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There are several methods that you can take in relation to getting your hands on some otaku goods in Japan. While most foreigners only know to go to Akihabara or Den Den town, there is actually several other ways that stock these goods for your pleasure. While I will not go into the specifics of all the different methods of buying otaku goods in this blog, I will show you a couple different stores that specialise in these particular items.

First up is Mandarake. Mandarake specialises in hard to find items and second hand figures and manga. Unlike the second option which will follow, Mandarake has a very large range of otaku goods and an even larger range of second hand manga in varying conditions and quality. Mandarake is also a really great store if you don’t mind picking up second hand figurings for 1/6th of the value of which most are still in their original boxes. You can also go here if you wish to sell your goods, obviously the price you get won’t be very high. The quality of most of hte second hand goods in this store is quite good as most collectors will generally keep there figures in very good condition. Definitely take a look in Mandarake if you want to get your hands on something thats really hard to find, or if you just want to save a few thousand yen for the same product. Product selection in Mandrake is second to none of which I highly recommend. Stores are located in most major cities, for further information visit the website.

Secondly Animate is another very popular stop for anime and otaku aficionados, unlike Mandarake they only specialise in new goods and manga. There selection is quite vast and everything is brand new. Animate usually stocks more posters and stationary that is all anime related. They cater to a slightly different market than Mandarake but together with Mandarake go hand in hand for those who are really seeking some serious otaku gear.

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The Daimonji Gozan Okuribi (Daimonji Matsuri for short) is a bonfire festival held in Kyoto City. Although Daimonji Matsuri is a short form of the festivals full name, it shouldn’t be confused with the Daimonji Matsuri in Akita Prefecture of Northern Japan. The festival is held in Kyoto City in Kyoto Prefecture every 16th of August, and you can view the bonfire sites from several locations around Kyoto City; ranging from the side of rivers to prepaying for dinner in a high rise restaurant. Obviously the first way is free, and the second can really take a chunk out of your wallet. To get there, you need to go to Kyobashi station, and change to Keihan private railway group and get off at Demachiyanagi Station. Upon arriving at Demachiyanagi Station just stay with the thousands of people in the crowds that make there way to the best viewing sites. There are also volunteers and police officials giving out information and fans with advertising on them. I strongly suggest picking up a fan because it can be extremely hot.

If your an avid photographer I recommend coming hours before the first bonfire is lit to get your tripod in position. If you come late there’s a good chance all the good spots will be taken. The main bonfire is the character meaning ‘dai’ which means large. This is the character that is most commonly viewed however there are about 5 other characters/pictures that are also lit up on their corresponding mountains. The fires are controlled for safety and for the viewing pleasure of the tourists and locals alike so that things dont get out of hand. As usual with any festival there is plenty of festival food scattered around the viewing sites to keep you full and thirst quenched while you wait.

The Daimonji Gozan Okuribi like any festival attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year and is a good place to head to if you are in Kyoto on the 16th of August. If you want to learn more about the origins of the festival The Japan National Tourism Organization has a good page on the event.

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Continuing on our path to get back to Osaka by nightfall and still see a few sights; Kurashiki was the next stop. Kurashiki is a quiet little city about an hour from Onomichi and within a few stations of Okayama. It is easily accessible from both of the aforementioned cities. We jumped on a train still using our Seishun 18 ticket’s and headed toward a Japanese city, arguably most famous for its canals and ivy square. Kurashiki is definitely worth visiting if you have a JR rail pass as it shows a slightly different kind of Japanese city that is significantly different from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo or Osaka. 

Upon arriving we walked on the main street for about 500 meters then had to turn left for the main sightseeing area. You’ll know you arrive as you’ll see long stretches of canals lined with trees on both sides. The canals are home to many turtles, swans, Koi and several other animals that make this small waterway their home. The canal is lined with local sweet and delicacies that make good presents to take back to someone at home. When your finished taking photos in the canal area there are two notable stops in this area: Ivy Square and the Trick Museum. 

Ivy Square is home to many buildings and I believe a hotel where all the walls are lined with ivy plants, for a more apt description you would best take a look at the photos in the slideshow. The area is quite nice and peaceful as you walk through admiring the ivy that has overrun all the walls. The final stop in Kurashiki was the Trick Museum. The trick museum is a small gag museum that has made its home here in Kurashiki. It is home to several trick art and illusions and a small haunted mansion. The museum also gives a bit of history of osme local folklore. 

If you are interested in architecture and museums there is more than enough to provide, the canal is lined with severla bridges and msueums are literally dotted accross the canals. Kurashiki makes for a decent side trip out of Okayama or just a stop of on your way to Hiroshima. Its definitely not a waste of time to visit here, but just don’t expect a bustling city with game centers on every corner. This ended our Okayama to Onomichi trip and we made our way back to our base at Amagasaki. Stay turned for more individual blogs from my August-September Adventures, plus my blog set from Okinawa will soon follow.

