Monthly Archives: May 2013

Exploring Kagoshima

This week in Exploring Japan, we go back to Kyushu to take a look at Kagoshima.

Kagoshima is the southernmost prefecture on Kyushu, and includes several islands that extend down toward Okinawa.  It has a population of 1,703,406. The capital city is Kagoshima.  The 5 largest cities are:

  1. Kagoshima (605,855)
  2. Kirishima (127,727)
  3. Kanoya (104,174)
  4. Satsumasendai (99,589)
  5. Aira (74,611)

The overall population of Kagoshima has been dropping for quite some time, though the city of Kagoshima is growing.  This is a common trend amongst many prefectures.

Castles

Kagoshima Castle, also known as Tsurumaru Castle, is located in Kagoshima city, and is a very unusual castle.  It was built in such a way that it would’ve been easy to take.  It was built without a main tower, as well.  Apparently, it was made so small so that it wouldn’t attract the attention of Tokugawa.

Things to see and do

Kagoshima has a large number of popular and very attractive subtropical islands, including the Amami Islands and Yakushima.  It also has a famous active volcano, Sakurajima, which is right across the bay from Kagoshima city.

Kagoshima city is a fairly compact city that’s easy to get around.  But probably the biggest attraction is Sakurajima, easily accessed via ferry. It’s a very active volcano, and you can’t go within 2 km of the crater.  Kagoshima Prefectural Museum of Culture seems to be very interesting.  Ishibashi Park is home to 3 bridges that were damaged severely in floods, and so they were moved and repaired.  This park was created in 2000. There are a couple of notable gardens, Sengan-en, and Kagoshima Botanical Garden. Other places to see are the Kagoshima Aquarium, Museum of the Meiji Restoration, and Tenmonkan Shopping Arcade.

Minamikyushu is a small city that was created by the merger of several towns, including Chiran.  In Chiran, there are a couple good places to see.  Chiran Special Attack Peace Museum shows photos and letters from kamikaze pilots in World War II.  The town has a great collection of samurai houses, as well.

Ibusuki is famous for its hot springs.  The hot springs, Ibusuki Onsen, is actually on the beach where you can relax while covered by hot sand.  Climbing Mt. Kaimon gives you a good view of the area.  The Ibusuki Experimental Botanical Garden should be interesting to see, as well.

Izumi is a good place to see some samurai houses, but it’s also famous for the Izumi Crane Migration Grounds, where thousands of cranes flock every year.

Kirishima is known for its mountains, including Mt. Kirishima, an active volcano.  This is part of the Kirishima-Yaku National Park, which also includes Yakushima.  In Kirishima, the mountains provide a landscape that has been described as like being on the moon.  In the city, there’s also a large shrine, Kirishima Jingu. Uenohara Jomon Forest is a historical park that is an archaeological site and includes an exhibition centre.

Kanoya is an agricultural city that is famous for the Kanoya Rose Garden.

Tanegashima is one of the larger islands of Kagoshima, home of JAXA, and is famous for the Tanegashima Space Center, Japan’s main spaceport. It’s free to enter, but is restricted on launch days.  Also on the island are the Chikura Caverns, Takezaki Beach, and Cape Kadokura.

Yakushima is an island that is on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.  It’s a beautiful island with ancient forests and tall mountains. It’s a popular destination and very well developed. The thing to see is the Yakusugi forest, very old cryptomeria trees.  You can see the Yakusugi Museum to learn about the forest.  Also available are the Yakushima Fruit Garden and Shitogo Gajumaru-en Banyan Garden. It’s also the largest nesting ground in the North Pacific for the loggerhead sea turtle.

Amami Oshima is the largest of the Amami Islands, and the main city is Amami.  In the city, you can see the Amami Islands Botanical Garden. Probably the most popular thing to do on the island is rent a bike and take a look around, as well as go to the beaches.  Beware of the habu, a very venomous snake that inhabits most of the island.  It’s also the best place to access the other Amami Islands, many of which have beautiful beaches, great diving and swimming.

Food

Kagoshima is mostly agricultural, so there are a lot of local foods.  Black pork is a specialty of the prefecture, being the most highly prized pork in Japan.  And on the topic of pork, Tonkotsu ramen is quite popular here.

Have you been to Kagoshima? Do you have any other recommendations? Please leave a comment!

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Exploring Kagawa

This week in Exploring Japan, we return to Shikoku for a second time with Kagawa prefecture.

