Tohoku: A New Lease of Life

Image credit: Gaijinpot / https://travel.gaijinpot.com/destination/tohoku/

3/11 would forever be associated with the Tohoku (東北) region in Japan. It was the day that changed this once lush, pristine region forever. Once revered for its results rich agricultural produce (e.g. rice and apples), large swathes of land along the coast stretching from Miyagi (宮城), Iwate (岩手) and Fukushima (福島) were devastated by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake on 11 March, 2011 that triggered a massive tsunami. The radioactive fallout from the Dai-ichi nuclear power stations in Fukushima further rendered this zone a nuclear wasteland.

This year marks the 12th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. And the people of Tohoku have come a long way to rebuild all that they have lost – their homelands, their families, and their agricultural pride. And if you would like to help, there’s no better way to contribute to this region’s rejuvenation than to pay a visit.

Make Hollywood celebrity Ken Watanabe’s cafe K-PORT (https://lnkd.in/gheGhzmm) in Kesennuma (気仙沼), Miyagi Prefecture your first port of call. After a refreshing cup of Joe, trace your way along the coast northwards, and pay tributes at the memorials in Kamaishi (釜石), and Otsuchi (大槌町).

Once you are done with your shopping at the local farmer’s or seafood markets, it’s time to journey inland into the ski slopes and fine powder at the Tazawako Ski Resort (https://lnkd.in/gpWuc6G8). End your day with a rewarding soak at one of the many onsens scattered around beautiful Lake Tazawa (田沢湖).

If you’re feeling adventurous, drive up all the way to the “Gates of Hell” at Osorezan or Mount Osore 恐山 (literally translated as Scary Mountain) and Bodaiji Temple (恐山菩提寺), located at the “blade’s edge” of the axe-shaped Aomori Prefecture (青森県) and explore a landscape that is as other-worldly as it is enchanting. Incidentally, Aomori is also the host city of the Tohoku-Kizuna Festival (https://lnkd.in/gCYYj29v) this year – an initiative that dates back to 2011 to the rejuvenation of the Tohoku region. LT

#travel#japan#japanese#japaneseculture#onsen#tohoku

Shizuoka: Fuji In Your Backyard

Image credit: iStock/goodze via Gaijinpot Beautiful scenery during sunset time of Mountain Fuji view point at Gotemba Premium Outlets, Shizuoka, Japan.

What does it feel like to wake up every morning, stretch, turn around and be greeted by the sight of the majestic snow-capped Mount Fuji from your room window?

I would bet you that the typical response if you ask anyone living at the foot of Japan’s iconic mountain, that is, Shizuoka, is a nonchalant: “別に…” (I don’t feel anything…)

Well, for the rest of us, this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, unless of course, you decide to migrate and live there. But there’s more than just Mt. Fuji in this sun-kissed coastal prefecture.

Ride the waves at Hamamatsu, or that sounds too woke for you, go island-hopping or fish your own dinner at the breathtaking Izu Peninsula. And when the sun sets, put up a lounger in the backyard of your Airbnb and admire Mt. Fuji over a cup of locally brewed tea. In case you haven’t realised, Shizuoka is the mecca of Japanese green tea, as much as Mt. Fuji is the mecca of all visitors to Japan.

For more details, visit https://travel.gaijinpot.com/gotemba/

#travel#japan#japanese#shizuoka#mt_fuji#greentea#onsen

Shikoku: Japan’s Best Kept Secret

Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge (来島海峡大橋) in Ehime (愛媛県), Japan. Image credit: gaijinpot

Shikoku (四国) is Japan’s best kept secret. Relative to the other larger islands like Kyushu and Honshu, Japan’s smallest island is the most unexplored. The majestic Setouchi Expressway Bridge offers one of the most spectacular entrances into Shikoku from the mainland – and ranks as one of the top cycling routes in Japan.

Trace the footsteps of Henro (遍路) pilgrims past as you embark on a spiritual sojourn to the 88 temples of Shikoku. If the trek proves too arduous, rest your weary feet and savour an afternoon tipple at one of the independent craft beer breweries or 地ビール makers (Mukai Craft Brewing) in Kochi (高知) – a rising trend in Shikoku.

