Monthly Archives: July 2013

Exploring Miyazaki

Back to Kyushu this time for Exploring Japan with Miyazaki Prefecture.

Miyazaki Prefecture is located on the southeastern part of Kyushu, facing the Pacific Ocean.  It has a population of 1,128,412.  The capital city is Miyazaki.  The 5 largest cities are:

  1. Miyazaki (399,834)
  2. Miyakonojo (168,072)
  3. Nobeoka (131,182)
  4. Hyuga (63,223)
  5. Nichinan (57,689)

The population of the prefecture and most of the cities are in a decline due to the low birth rate.  However, Miyazaki city is growing as many people move to the city.

Castles

Aya Castle in the small town of Aya is a reconstruction from 1985.  However, it’s design is based on pictures of other castles that were built around the same time Aya Castle was.

Obi Castle in Nichinan is mainly ruins, though the main gate has been reconstructed.  There are a few other buildings on the grounds, including a museum.

Nobeoka Castle in Nobeoka consists of ruins.  There weren’t many buildings at this castle in the first place, and no main keep.

Things to see and do

My impression of Miyazaki originally was fruit and surfing.  Miyazaki does attract a lot of surfers to its beaches, but Miyazaki is very well known for growing many kinds of fruits and vegetables.

Miyazaki, the capital, is a popular tourist and resort city.  Aoshima Beach is a major attraction.  It’s great for surfing and Aoshima island is also popular with its shrine and interesting geological features. The Aoshima Subtropical Botanical Garden should be nice to see. Miyazaki-jingu shrine is dedicated to Japan’s first emperor, Jinmu.   You can visit the Heiwadai Tower in Heiwadai Garden.  The city has a zoo, the Miyazaki-city Phoenix Zoo.  Tom Watson Golf Course is also in the city and is one of Japan’s most famous and popular golf courses.

Ebino city doesn’t have much to see, but I found a couple of events that seem interesting.  In late July, there’s the Cow Jumping Festival.  Cows jump logs to celebrate the health of livestock.  August sees the Taiko Festival and Odaiko Odori, both Taiko drum festivals.

Hyuga has an interesting sight.  The Mimitsu area has a lot of traditional, historic buildings from the 19th century.

Kobayashi city has several things to see and do.  Ikoma Plateau provides a great view of the city from its flower garden. Idenoyama Park has an aquarium, restaurants, and a lake.  It also hosts the Firefly Festival. Sannomiya Gorge would be great to see. Cross the Suki Suspension Bridge, and you can visit the Mamako Falls. Inyoseki is a fertility shrine with a rock shaped like a phallus.

Nichinan seems like a very interesting city.  Apart from the Obi Castle ruins, there’s plenty to see.  I’m interested in Udo Shrine, which was built into the side of a seaside cliff.  Horikawa Canal District features a restored canal. Tsu no Mine is a mountain with a good view of the port area. Sun Messe Nichinan features replicas of 7 Moai Statues of Easter Island. Aburatsu Port Festival has rowing and bow and arrow competitions.  The Obi Castle Festival has an interesting looking parade procession.

Saito city has a few interesting places to see.  Saitobaru is a National Special Historic site with a historical research facility. It features 311 burial mounds in 9 clusters. The Tonokori Castle ruins are also in Saito.  Tsuma Temple seems interesting, as well.

Takachiho is a small town that has some historic sites.  The Takachiho Gorge and the Minai Waterfall are great to see from a boat. The Ama-no-iwato shrine is situated above the gorge. There’s plenty to see at Shonenji temple, as well.  You can also see Takachiho Shrine and the Takachiho Onsen (hot springs).  At the base of the gorge, there are a couple teahouses that serve nagashi somen, which are noodles that flow down bamboo chutes.

Food

Miyazaki is famous for its fruit, of course.  But something that looks really good to me is the chicken. Specifically, sumibiyaki, which is chicken meat cut into small pieces and charbroiled.  Chicken Nanban is marinated in sweet and sour sauce, then deep fried.  Sounds good!