Kagawa is situated on the northern part of Shikoku island, and is on the Seto Inland Sea.  It’s population is 995,465, having dropped from over 1 million.  The capital is Takamatsu.  The 5 largest cities are:

  1. Takamatsu (419,429)
  2. Marugame (110,550)
  3. Mitoyo (68,512)
  4. Kan’onji (63,721)
  5. Sakaide (55,621)

As with most prefectures with small populations, the overall population is dropping.  However, both Takamatsu and Marugame are growing.

Castles

Marugame Castle is one of Japan’s 12 original castles.  Most of the buildings didn’t survive, but the keep is original, and the walls are impressively large.

Takamatsu Castle is currently under construction.  The main keep is being reconstructed, and some of the other buildings have been restored.

Things to see and do

I wasn’t very familiar with Kagawa, other than the fact that it’s on Shikoku, and there’s a famous 88 temple pilgrimage through the island.  Some of them can be found in Kagawa.

Takamatsu is the largest city on Shikoku.  Probably the biggest attraction is Ritsurin Garden, considered to be one of the best in Japan.  Tamamo Park seems good, too.  It’s the location of Takamatsu Castle. The Kagawa Museum shows a lot of information about Kagawa’s history. Takamatsu Symbol Tower has observation decks and a shopping mall. Nearby Yashima has several things to do, as well.  There’s Yashimaji Temple and its museum, Yashima Shrine, and New Yashima Aquarium. Shikokumura is an open-air museum with old houses from around Shikoku, as well as some western art. Tamamo Breakwater seems like a nice place for a walk, and it has a lighthouse. The two biggest festivals are Sanuki Takamatsu Festival in summer and the Winter Festival with Christmas decorations.

At Kan’onji, you can see the Zenigata Sunae, a large coin sculpture, which is easily visible from Kotohiki Park.

Kotohira is a small town, but it has some great things to see. Kotohira Shrine, or Konpira-san, is a large shrine complex, the largest in Shikoku. Kanamaru-za is Japan’s oldest Kabuki playhouse. There are several museums, including the Kinryo Sake Museum, Marine Science Museum, and the Museum of History.  You can also enjoy Konpira Onsen (hot springs).

In Marugame, apart from the castle, there are some things to do.  You can see the Nakazu Banshoen Marugame Museum of Art and New Reoma World Amusement Park. Marugame also produces 90% of Japan’s uchiwa (fans).

Sanuki is a small city in Kagawa that has the final temple of the 88 temple pilgrimage, Okubo-ji. A couple other well-known temples are Shido-ji and Nagao-ji.

Zentsuji is named after the temple, Zentsuji. The temple seems quite impressive.  The city is also where cubic watermelons were developed.

Shodo-shima is an island in the Seto Inland Sea with a few things to see, including the Kanka Gorge, a miniature version of the 88 temple pilgrimage, olives, monkeys, beaches, and soy sauce.

Naoshima is an island town with many museums developed by Benesse Corporation. These include the Chichu Art Museum, Benesse House, and the James Bond Museum.

Megijima is an island with an observation platform and some popular caves.

Ogijima is a small, mountainous island that was the basis for Battle Royale. One major feature is the lighthouse.

Food

Kagawa is very famous for udon noodles.  In particular, Sanuki Udon is the local specialty.  It’s a bit firmer than usual udon, and is named after Kagawa’s old name, Sanuki Province.

Have you visited Kagawa? Have I missed anything?  Leave your suggestions in the comments.

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Exploring Iwate

This week in Exploring Japan, we look at Iwate Prefecture, one of the prefectures severely damaged by the 2011 tsunami.

Iwate is in the Tohoku region on the eastern side, facing the Pacific Ocean.  It’s one of the nearest prefectures to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.  The population is 1,330,530.  Morioka is the capital city.  The 5 largest cities are:

  1. Morioka (300,740)
  2. Ichinoseki (128,571)
  3. Oshu (127,804)
  4. Hanamaki (102,455)
  5. Kitakami (93,142)

Iwate’s population has been dropping for many years, as people move away to the big cities. Many of the coastal cities and towns have been severely damaged or destroyed due to the tsunami. It’s safe to visit those areas now, but the cleanup and rebuilding continue. If you do visit the coastal regions, be sure to spend some money to help the local economy.

Castles

Morioka Castle in Morioka was one of those castles built without a main tower.  Instead, a turret was built.  However, all buildings were demolished during the Meiji Restoration, and nothing has been rebuilt.  However, the stone walls made of white granite remain and Iwate Park occupies the castle grounds.

Things to see and do

I never really knew much about Iwate, other than the fact that Morioka is the sister city of Victoria, BC, where I went to university.  But I understand that there’s some amazing skiing in Iwate.

