Monthly Archives: February 2013

Exploring Fukuoka

This week’s Exploring Japan goes to Kyushu with Fukuoka.

Fukuoka is on the northern end of the island of Kyushu in western Japan.  It has a population of 5,071,732 and is a major industrial centre in Japan.  The capital is Fukuoka.  The 5 largest cities are:

  1. Fukuoka (1,483,052)
  2. Kitakyushu (983,037)
  3. Kurume (303,277)
  4. Iizuka (132,208)
  5. Omuta (127,126)

Fukuoka and Kitakyushu are both designated cities, so they are divided into wards.  Fukuoka is growing in population, while Kitakyushu is shrinking.

Castles

Fukuoka Castle – This castle in Fukuoka city was dismantled during the Meiji Era, and the main tower was never rebuilt.  Several buildings remain, though most of the grounds were converted into a park.

Kokura Castle – This reconstructed castle is in Kitakyushu.  The reconstruction isn’t faithful to the original design, though.

Sports

There are several professional sports teams in Fukuoka.  In baseball, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks are based in Fukuoka city.  As for J-League soccer, Fukuoka has Avispa Fukuoka and Kitakyushu has Giravanz Kitakyushu.

Things to see and do

Fukuoka has a lot to see.  It has one of the oldest histories in Japan, and Fukuoka is one of the oldest cities in the country.  Outside of the cities, Yabahita Hikosan is a quasi-national park that includes Mt. Hiko.

Fukuoka, being one of the largest cities in Japan, has an incredibly large amount to see and do.  The Gion area has many very old temples and shrines.  The Nagahama area is famous for its ramen.  Ohori Park and Nishi Park are beautiful places to go.  Fukuoka Tower has an amazing view of the city.  Atago Shrine has a great view of the bay and city.  Nokonoshima is an island in the bay with great hiking and camping, as well as beautiful gardens.  Kabuki and Noh are great to watch, as well.  I’d love to see Canal City in Hakata.  It looks very interesting.  In Tenjin, there’s a lot of shopping.  To learn about the traditional Hakata way of life, the Hakata Machiya Folk Museum is good to see.

Dazaifu is a city near Fukuoka that has the newest national museum in Japan, the Kyushu National Museum. Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine and Komyozenji temple are great to see.

In Kitakyushu, there’s also plenty to see.  Moji-ko has a lot of old buildings, and it’s also famous for yakicurry, a baked curry and rice with egg and cheese.  Hiraodai is a karst plateau with a great view.  Mount Sarakura also has a great view of the city.  Iwaya beach is a nice beach.  You can also see Sugao no taki waterfall.  Space World would be a fun place to go, having a space camp and plenty to do.  Kanmon pedestrian tunnel is an easy 10 minute walk under the strait between Kitakyushu and Shimonoseki, which is on Honshu.  I’d also like to see the Zenrin Map Museum, the Museum of Natural and Human History, and enjoy one of the Gion festivals in July.

In Kurume, I’d like to see the Jibo Kannon Statue, a 62 metre concrete statue at Naritasan Temple.  Bairjinji temple and Suitengu shrine would be nice to visit.  It also has an annual flower festival.

Yanagawa is a beautiful small city which you can tour on its system of canals.

Yame is a small city where you can find tea plantations.

Food

Fukuoka is famous for tonkotsu ramen.  The broth is made from boiled pork bones, and you can find many local varieties in each of the cities.

What would you recommend in Fukuoka?

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The beach at Tsujido

It’s been a long time since I posted about Tsujido Seaside Park, but this is part 2! It was October 19th of last year, and we’d just left the park to walk along the beach.  So, we followed a path along a river.  I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves, as there’s not much to explain.  So, enjoy!

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Graffiti under the bridge.

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It was a sunny day, so great reflection off of Sagami Bay. You can see the Izu Peninsula in the distance.

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There were some incredible waves at the beach that day.

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There’s Enoshima in the distance.

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These fences are wind barriers to keep the sand from drifting. My wife is the small figure on the beach.

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A kite posing for me with some great waves in the background.

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Another picture of the kite looking away.

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Getting closer to Enoshima with some nice waves and clouds.

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Same location, but more waves.

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Near the mouth of the Hikiji River, I got some great reflection pictures. This is the first.

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I caught some rays through the clouds.

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More rays with the Izu Peninsula in the distance.

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Some great waves. They were pretty big that day.

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I think this was the best picture of this set. An amazing spotlight on the bay.