Have you been to Miyazaki?  What would you recommend? Please leave a comment!

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Southern Beach in Chigasaki

Who likes the beach?  Well, for my 500th blog post, let’s celebrate with a visit to Chigasaki’s very famous and popular beach, Southern Beach!

This beach is famous for the Southern All Stars, Keisuke Kuwata’s very popular band. I didn’t go there for the music, though.  My family decided to visit the beach on Friday to give our daughter her first experience of feeling the sand beneath her feet and getting her feet wet in the ocean.  It was a great idea, but it didn’t go according to plan.  Simply put, she slept the entire time.

After arriving at the shore, we had to walk a bit along the coast to get to the beach.  I’d been down this way before 2 years ago on one of my long walks, which I have plenty of photos of, but haven’t posted yet.

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Ominous-looking clouds to the west. We’re walking toward Southern Beach.

The weather didn’t look very promising.  The forecast called for cloudy skies all afternoon.  When we arrived at the beach, we noticed it wasn’t very busy.  It was the last day before summer holidays, so that wasn’t surprising. It would be packed as soon as the summer holidays start (that was today, July 20th). There were some families, though.  I saw plenty of children, as well as groups of adults enjoying the beach, sunbathing, and swimming.  Some were also bodyboarding.  Looked like fun!

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My daughter sleeping at the beach. In the distance, you can see Enoshima.

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Those clouds sure look dark. But we didn’t have to worry. As you can see, it wasn’t crowded.

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There were a few beach houses set up on the beach, selling food, drinks, shaved ice, and access to showers and rental beach equipment.

So, those clouds didn’t bother us at all.  In fact, it became very sunny!  Thanks to the bright sun, the sand got very hot.  I decided to go down to the water and feel the cool, wet sand beneath my feet.  It felt great!  I waded a little into the water, then a big wave came up and got the bottom of my shorts wet.  I wasn’t wearing a swimsuit, so I couldn’t go swimming.  Next time, we really should take swimsuits!  The water wasn’t cold, but it was comfortably cool with the hot sun.

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A wave is coming in.

We didn’t stay long.  Only 30 minutes.  It was nice to visit, but since we didn’t have anything with us to enjoy the beach, we decided to go home.  Besides, my daughter was still sleeping.  So, until next time, beach.

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Ishidaya, one of the beach houses. This is the back side. It has food, drinks, shaved ice, rentals, and showers. The staff seemed pretty friendly.

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Southern Beach’s famous C.

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Exploring Miyagi

We return this week to Tohoku in Exploring Japan with Miyagi Prefecture.

Miyagi Prefecture is on the Pacific coast of the northern Tohoku region of Honshu, and was one of the most severely damaged areas during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  It has a population of 2,337,513.  The capital and largest city is Sendai.  The 5 largest cities are:

  1. Sendai (1,045,986)
  2. Ishinomaki (164,294)
  3. Osaki (135,129)
  4. Tome (84,070)
  5. Kurihara (74,932)

Due to the casualties suffered in coastal cities, there is no current population information.  Some of these may be outdated.  Both Sendai and Ishinomaki were hit by the tsunami.

Castles

Shiroishi Castle in Shiroishi is a recent reconstruction.  It was rebuilt using traditional methods, so should be quite faithful to the original.  It doesn’t appear to be very big.

Aoba Castle in Sendai consists of ruins and some reconstructed buildings.  There is currently some reconstruction or restoration going on. It’s also known as Sendai Castle.

Sports

In professional baseball, Sendai is host to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. In J-League soccer, Vegalta Sendai in Sendai city is in the top tier.

Things to see and do

Due to the tsunami in 2011, some of the following places may be unavailable due to reconstruction or lack of reconstruction.  However, most of the prefecture is business as usual, so I definitely recommend going there and supporting the local economy.  It’s very important to help them out.