Morioka has a great view of Mt. Iwate.  But what is there to do?  You could visit Morioka Zoo.  There are a couple of festivals that seem quite interesting.  The big one is Sansa Odori, which is the taiko drum festival in summer, and supposedly has 100,000 participants.  Chagu Chagu Umakko is a parade with around 100 horses that are decorated.  Iwate Museum of Art has some local art. Hoonji looks to be an interesting Zen Temple.

Hachimantai is a small city that is known for just one thing, All Season Resort APPI.

Hanamaki has some hot springs, and also the Kenji Miyazawa Museum.  There are some festivals, such as Hanamaki Matsuri, which has many synchronized dances, including the dance of the deer (Shishi Odori).

Hiraizumi is probably the biggest attraction in Iwate.  Several sites in this town became a World Heritage Site in 2011.  It rivaled Kyoto in size at one time.  Chusonji temple is famous for its Golden Hall.  Motsuji temple is known for its Pure Land Garden. Kanjizaio-in Ato was a garden, but is now more of a park.  Muryoko-in Ato used to be a temple, but only the pond remains. Yanaginogosho Iseki is the site of the former palace, though only the foundation and pond remain. The final World Heritage Site is Mt. Kinkeisan, where Buddhist sutras were once buried.  There are other attractions, as well.  Takkoku no Iwaya Bishamon-do is a cave temple that looks very interesting.

Ichinoseki has some interesting sights.  There are a couple of gorges that look worth seeing, including Genbikei and Geibikei.  Tsuriyama is a hill that is supposed to be beautiful when cherry trees are blooming.  Haishiwa Shrine is at the top of a hill with huge trees and very long staircase.  The Yuugendou caves also look quite interesting.

Iwaizumi, a small town, is famous for its caves.  Ryusendo is one of the largest limestone caves in Japan.  There’s also the Sugawatari Tankendo Cave and the Kumanohana Observatory.

Tono is a small city that’s famous for its folktales.  The Folk Villages are traditionally built and have artisans making traditional crafts. The largest is Tono Furusato Village.  There are a couple of museums, the Tono Municipal Museum and the Tono Castle Town Materials Museum.  Fukusenji temple has a five storey pagoda that’s apparently quite beautiful. Jokenji temple has Kappabuchi, a pond that is said to be the home of kappa, which are mythical water creatures.

I would list some other cities or towns, but those that have been omitted were damaged so severely that the sites likely don’t exist anymore.  If they do still exist or have been rebuilt or restarted, please leave a comment.

Food

Wanko Soba is a popular dish that consists of a small portion of soba noodles and some condiments.  It’s also popular to eat it as all-you-can-eat.

Have you been to Iwate? Did I miss anything?  Leave your recommendations in the comments.

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Isehara Manhole Cover

Isehara city’s manhole covers are some of the busier ones I’ve seen.  What I mean is that there are 3 symbols rather than just one.  Featured prominently is a mountain, Oyama.  It’s a great mountain to hike on, and offers some nice views.  Also, the flower is Isehara’s city flower, the Chinese bellflower.  The last symbol is the bird.  It’s the city’s offical bird, the copper pheasant.  Japan’s manhole covers continue to be very interesting.

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This is a colourful manhole cover.

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Exploring Ishikawa

The next prefecture in Exploring Japan is in the Chubu region, Ishikawa.

Ishikawa Prefecture is on the Japan Sea side of Honshu and much of it extends out into the sea on the Noto Peninsula.  It’s very historic and there are many natural places.  The population is 1,168,929.  The capital is Kanazawa.  The five biggest cities are:

  1. Kanazawa (462,478)
  2. Hakusan (110,654)
  3. Komatsu (109,285)
  4. Kaga (73,492)
  5. Nanao (58,204)

The population of Ishikawa is dropping, similar to many prefectures, though Kanazawa is growing.

Castles

Kanazawa Castle in Kanazawa was once a very impressive castle.  Today, several buildings have been reconstructed using traditional methods, so they are quite authentic looking.  They were reconstructed only recently, starting in 1999.

Things to see and do

Ishikawa Prefecture is one place I’ve always wanted to see because of the beautiful scenery on the Noto Peninsula, but also because of the historical districts in Kanazawa.