And that’s it for the beach.  I think the last photo was the best.  What do you think?

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Exploring Fukui

A little late, but here is this week’s Exploring Japan, Fukui prefecture!

Fukui is situated in western Japan on Honshu, facing the Sea of Japan. It has a population of 803,755, one of the smallest in Japan, and shrinking quickly.  The capital is Fukui.  The five largest cities are:

  1. Fukui (267,428)
  2. Sakai (94,472)
  3. Echizen (86,562)
  4. Sabae (68,703)
  5. Tsuruga (68,401)

Fukui has more nuclear reactors than any other prefecture with 14 reactors.

Castles

Maruoka Castle – Located in Maruoka, this castle has Japan’s oldest original main tower, even though it collapsed at one time.  It was rebuilt with the original material.

Echizen Ono Castle – This castle is located in Ono, and is a reconstruction.

Things to see and do

I’m quite interested in seeing Tojinbo, a rock formation on the coast of Fukui.  Another interesting place outside of major cities is Eiheiji temple, which is one of the two most important temples of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism.

In Fukui city, there’s plenty to see.  One place I’d love to see is the Ichijodani Asakura Family Historic Ruins, which is an entire town that was excavated, including the ruins of Ichijodani Castle.  You can also see the ruins of Fukui Castle and Kitanosho Castle.  The Asuwa River would be amazing to see while the cherry blossoms are blooming, having over 600 cherry trees.

Echizen may be a small city, but it has an incredible number of shrines, temples, and castle ruins.  Oshio Hachiman Shrine was built in 887, and is an important national cultural property.  Some castle ruins that can be visited are Komaru Castle, probably the only ones worth visiting.  The rest are mostly memorial sites and markers.  Murasaki Shikibu Park was built in honour of the author of The Tale of Genji.  She lived in Echizen for a short time.  Rozan Park on Murakuni Mountain has a great view of the region.  There are historic areas of the city, including Kura-no-tsuji, which has historic warehouses.  And you can also see waterfalls, such as Yanagi Falls and Minowaki no Tokimizu. There’s so much to write about, so maybe a tour of the entire city is in order.

Obama is well-known for its similar name to American President Barack Obama.  It also has a nice beach area and the ruins of Obama Castle.  Myotsuji temple has a 3-storey pagoda that is a national treasure.

Ono is a historic city that not only has the castle, but also Tera-Machi, a street with a lot of temples.  Hokyoji is a Zen Monastery that is supposedly beautiful.  You can also study zazen in Ono.

Sakai city has Maruoka Castle, and Tojinbo is nearby.  But it also has the famous Awara Onsen.

Food

Fukui is famous for a few things, including soba noodles, Echizen crabs, and beef that comes from Wakasa.  As the water is very clean in Fukui, it claims to have the best rice in Japan, as well as very good sake.

Have you been to Fukui?  What would you recommend?

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Renting a car in Japan

On Friday, my wife and I decided that we’d rent a car to go to Costco, rather than take the train all the way to the Kanazawa store in Yokohama, dealing with the crowded Seaside Line and a sick toddler, and spending money to have most things delivered.  In the end, it cost us about the same, it was faster, and we could run around and do some other errands, such as take our daughter to the doctor for her stomach virus.

Well, we rented the car in the morning, and it cost us less than 4000 yen for a small car.  We got a Nissan March (could’ve chosen a Toyota Vitz, but I wanted the instrument panel in front of me, not in the middle of the dash) and it was lavender.  Since we were driving only a short distance, we didn’t have to fill it up with gas, and only paid a bit for the gas at the end.

So, when we rented the car, we had to show driver’s license and health insurance.  I have a Japanese driver’s license, so I can only drive in Japan!  They did a check on the car, walking around it to make note of any current damage.  Once all of that was done, we strapped in the baby car seat and went on our way.

Driving in Japan is a bit different.  Although the rules are mostly the same as in Canada, we have to drive on the left side of the road in Japan, with the steering wheel on the right.  This is actually an easy adjustment for me.  The only difficulty I have with the car is that the turn signal and windshield wipers are opposite.  Many streets are very narrow in Japan, and a big problem for me is blind corners.  Far too many of them!  And then there are all the people who stop on the street and turn on their hazard lights.  It’s not easy to get around those cars because they occupy most of the lane.  But otherwise, it’s fairly easy to drive if you have a car navigation system.  We didn’t get one.  Our route was quite direct, so we relied on my iPhone’s Google Maps app instead.