Sendai is the largest city in the Tohoku region, so is the central hub for the area.  It’s a very green city that’s close to both the ocean and mountains. Osaki Hachiman Shrine is an important and attractive shrine in Sendai and holds the Donto-sai Festival.  Just outside the city is a large statue of Kannon. Rinnoji is a nice temple with a big garden. Zuihoden is the mausoleum of Date Masamune.  Miyagi Museum of Art is good for some modern art and a garden. Sendai Mediatheque has interesting architecture. SS 30 Observation Lounge is an observation deck on the 29th and 30th floors of an office building that’s free to the public. Sendai City Museum should be interesting. The Museum of the Forest of Depths of the Earth sounds quite interesting, featuring the stone age. Yagiyama Zoo is the local zoo. Benyland is a small amusement park that should be fun. You can take a tour at the Nikka Whisky Distillery and finish with free whisky. You can enjoy the Michinoku-Yosakoi Festival, as well.  Finally, Sendai hosts the largest Tanabata Festival in Japan during August. Sendai has some natural sites, too.  Akiu Great Falls is one of Japan’s top 3 waterfalls. There are also hot spring areas in Akiu and Sakunami.

Ishinomaki is a famous fishing city.  It hosts a few interesting things, but not a large amount.  There’s a full-sized replica of the Japanese galleon San Juan Bautista.  You can also visit the Ishinomori Manga Museum. There are some interesting islands, as well.  Tashirojima is known as Manga Island. Kinkasan is considered a very holy site, and it hosts a shrine, as well as many hiking trails.

Kesennuma is a city that was hit very hard by the tsunami.  It’s begun to recover, but there’s a lot of hard work ahead.  It has an attractive natural spot, though. Oreishii is a rock that attracts a lot of people.

Matsuhima is a town that was hit by the tsunami, but the main sights were not damaged. Matsushima Bay is one of Japan’s top 3 best views.  Zuiganji temple is a top Zen temple with a long history. Kanrantei Pavilion is a large teahouse with a great view of the coast. Fukuura Island is a good place to take a walk, and is accessible by a bridge. Otakamori is a great place to see the bay, and requires a 1 km walk up the hill.

Osaki has an area called the Naruko Hot Spring Villages.  Naruko Gorge is a great viewing spot in autumn. Taki no Yu is a traditional bathhouse that uses water from two separate springs and creates artificial waterfalls.

Zao Quasi-National Park is on the border of Miyagi and Yamagata.  It has the complex volcano Mount Zao, which is also host to a ski resort. This is the most volcanically active area in Tohoku.

Food

Miyagi, especially Sendai, is famous for gyu-tan, or grilled slices of cow tongue.  You can also get shark fin soup in Kesennuma.

Have you been to Miyagi?  What did I miss?  Do you have any recommendations?

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Exploring Mie

For this week’s Exploring Japan, we continue with another Kansai prefecture, Mie.

Mie prefecture is in the western part of Kansai, though it has closer ties with Nagoya than Kansai.  It faces the Pacific Ocean.  It has a population of 1,855,177.  The capital is Tsu.  The 5 largest cities are:

  1. Yokkaichi (307,382)
  2. Tsu (298,980)
  3. Suzuka (198,598)
  4. Matsusaka (167,107)
  5. Kuwana (140,796)

The population of Mie is pretty steady, while the larger cities are growing.  Those in the north are basically industrial cities and bedroom communities for Nagoya.

Castles

Iga Ueno Castle in Iga is a reconstructed castle.  The main tower collapsed about 400 years ago and wasn’t reconstructed until 1935.

Tsu Castle in Tsu has a reconstructed turret, though it’s not historically accurate.  There is decent stonework and a gate in existence, as well.

Kameyama Castle in Kameyama doesn’t have much remaining.  All that’s still standing is one turret and the stone walls/foundation.