If it’s art you’re after, hop on a ferry from Takamatsu (高松) to Naoshima (直島) for happy snaps with Yayoi Kusama’s giant pumpkins and other polka-dot artworks scattered around the island. Alternatively, soak in the atmospheric Dogo Onsen in Ehime (愛媛) , and get “spirited away” in this centuries-old institution that is said to have inspired the Ghibili classic. Adventure seekers, head for the Iya Valley in Tokushima (徳島) and explore the eerily creepy doll village of Nagoro 名頃かかしの里 (make sure you do this during daylight!! You have been warned). LT

https://lnkd.in/g3tKUym3 – Check out the post from gaijinpot for more details.

#travel #japan #japanese #shikoku #temples #spirituality #spiritual

Tango in Kyoto

It’s in Kyoto Prefecture, but not quite the shrine-saturated Kyoto that you know. It has a quaint fishing village where you can watch the world drift away over a cuppa from your little nook in a seaside cafe.

A stone’s throw away is what has been rated as one of Japan’s best three scenic views. Here, sky and sea merge as one, and apparently, the best view is to bend down forward with your head between your legs (I tried it, it’s kinda disorienting but don’t try this at night!!).

Going clockwise south, we journey into Japan’s feudal past at the tiny town of Izushi, where the oldest Japanese clock tower still stands, and soba is king! Come dressed in your kimono best to explore its Edo-era streets.

And when you’re done exploring, Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉) is just a few stops away to soak your weariness (& worries) away. Your main concern? Deciding which of the seven onsens to explore? I recommend all! Alternatively, join the stream of Kyoto-ites, who escape to Takeno beach for a day out in the sun, sea and surf.

Welcome to Kyōtango! It’s in Kyoto, but not quite Kyoto. LT

For more details of Kyōtango, visit https://lnkd.in/gmew7_4U

For a snapshot of life in the fishing village of Ine, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmZR6cBVoDA

To watch a NHK travel programme about the Kyōtango region, visit https://lnkd.in/gTpTa5c3

Image credit: Kyotango City Tourism Association,
Photo by Yutaka Tsutsui 京丹後市観光協会主催 フォトコンより
写真:筒井裕さん

Wakayama: Where Gods Meet

Now that Japan has gradually regained its tourism numbers, and people are flocking to its metropolises again (a.k.a Tokyo, Kyoto & Osaka), you would enjoy a much better travelling experience if you avoid these very same cities. Instead, why not go off the beaten track? Or explore smaller or lesser known cities? Here’s a series of travel hotspots from Gaijinpot to get you started, starting with Wakayama (和歌山), a coastal city just outside the Kobe-Osaka conurbation. (Image credit: Gaijinpot Travel).

https://travel.gaijinpot.com/destination/wakayama/

#travel #experience #tourism #japan #japanese #japaneseculture

WE WANT SNOW | HAPPY 2022!!

Happy New Year Everyone!! It’s 2022!!

I started this year with a new-found freedom. Jobless.

But hopefully, we will start to see the death of Omicron, Delta, Alpha and whatever Covid-19 variants there are out there.

And that means, a chance to return to travel, minus masks, PCR tests, ART tests, quarantines and all those other nonsensical protocols that have been slapped on for the provision of vaccinated travel. In other words, all the things that took the fun out of travelling.

Is it possible to return to pre-covid travel? I’m not sure, to be honest. We can only hope.

In place of regular travel-themed blog posts, I have mostly been writing on LinkedIn, commenting on news or features relating to my interests and experiences in all things Japanese.

So, I thought I would share my latest LinkedIn post here, based on this travel feature on the website Japan Today. However, unlike my post on LinkedIn, I’ve added photos from my own visits from yesteryear and previous blogs about the places.

Here’s what I wrote in my LinkedIn post:

Might be too much of a stretch to compare Otaru to Venice, because unlike Venice, Otaru only has that ONE canal, lined on one side with Showa-era warehouses that have since been converted to restaurants, cafes, music box / glassware “museums” (read “tourist traps).

But, if you are currently in Japan, and have the luxury to travel up north to Hokkaido, may I propose an alternative itinerary – one that is less touristy, perhaps even less trodden among the locals.