Parking is something I have to get used to in Japan.  In Canada, we’d normally just park in a space driving forward.  In Japan, everyone backs into a parking space.  Easy to get out, but not so easy to get in.

When returning the car, I drove back to the rental shop by myself.  For some reason, I find it easier to drive alone.

Renting a car in Japan is fairly easy, and some places will accept cash.  Most places prefer credit cards, though.  But since I don’t have a credit card, I need to find a place that doesn’t require them.  Where we rented the car, the staff was quite nice.  We’ll probably be renting from them again.  And now, some car pictures!

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Our car for the day, a lavender Nissan March. Yes, I left the wipers on when I turned it off.

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The March is a fairly basic looking car inside. The steering wheel on the right side is easy to get used to.

Have you experienced renting a car in Japan?  Share your experiences in the comments!

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Exploring Ehime

This week’s Exploring Japan goes to Shikoku, the smallest of the main islands of Japan.  This time, it’s Ehime prefecture.

Ehime is situated on the northwestern part of Shikoku.  It has a population of 1,430,086.  The capital city is Matsuyama.  The five largest cities are:

  1. Matsuyama (516,637)
  2. Imabari (172,384)
  3. Niihama (125,711)
  4. Saijo (114,227)
  5. Shikokuchuo (92,486)

Ehime is a very mountainous prefecture, and also has a lot of islands on the Seto Inland Sea.

Castles

Matsuyama Castle  – This is one of the two original castles in Ehime and one of 12 original castles in Japan.  It’s said to be one of the best castles in Japan.  I would love to see it!

Uwajima Castle – This is the other original castle in Ehime.  It’s a smaller castle, and can be found in Uwajima.

Imabari Castle – This castle in Imabari is a recent reconstruction, having been built in 1980.

Ozu Castle – This castle is a very recent reconstruction, having been completed in only 2004.  It’s a completely authentic reconstruction, being faithful to the original design. I’d really like to see this castle in Ozu.

Sports

Ehime is home to the J League soccer team Ehime F.C.

Things to see and do

Ehime is a great place to see castles, of course.  But I’d also like to see Mount Ishizuchi, the tallest mountain on Shikoku.  The summit is possible to reach, but requires the use of chains to pull yourself up.  Also famous is Dogo Onsen, the oldest hot springs in Japan.  Shikoku has 88 temples that are part of a pilgrimage, and you can find several of them in Ehime.

In Matsuyama, apart from Matsuyama Castle and Dogo Onsen, you can find the Yuzuki Castle Ruins and Dogo Park.  Isaniwa Shrine is an impressive shrine to see. Matsuyama Central Park has a European style castle. Other places I think I’d like to see are the Ehime Museum of Art and Ninomaru Historical Garden.

Uwajima is probably one of the more interesting cities in Ehime.  Taga Shrine is a fertility shrine with many large phalluses, as well as a sex museum.  Nearby is a big shrine called Warei Shrine, which is one of the more famous ones in the city.  You can also see the Warei Ushi-oni Festival, which features one of the 6 bull sumo tournaments.  Uwajima has 6 sumo tournaments that are fought by bulls.  It’s fairly straightforward.

Saijo is a decent city to see.  It’s where you can access Mt. Ishizuchi, but there’s more than that. You can also see Komyoji temple and Ishizuchi Shrine.  But Saijo is also home to the only Asahi beer brewery in Japan.  You can also drink fresh spring water from the Aqua Route.  And finally, if you like trains, check out the Shikoku Railway Culture Museum.

Niihama is famous for the Niihama Taiko Festival.  It features a parade with 47 taiko drum floats, and it’s considered to be a man’s festival.

Ikata is a very picturesque town that is on a very narrow peninsula.  You can see Sadamisaki Lighthouse, as well as the Seto Wind Hill Park, which has many windmills.  It’s also home to a nuclear power museum, at the Ikata Visitors Center.

Seiyo features the Museum of Ehime History and Culture.

Food

Ehime is famous for mikan, or tangerines.  Also popular are iyokan, which are similar to mikan, but more sour.

Have you been to Ehime?  What would you suggest to see there?

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Exploring Chiba

This week’s Exploring Japan is Chiba Prefecture, the first of 6 prefectures that I’ve actually been to.

