hirosaki Castle – This castle, in the city of Hirosaki, is an original castle. While it doesn’t look particularly large, of course I want to see it.

Ne Castle – A reconstruction of an old 14th century castle in Hachinohe. Also, there’s the Hachinohe Castle ruins.

Things to see and do

There’s so much to see in Aomori.  Lake Towada is a popular place, shared with Akita prefecture, and has the beautiful Oirase Valley. There’s a Big Buddha in Seiryuuji Temple in Aomori City, and it’s the largest seated Buddha in Japan.  Hakoji Temple in Nanbu has the largest 3 storey pagoda in Japan, as well as the oldest Buddha ashes in Japan.  Mount Osore, near Mutsu, is one of the 3 mountains in Japan dedicated to Buddha, and is popular with tourists, as well as having a very bleak-looking landscape.  The Hakkoda Mountains are a group of volcanic cones that are great for hiking.  I think it would be pretty interesting.  Also, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Shirakami-Sanchi is in Aomori.  It’s a large unspoiled mountain wilderness that would be great to see.

Aomori City is home to one of Japan’s most famous festivals, the Aomori Nebuta Festival. This festival features many large illuminated floats.  I’d really like to see it.

In Aomori City, there are several things I’d like to see.  The Aomori Prefectural Museum would be interesting, as it shows the history of Aomori.  The Aomori Museum of Art is apparently pretty big, too.  Then there’s the Sannai Maruyama, a historical site dedicated to the Jomon people.  Aspam Center is a tourist centre that has an observation deck with views of the city.  Asamushi Aquarium is a pretty decent aquarium, as well.

Hachinohe has a very interesting looking island called Kabushima with the Kabushima Benzaiten shrine on top of a hill.  It’s a major bird breeding area, mainly for seagulls. Nejo Plaza has a reconstruction of an old castle. The Sansha Taisai is a big festival featuring many floats and parades each day.

Hirosaki is known as Kyoto of the north.  There are a lot of temples here.  Zenringai is a group of 33 temples brought to Hirosaki to protect the castle.  Choshoji is known for its Sanmon Gate and Saishoin for its 5 storey pagoda.  The Neputa Festival is very similar to Aomori’s Nebuta Festival.

Mutsu is home to a Japanese Marine Self-Defense Forces base, where you can request a tour of the base.

Goshogawara is home to the Tachineputa Festival, which is quite obviously similar to the Neputa and Nebuta Festivals.

Food

Aomori is very famous in Japan for its apples.  I like apples.  I’ve probably eaten Aomori apples.  So, I can safely recommend these apples for anyone who likes apples.  Aomori also has very good seafood.

Have you been to Aomori?  What would you recommend?

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Zama manhole cover

Here’s another quick manhole cover.  This one is in Zama city, Kanagawa.  The city flower is the sunflower.  I haven’t seen any, but I’ve heard Zama’s famous for sunflower fields.  Another interesting thing is that sunflowers aren’t normally grown in Japan for their seeds.  In Canada, we use sunflower seeds as a snack, and also use it to make sunflower oil.  They’re also useful for removing radiation from soil, which I find quite interesting.  Zama city has a sunflower festival in summer, which I’d like to see. Anyway, here’s the sewer manhole cover.

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Three sunflowers!

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Saitama City manhole covers

The Urawa Reds are a J-League soccer team in Saitama City.  Why is that relevant? Take a look at Saitama City’s manhole covers!

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It’s a soccer ball!

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They come in more than one colour.

This was the first time I’d seen sports themed manhole covers.  Usually, they feature the city’s flower or tree.

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Exploring Akita

Akita is our second stop in the Exploring Japan series.

Akita Prefecture is in the Tohoku region on the main island Honshu.  It’s in the northwestern part of Japan.  It has a population of 1,106,050, so it’s not densely populated.  The capital city is Akita.  The five largest cities are:

  1. Akita (323,310)
  2. Yokote (96,955)
  3. Daisen (87,497)
  4. Yurihonjo (84,046)
  5. Odate (77,703)

Akita has a very low number of children, so the population is declining.  Many younger people are moving away, so the population is quite old.  The Akita breed of dog is also from Akita.

Castles

Kubota Castle – This is a replica of the original castle, which actually has no main tower. It’s in Akita City.

Yokote Castle – This is a small reconstructed castle in the city of Yokote.

Things to see and do

A popular place to go is Lake Tazawa, which has beautiful mountain scenery and the famous Nyuto Onsen (hot springs) are nearby.  It’s a very deep volcanic crater lake.

In Akita city, I’m particularly interested in Senshu Park (with Kubota Castle) and the Akita Prefectural Museum, which has science and history exhibits.

Kakunodate is an old samurai town with very well preserved samurai houses.  Very historic.

Odate is the hometown of Hachiko, the famous dog whose statue is outside of Shibuya station in Tokyo.  Nearby is Lake Towada and Oirase Gorge, places where you can see the natural countryside.

Oga seems like an interesting place to go.  It has Goshado, a set of 5 shrines with a view of the coastline.  Also there is the Namahage Museum, which is dedicated to demons that scare children at New Year’s.  And finally is Akita’s only aquarium, Oga Aquarium GAO.  But this town seems good for walking and hiking.

Semboku is a place you want to go for hot springs.  It’s also near Lake Tazawa.

In Yokote, apart from the castle, there’s a festival called the Kamakura Festival.  Kamakura are like a small igloo.  Some of them are big enough to enter, and some of those even become tiny little places to eat.