Kuwana Castle in Kuwana is mainly a park now, though it has two reconstructed turrets.

Things to see and do

There wasn’t much I knew about Mie, other than the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ise Jingu shrine and the Suzuka Circuit, Japan’s most famous racetrack.  As I researched about Mie, I noticed that each city doesn’t have much to see, but there is plenty to see in the entire prefecture.

Tsu, the prefectural capital, doesn’t have much to see.  Of course, it has the castle ruins, but other than that, there is a festival that might be good to see, the Tojin Odori.

Yokkaichi, the largest city, is a mostly industrial city.  Surprisingly, it has little to see.  There are some festivals, though, including the Amagasuka Ishideri Festival, the Great Yokkaichi Festival, and the Matsubara Ishideri Festival.

Iga, which is home to Iga Ueno Castle, the best castle in the prefecture, has several things to see.  The Iga-ryu Ninja Museum is probably worth seeing, originally used by the Iga Ninja clan, one of Japan’s most notorious ninja clans.  The Basho Museum looks interesting on the outside, and it’s dedicated to the haiku master Matsuo Basho.  You can also see the Tenjin Festival in October. Also, there’s a 5 week long festival dedicated to ninja, the Iga Ueno Ninja Festa.

Ise city is home to Mie’s most famous site, and probably the holiest shrine in Japan, Ise Jingu. A lot of the shrine is inaccessible to the public, but there is still a lot to see.  Kawasaki Kaiwai is the historic merchants area of the city. Meoto Iwa are a pair of rocks in the sea that are joined by a Shinto rope that weighs more than a ton.  They are also known as the Wedded Rocks or Husband-and-Wife Rocks. Futami Sea Paradise is a small aquarium. Oharai Machi and Okage Yokocho are historic areas that are good for shopping and dining.  Also, while in Ise, it’s probably worth trying Ise-ebi, or Japanese spiny lobster, though it’s quite expensive.  Much of the city is within Ise-Shima National Park, where you can enjoy the coast, islands, mountains, and forests. And of course, the Ise Festival is quite popular.

Kumano is a small city further south on the Kii Peninsula.  There, you can see some natural formations, including Shishiwa, or the lion rock, and the Onigajo, or demon castle.  The latter is a rock cave formation.  Hana no Iwaya is a very old shrine. Senmaida is a thousand rice paddies that is planted by hand every year.  It’s on the side of a hill, so no machines can be used.  You can hike the Kodo, part of an old pilgrimage route.  Doro Gyo is a gorge you can ride a boat through.

Matsusaka has the Matsusaka Castle ruins, but also beef.  Matsusaka beef is one of Japan’s famous types of wagyu beef.

Shima is known for its pearl cultivation.  It also has some sites. Parque Espana is a Spanish village theme park. Goza Shirahama is a very popular and crowded beach. Shima Marine Land is a small aquarium.

Suzuka is famous for one thing, the Suzuka Circuit.  It’s Japan’s most famous racetrack, and is part of the Formula One race circuit. You can also visit the Tsubaki Ogamiyashiro shrine.

Toba is a city near Ise that’s very popular for holidays.  You can see Mikimoto Pearl Island, which is dedicated to the cultured pearl and has demonstrations by Ama, female pearl divers.  Toba Aquarium is considered the best aquarium in Japan, and only one of 4 aquariums in the world to have dugong. The Toba Castle ruins are also available to see.

Owase is a small city, but has plenty to see. The Kumano Kodo Center is made entirely of cypress, and you can see the history of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, as well as go hiking nearby.  Owase Shrine has a very old tree, while the Kongobuji temple next to it has some fierce statues at the entrance.  Mikisato Beach has beautiful water.  Sugari and Kuki are fishing villages nearby that you can look around and take a tour. Finally, you can see the Nakamurayama Castle ruins, which is a park now.