Chiba is located in the Kanto region of eastern Honshu.  It’s immediately east of Tokyo, and is part of the Great Tokyo area.  It has a population of 6,201,046.  The capital city is Chiba, on Tokyo Bay.  The 5 largest cities are:

  1. Chiba (962,624)
  2. Funabashi (610,572)
  3. Matsudo (481,574)
  4. Ichikawa (469,603)
  5. Kashiwa (404,262)

Chiba is a very urban prefecture, especially in the northwest.  However, on the Boso Peninsula, there are many mountains and natural areas.  Chiba is well-known for its numerous golf courses and surfing.

Castles

Otaki Castle is a decent looking castle in Otaki.  Apparently, the reconstruction may be an older version of the castle.

Inohana Castle (or Chiba Castle) is located in Chiba city.  It’s a more recent reconstruction.

Kururi Castle in Kimitsu city is a rather small one.  Only a 2 storey tower.  It’s in the mountains, and little remains of the original castle. It’s a reconstruction.

Sekiyado Castle is a 1995 reconstruction in Sekiyado.  It’s not an accurate reconstruction, nor is it in the original location.

Tateyama Castle is a 1982 reconstruction in Tateyama.  No record exists of the original plans, so it’s modeled after Inuyama Castle.

Sports

Chiba has a professional baseball team, the Chiba Lotte Marines in Chiba city.  There are also two J-League soccer teams, JEF United Ichihara Chiba and Kashiwa Reysol.

Things to see and do

As Chiba is close to Tokyo, there are a lot of things to see and do.  Probably the biggest attraction is Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea in Urayasu.  There are some well-known beaches with resorts and surfing, such as Kujukuri Beach. One of the more interesting sites that I really want to visit is Nokogiriyama.  It has a Great Buddha, Kannon, and an incredible view from a sheer cliff.  It’s in Futtsu. Also places I’d like to see are Kamogawa Sea World and Narita-san Shinshouji temple.

In Chiba, I’d like to visit a few places.  One of the big attractions is Kaihin-Makuhari, a city of the future.  It has many things, including Chiba Marine Stadium, Makuhari Messe (a big convention centre) and very modern complex of apartments and shopping centres.  The Chiba Port Tower provides a view from its observation deck.  Oyumino has some good parks, including Sakura Park, Izumiya Park and the Four Season Roads.  Also, the Oyumino Fireworks Festival is popular.

Ichihara is home to the Chiba Museum of Science and Industry.

In Kashiwa, there’s a lot of shopping, but also the Kashiwa Festival, which features a lot of food.

Katori has plenty to see. Katori Jingu is a well-known shrine. Suigo Sawara Aquatic Botanical Garden looks very interesting. Kampukuji seems like an interesting temple.  There’s also a historic street and the Sawara Festival to see.

In Kisarazu, you can see the Kimisarazu tower at the top of Odayama in a mountain park.  You can also gather shellfish.

Matsudo has a great temple called Hondouji, where you can view thousands of hydrangea, irises and maple trees.  Manmanji is a big temple that looks quite nice, too.

Narita is famous for Narita Airport, the main international airport servicing the Kanto area, but it’s also got a lot of nice attractions. Of course, there’s Narita-san Shinshouji temple, which is incredibly popular and very busy around New Year’s Day.  It has many important cultural treasures.  You can also see the Museum of Aeronautical Science and the Chiba Prefectural Flower and Tree Center.  But one thing I’d love to see is Boso no Mura, a living museum of traditional Japanese culture.

Onjuku is famous for surfing and its beach.

Sakura has some notable sites.  Around the ruins of Sakura Castle are some old samurai houses.  There are also several museums, most notably the National Museum of Japanese History. There’s even a Dutch windmill in the city.

Food

As a seaside prefecture, Chiba has a lot of seafood.  However, it is the biggest producer of soy sauce in Japan, and is home to Kikkoman.  Chiba is also famous for futomaki, literally “fat roll.”  It’s a fat sushi roll that can be quite artistic.

I’m sure there are many other places to see in Chiba, but it’s your turn to make some recommendations.  Please leave a comment!

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365 Rotations – A photographic experiment

I decided to try something I’ve seen done a few times, post a picture a day from the same location.  Others have also taken a picture of themselves every day for several years.  I want to show how the seasons change here in Japan, as well as show the daily weather.  So, I started 365 Rotations.

It’s called 365 Rotations because the Earth rotates 365 times in a year (well, 365.256363004 times).  I’m posting a picture every day from each of 3 locations (all within 50 metres or so of each other), as well as some weekly photos from places I don’t go to every day.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the view changes over time.  So please head on over and check it out.

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