1) Rishiri & Rebun Islands 利尻島と礼文島 (the two islands off Wakkanai). Fun fact: The snow-capped peak that features on Hokkaido’s representative omiyage, Ishita Shiroi Koibito 白い恋人 is actually Mount Rishiri, that anchors the island of Rishiri. It’s also most famous for ウニ (sea urchin) & 昆布 (konbu – a type of seaweed commonly used in high-grade Japanese soup stock).



2) Lake Toya / Toyako 洞爺湖. Because it’s not everyday that you get to visit the ruins of a town, preserved in its pristine entirety after the volcanic eruption of Mount Usu (有珠山) in 1977. Expect to see lots of abandoned buildings, some of which are partially buried in hardened volcanic lava. Part Chernobyl-esque, part apocalyptic. If you get too freaked out, retreat to your dig on the shore of Lake Toya, and you are safely back in Winter Wonderland.



3) Daisetsuzan National Park 大雪山国立公園. Accessible from Asahikawa 旭川, Hokkaido’s 2nd largest city but much less frequented by tourists or locals, save for Asahiyama Zoo. Soak in the view of the snow capped peaks in the company of octogenarians and snow monkeys in an onsen perched near the summit. Oh, and did I mention that it’s free and communal (i.e. men & women share the same tub). LS

Full-length Feature: Tracing the Mediterranean (Part 4) – Lost in Translation (Part 2 of 2)

Romanticising about Rome is not the same as loving it. That’s something I wanted to clarify, given how I have waxed lyrical about the Eternal City in my previous post.
Beautiful though it may be, there were times I felt a little lost in translation. Prior to visiting Rome, I have been warned by many friends and family about pick-pocketing and bag-snatchers. I personally witnessed at close proximity a Roma (gypsy) woman try to put an arm around a girl (who’s probably no older than 20) while with her other hand, attempt to reach into her handbag. And this incident took place a few steps from the grandiose Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. DSC00795_blog

The irony of it all really, when you take into account that to get into the church, you would have to pass through security and bag-check. Here, a few steps behind the church, petty crime like stealing and pick-pocketing go on, unchecked.

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Full-length Feature: Tracing the Mediterranean (Part 3) – A Heart Full of Rome (Part 1 of 2)

Rome is drop-dead beautiful!!

I’m lost for descriptions every time I look at the Rome skyline at sunset. A plethora of emotions goes through your heart as you gaze and admire. Everywhere you look, all 360 degrees, there’s something that draws out from you a sigh of contentment, of admiration, of awe and wonder.

I’m not going to describe or go into detail about the sights I have seen in my one week stay in Rome. For these, you have a host of travel guides or blogs that will do these sights more justice than me.

Instead, I shall focus on my experiences and thoughts on what I’ve seen and felt in Rome.

DSC00098_copy
View from Victor Emmanuel II

I have to admit, I didn’t know where to start my exploration of Rome when I first arrived. I mean, I already had some kind of an itinerary in mind, but there seems to me, so much to see and do in the Eternal City.

For the first two days, I decided to follow closely a walking guide called Romewise.com by Elyssa Bernard, that was suggested to me by a young Polish girl, who bunked in the same room as me during my stay in Naples. She recommended the website because she and her sister had relied on it for their three-day tour of Rome and found it to be quite beneficial.

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Note: This post features only photographs taken from the first day of my walking tour in Rome. More photographs of Rome will be featured in Part 2.

New Year Feature (Part 2) – Okayama’s Black Beauty

Exhausted from our pre-dawn excursions, including a two-hour maroon at a train station, we decided to sleep in on New Year’s Day, and woke up for lunch. It had been an eventful New Year’s Eve for us, having started the day as early as 8 a.m. The original plan that day had been to visit Okayama Castle (岡山城), bright and early so we could avoid the crowds.dsc04775_blogStanding majestically over the Asahi River (旭川), Okayama Castle (like many castles in Japan) is a reconstruction, the original structure having been almost totally destroyed during the Second World War. Only the Tsukimi Yagura (月見櫓), which translates literally as the “moon viewing turret”, remains from the original 1620 construction. However, what separates Okayama Castle from the others is that it is one of only two jet-black castles ever constructed in Japan, the other being Matsumoto Castle in Nagano. Their black facades have earned them the moniker “Crow Castle”.

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