Kanazawa is probably one of the best cities in Japan to see very well preserved historic districts.  Arriving in Kanazawa by train, you’ll notice the amazing architecture of Kanazawa Station and the Tsuzumimon, a massive gate that was completed in 2005.  Probably the best place to see is Kenrokuen, one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan.  The Nagamachi Samurai District is a great place to walk around in with very well preserved buildings.  Higashi-Chayamachi is a famous geisha district with many of the houses still in use.  Kazuemachi and Nishi-Chayamachi are other districts with well-preserved and restored geisha houses.  There are several temples and shrines worth seeing, as well.  Myoryuji, or the Ninja Temple (actually not related to ninja) seems like a very interesting place to tour.  Oyama Shrine has stained glass windows.  Tentokuin was the largest temple in Kanazawa during the Edo Period. Daijoji is an old Zen Buddhist temple that is very active. The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art seems interesting. I’d also like to see the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum.  Of the festivals in Kanazawa, it seems that the Hyakuman-goku Festival is the one to see in early June.

Hakusan is probably best known for Hakusan National Park.

Kaga has some great natural beauty.  There are also several museums, such as Kitamaebune Ship Museum, Nakaya Ukichiro Museum of Snow and Ice, and Nippon Origami Museum.  There are also plenty of hot springs. Kaga is famous for its porcelain, so the Kutaniyaki Art Museum and Kiln Museum are good to see.

In Komatsu, the popular place to go is Nata-dera Temple, which has beautiful grounds and caves. You can also see the Motorcar Museum of Japan, which has 500 working cars.  Yunokunino Mori is a resort with plenty of traditional architecture to see.  Rojo Park is a beautiful park to see.

Nanao is the main city on the Noto Peninsula.  Here, you can see the Notojima Glass Art Museum, Le Musee de H Confectionary Museum, and the Nanao Art Museum.  All seem to be pretty interesting.  Nanao Castle Ruins has  very little in the way of ruins, but has a great view of the bay.  The Seihakusai Dekayama Festival looks very interesting with its huge floats. Notojima Aquarium looks to be pretty good. The Issaki Houtou Festival also looks interesting with its massive floats.

Wajima is a small city known for its lacquerware. It’s also known for its lanterns, so you can visit the Kiriko Museum or see the Wajima Taisai, a festival in which they carry large kiriko lanterns.  Also, along the coast is the 1000 Rice Fields, or Senmaida.  It’s a very scenic place with 1004 rice fields on a hillside.

Hakui is a small city that is famous for being the UFO capital of Japan.  There are a couple of things to see, the UFO Museum and the Sumo Festival in September.

Food

Ishikawa is well-known for its seafood.  There are many different fish and other seafood available, depending on what’s in season.  The Noto Peninsula is known for oysters.  Also, a popular local dish is Noto-don, a kind of donburi (rice bowl) dish that uses only local ingredients.  And finally, you can try Wagashi, a kind of sweet that’s made of rice and sweet bean paste.

Have you been to Ishikawa?  What do you recommend?

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Carp Flags at Shirahata Shrine

Yesterday was Kodomo no Hi (子供の日) or Children’s Day in Japan.  It’s a holiday that celebrates children and their happiness.  During this holiday, people string up carp flags/streamers, or koi nobori.  Basically, they’re a kind of wind sock.  I visited Shirahata Shrine (白幡神社) in Fujisawa, near Fujisawa-honmachi Station, and was treated to a large number of very big koi nobori.  Have a look.

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The shrine gate.

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Those are some big streamers.

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Caught in the wind.

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White wisteria.

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Looking up.

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Going up to the main hall.

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The main hall with glare from the sun.

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Koi nobori from the main hall.

I hope all the children will be strong this year.

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Adventures at the Hospital

This shows a bit of an account of what it’s like to use the hospital system in Japan. Very annoying thing is that the first hospital we tried has an ER that closes at 11 pm. We were told not to use an ambulance unless it’s an emergency. Use a taxi. We did, and we wasted our time and money to go to a hospital that’s closed. We were quite fed up with that, so we did get an ambulance. Glad we did, because there was a possibility of a very serious medical problem.

Foreign Dad in Japan

The last few days have been a blur.  So much has happened.

I should begin by saying that April had been one of the more difficult months for us, because Tomoe had caught a cold twice in the first half of the month, requiring us to take a lot of extra care of her.  She’d been to the doctor several times, had to stay at home with a very expensive babysitter on the weekends, and stay at a clinic’s nursery on weekdays that she had a fever.  Other times, she went to her regular nursery.  Halfway through the month, she was finally healthy again.  It was great to see her like that.  But then, on April 26th, we went to Costco in a rental car, and this is where the saga begins.

We’re not sure how she got sick, but after spending the day out shopping, Tomoe developed a fever. …

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