Kuwana, next to Nagoya, has a couple places to see.  Nagashima Spa Land has an amusement park and shopping mall, and it includes one of the largest roller coasters in the world, while in summer, you can enjoy waterslides.  Kyuka Park features a sumo ring. Tado Shrine holds a big festival every year, the Tado Festival.

Food

Mie is most famous for its Matsusaka beef, the local variety of wagyu beef.  For seafood, spiny lobster is very well-known.

Have you been to Mie?  What would you recommend to see and do?

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Wagyu Beef Sukiyaki

Last night, I had something I’ve been looking forward to for years, wagyu beef.  There are several varieties of wagyu beef, some of the most famous being Kobe beef and Matsuzaka beef.  Below is the beef.  10,000 yen worth of it.  Included was sukiyaki sauce.

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Look at all that beef. It’s half fat.

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The last of the beef.

So, how was it?  It tasted quite good, but there was a problem.  It’s so fatty that it filled me up very quickly, and I didn’t feel very good afterwards.  My recommendation is to eat wagyu beef in moderation.  And whatever  you do, eat it in thin slices.  Don’t eat it as steak.  I’ve heard others say they tried wagyu beef steak, and it was too oily. It needs to be boiled, not fried.  Sukiyaki or shabu shabu are ideal, I think.

Have you tried wagyu beef?

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Exploring Kyoto

For this week’s Exploring Japan, we go to the Kansai area with the old capital Kyoto.

Kyoto is situated in western Japan, with a small coastline facing the Sea of Japan, though the majority of people live in the south near Osaka.  It has a population of 2,633,428. The capital city is Kyoto.  The 5 largest cities are:

  1. Kyoto (1,473,746)
  2. Uji (189,929)
  3. Kameoka (92,889)
  4. Maizuru (88,669)
  5. Joyo (80,037)

The overall population is remaining quite stable for both the prefecture and the cities.

Castles

Nijo Castle in Kyoto was the Tokugawa Shogun residence until they moved to Edo.  The original castle burned down, but Ninomaru Palace now exists, and it seems to be quite impressive.

Fushimi Castle in Kyoto was to be a retirement castle for Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  However, it burned down, and was later rebuilt and then dismantled.  It was finally rebuilt again in 1964.

Fukuchiyama Castle in Fukuchiyama is a recent reconstruction. It’s now a local history museum.

Shoryuji Castle in Nagaokakyo has a few buildings on compact grounds.  The grounds were reconstructed about 20 years ago.

Sports

The only major team in Kyoto is Kyoto Sanga F.C. soccer team in J-League division 2.

Things to see and do

There is an extensive number of things to see in Kyoto.  I’d love to cover it all, but that would result in a very long post.  Kyoto is famous for being the old capital, and as such, it is a very historic city with an incredible wealth of historic places.  Kyoto was untouched during World War II, so almost everything is original.