There’s plenty to see and do in Yurihonjo.  Apart from several hot springs and ski areas, there’s also a lot of hiking at Mt. Chokai and Mt. Hinoto.  You can also see the Akata Giant Buddha a large Buddha statue.  Hottai waterfall is a pretty big waterfall.  Iwaki Local History Museum is a reproduction of a village, something I would love to see.

Yuzawa has several hot springs, but also the Akinomiya Museum, which has a lot of old relics, including toys, records, pachinko machines and more.  Sounds interesting.

Food

Akita is very well known for its rice, and several of its local foods are made of rice.  One is kiritanpo, a tube of rice that is often roasted, but is also eaten in kiritanpo nabe.  Nabe is a hot pot dish with many ingredients, including vegetables, meat, and fish.  This variety contains kiritanpo.  Also, Akita is well known for its sake, which is made from the local rice.  Hard to choose, but I really do like sake.

So, have you been to Akita?  If so, do you have any recommendations?

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Still icy 3 days later

It’s been 3 days since the big snowstorm in the Tokyo area, and we still have snow and ice on the ground.  Usually it’s gone within 2 or 3 days, but it’s been quite cold this week.

The day after the snow, some of it was melting, resulting in another messy day.  I took these pictures Tuesday morning.

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Snowy sidewalks and a wet street.

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In my building’s parking lot.

All of this wet snow and melt water froze in the evening, and it was quite dangerous just walking on the sidewalk.  The melting and freezing cycle makes it difficult for people to walk, as well as drive.  It’s much better now, with just a bit of ice and snow in the shadowy areas.  It’s warming up this weekend, so it should be all gone soon.

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Snowy day in Yokohama

When I experienced my first snow in Yokohama, I couldn’t believe how everyone used umbrellas.  I quickly realised why.  This isn’t your typical Canadian snow.  This stuff is wet.  It sticks to you and melts right away.  It’s just as bad as walking in the rain, and it’s often mixed with rain.  Also, the snowflakes clump together to create massive supersized floating snow structures.

Today, it snowed.  It snowed a lot.  This was probably one of the biggest snowfalls I’ve seen in Yokohama.  While it may not seem like much, it’s a big deal here.

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This morning, before the snow started to accumulate.

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This afternoon, the snow was coming down pretty heavily.

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Early evening, on my way home.

That last picture shows why snow here is such a nuisance.  It’s extremely wet.  It may look like snow, but it’s really snow coating slush.  As I was crossing the street, I stepped in what appeared to be pretty solid snow, but ended up being a 10 cm deep slushy puddle with white snow on top.  I completely soaked my feet, and had to endure a 30 minute train ride, a wait for the bus, and a 10 minute bus ride.  When I got home, my feet were so cold, I took a quick shower to warm me and my feet up.

I’m looking forward to several days of sunny weather.

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Filed under Japan, Kanagawa, Nishi-ku, Weather, Yokohama

Exploring Aichi

This is the first prefecture I’m talking about in my new Exploring Japan series.

Aichi Prefecture is situated in the middle of the largest island Honshu.  It has a population of 7,408,640 people.  The capital city is Nagoya, which is one of Japan’s largest cities.  The five largest cities of Aichi are:

  1. Nagoya (2,266,249)
  2. Toyota (423,343)
  3. Ichinomiya (more than 380,000)
  4. Toyohashi (383,691)
  5. Okazaki (373,339)

Sports

Aichi is home to two major sports teams, the Chunichi Dragons baseball team in Nagoya and the Nagoya Grampus soccer team.

Castles

Aichi has five castles to standing.  Briefly, they are as follows:

Nagoya Castle – This is a reconstruction, although the exterior is very faithful to the original design.  It appears to be quite impressive in photographs.

Inuyama Castle – This is one of Japan’s few remaining original castles.  It’s in Inuyama city.  I’m very interested in seeing this.

Okazaki Castle – A reconstruction in Okazaki city, this is the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Yoshida Castle – Only a replica of the turret stands.  There is no central tower.  It’s in Toyohashi City.

Kiyosu Castle – This is a reconstruction.  Oda Nobunaga lived here at one time.

Things to see and do

In addition to the castles, there are plenty of places I’d like to see.  Here’s a list of those places.  Although not complete, these are the biggest things I’d like to visit and do.

In Nagoya, I’d like to visit the Port of Nagoya Aquarium, the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, the Toyota Automobile Museum, Nagoya City Science Museum, and numerous shrines and temples.

In Ichinomiya, I’d like to visit Masumida Shrine and attend the Tanabata Festival there.  It’s one of the three biggest Tanabata festivals in Japan.

In Inuyama, I’d like to visit the Meiji Mura Museum, which is an outdoor museum featuring Meiji era architecture.

In Nagakute, I would have visited the 2005 World Expo, but I never did go.  The site is now a large parkland area.

In Okazaki, I’d like to visit the Takisan Temple and the Takisan Toshogu Shrine, which is one of the top three Toshogu shrines in Japan.

In Tahara, I want to see the Tahara Castle Ruins.

In Toyota, I’d like to take a tour of a car factory.  This city was named after the company, interestingly.

Food

There are a lot of local foods in Japan, and Aichi is no exception.  If I had to choose one food from Aichi I’d like to try, it would be tebasaki.  This is chicken wings.  They’re grilled with a sweet, spicy glaze and sesame seeds.  Sounds delicious!

Now it’s your turn.  If you’ve been to Aichi or want to go there, what do you suggest?

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