Kyoto, the old capital, has 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  They are: Kinkakuji temple, which is the Golden Pavilion; Ryoanji temple, which has an amazing zen garden; the beautiful and extensive Ninnaji temple; Kozanji temple, famous for its autumn foliage; the beautiful red Shimogamo Shrine; the big and beautiful Kamigamo Shrine; Nijo Castle (see above); Nishi Honganji temple is an impressive-looking temple; Toji temple with the tallest pagoda in Japan; Kiyomizu-dera temple, the hillside temple that was built with no nails; Ginkakuji temple, often known as the Silver Pavilion; Tenryuji temple, with its beautiful grounds, destroyed or severely damaged 9 times, but always rebuilt; Saihoji temple with its beautiful moss garden; and Daigoji temple, with its five-storey pagoda. In central Kyoto, you can see the following: Nijo Jinya (samurai house), The Museum of Kyoto, Kyoto International Manga Museum, Higashi Honganji (with the largest wooden building in the world), Shoseien Garden, Kyoto Tower (with a good city view), Bukkoji temple, Mibudera temple, Shinsenen Garden, Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum, and of course the Kyoto Imperial Palace.  Western Kyoto has the following: Okochi Sanso, Nonomiya Shrine, Iwatayama Monkey Park, Otagi Nenbutsuji temple, Daikakuji temple, Adashino Nenbutsuji temple, Gioji temple, Jojakkoji temple, Nison-in temple, Horinji temple, Koryuji temple, Toei Movie Village (they filmed many samurai films here), Katsura Imperial Villa, Umenomiya Shrine, and Suzumushi-dera temple. On the east side are the following: Mount Daimonji, Sanjusangendo temple, Kyoto National Museum, Yogen-in temple, Heian Shrine (has a beautiful garden), Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art, Yoshida Shrine (holds a famous Setsubun Festival), Kyoto City Zoo, Hosomi Art Museum, Maruyama Park (great for cherry blossoms), Kodaiji temple, Chion-in temple (with a huge gate), Shoren-in temple, Ryozen Kannon Statue, Ryozen History Museum (about the Meiji period), Ryozen Gokoku Shrine (dedicated to the war dead), the Gion district with its traditional buildings, Yasaka Shrine (known for the Gion Festival), Kenninji temple, Honenji temple, Anrakuji temple, Kounji temple, Eikando temple, Nanzenji temple (with a 2-storey gate and aqueduct).  In the north, you can find: Daitokuji temple (big, with a beautiful garden), Imamiya Shrine, Hirano Shrine, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Myoshinji temple, Jingoji temple, Kyoto Botanical Garden, Shugakuin Imperial Villa, Entsuji temple, Myomanji temple, Shisendo temple, Jakko-in temple, Sanzen-in temple, Raigo-in temple, Amidaji temple, Shorin-in temple, and Hosen-in temple.  Finally, in the south, you can see the following:  Fushimi Inari Taisha (a very famous Inari shrine with hundreds of red gates), Tofukuji temple (with a beautiful garden), Jonangu Shrine, Zuishin-in temple, Kajuji temple, Oharano Shrine, Shoboji temple, Shojiji temple, and Yoshiminedera temple. And of course, a lot of people want to see Geisha in Kyoto. In the far northern part of Kyoto, you can also see the Kuramadera temple, and the Kurama Fire Festival.

Uji, the second largest city, is right next to Kyoto and also has several historic sites, including a couple UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  These include Byodo-in temple, which is known for the Phoenix Hall.  This building is on the 10 yen coin.  Also, the Ujigami Shrine is on the list.  It’s the oldest Shinto Shrine in Japan. Next to it is the Uji Shrine.  For literature fans, The Tale of Genji Museum is in Uji. Koshoji temple has a long tree-lined walk to the main temple.  Mimurotoji temple is well-known for its flowers and gardens.  Manpukuji temple was built with a Ming Dynasty style. Amagase Dam provides great views.  Uji is the tea capital of Japan, so the tea ceremony is very famous here, as is the Tea Festival.  You can also watch cormorant fishing. Mt. Buttoko offers great views of the area.

In Fukuchiyama, apart from the castle, there are some things to see.  You can see some art at the Fukuchiyama City Sato Taisei Memorial Art Museum.  If you like Japanese demons, or oni, you can see the Oni Exchange Museum.  Also available to see are Enman-in temple and the Fukuchiyama Zoo.

Joyo city has something that might interest some people.  That’s the Aodani Ume Grove, which contains 10,000 ume (Japanese apricot) trees.

Food

Kyoto is very well-known for matcha, which is green tea.  There are many ways to enjoy matcha, including drinking it, and the very popular matcha ice cream.  Also popular is yatsuhachi, a snack originally made with cinnamon, but also flavoured in a variety of ways, including strawberry, and of course matcha.  But probably one of the biggest things is kaiseki ryori.  This is traditional Japanese cooking, and people in Kyoto are very proud of it.  However, people from outside of Kyoto tend to say it’s rather bland.

Have you visited Kyoto? Please leave a comment with your recommendations!

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