 

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Onomichi is about 1 hour and 45 minutes away from Hiroshima and similar to Iwakuni is not usually on the stop off list for most foreign tourists on their ‘first trip to Japan’ tour. The city itself is famous for Onomichi ramen and Senko-ji Temple and its corresponding ‘Path of Literature‘. For us as we had already done the ‘first trip to Japan’ tour we decided to stop off and take a look as the path of literature was suppose to be quite famous in the area. We jumped on a Osaka bound train and had to change train at Mihara station, and Onomichi station was only a fast 10 minutes from there. To get to the main ropeway that will take you to the path of Literature you need to either take bus no 1 or walk through to the ropeway. The walk is about 15 minutes and as long as its not too hot, its quite a good walk through arcades and local shops. There is two paths you can take for the Onomichi ‘pilgrimage’, the Path of Literature will take you to view about 24 different temples with it stopping at the top around Senko-ji temple. If you are not really interested in seeing all of the temples (many of which are so small anyway) you can just head up the ropeway to get to Senko-Ji (the most famous of all of them and the actually literature path itself. 

Upon reaching the top of the ropeway there’s a few things you can do, if it’s hot I suggest buying a drink from one of the many vending machines in the resting spot. After you’re hydrated head towards the signs pointing to Senko-Ji temple and along the way there are many famous works of literature where sections have been carved into many stones and rocks along the way (literally the path of Literature). At the end of all of this is the Senko-Ji Temple which gives great views of Onomichi city.  If your here in Spring you might be lucky enough to see all of cherry blossoms that will be in bloom on top of this small mountain. Onomichi makes for a great stop on the way to Hiroshima if you want to go somewhere a little bit more off the beaten path. Definitely give the ramen a go as it has become arguably very famous for avid ramen seekers. After we finished off we could a taxi back to the station to catch a 3 PM train on the way to Kurashiki before finally heading home to Osaka.

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Another great night’s sleep and we were off to a place I had been to in the past, but definitely one that I had been wanting to go back to – Miyajima Island. Miyajima Island is one of the most famous islands in Japan and is most famous for its giant red tori gate that was built in the water, and Itsukushimi Shrine which is also known as the 1000 tatami mat shrine and its delectable custard sweets. The shrine itself doesn’t actually have 1000 tatami mats, in Japan the unit of measurement for houses is the tatami and for more information it would be best to consult your trust friend Google. As a tourist your best way to see this area is to pick up a 2 day Hiroshima pass, which you can get at most tourist shops, ferry terminals, trian stations etcetera. This pass costs 2000 yen for 2 days and allows you unlimited, ropeway, ferry (to and from Miyajima) and tram’s throughout this area. It is great value for money and if you plan to do some sightseeing in these areas you will definitely get your money’s worth after only a day or so. It takes approximately 1 hour to get to Miyajima Gucci (Miyajima Tram stop) via the tram from Hiroshima and once your there you then proceed to board a ferry over to Miyajima Island. If you have a JR rail pass there is a JR ferry that will take you there all inclusive within your pass. Otherwise the 2 day pass uses a different ferry to get you there. The JR Ferry is the only ferry that takes a wide angle when it comes into Miyajima port which gives great photo opportunities of the tori gate from the sea. The ferry under the 2000 yen pass uses a shorter and more direct route. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the island and after you take a few photos of the tori gate you will be disembarking before you know it.

As I had mentioned before this was not my first trip to Miyajima Island, I had previously visited the island back in 2009 when I came to Japan the first time. Miyajima is definitely a place I had wanted to come back to as I didn’t get to do everything the first time I was here. Thus I came the 2nd time with no real intention of revisiting the typical tourist sites such as the shrine or other souvenir areas. My main intention this time was to head up Mt Misen to take a look at an eternal burning flame at Reikado Shrine. To get to Mt Misen you first need to walk through all the souvenir shops while following the signs to Mt Misen. You then proceed to take a free shuttle bus up to the first of two ropeway terminals. Before heading up to terminal head towards the park area which is in the opposite direction to get yourself a picture of a famous red bridge (similar to the bridges in Nikko near Tokyo). When your done walk up the demanding staircase to the first two ropeways that will get you to the top. Both ropeways are different, the first ropeway takes approximately 20 minutes to get the entrance of the second ropeway. The first ropeway is a 4-6 person small carriage style while the second ropeway comfortable fits about 30 people or so. Its about a 30 second walk to get to the terminal of the second ropeway. It is important to keep in mind that the last ropeway down the mountain is about 5:30 PM in summer and changes depending on the season. On the first ropeway you are met with amazing views of some very tall trees, and some impressive views of Miyajima island, but the view from the second ropeway is even more amazing. The second ropeway provides you views of the ocean, the mountain and Miyajima all in one, definitely worth getting your camera out for.  I definitely suggest coming here in either Spring or Autumn, so you can see the amazing colours of the flora, but at the same time it is no where near as hot or humid (of which we were hiking in, which literally made our shirts drenched in sweat). Mt Misen is famous for two main attractions (and for the fact that it has one of Japans only primeval forests, but in particular Reikado hall of which has a flame that has been buring non stop for 1200 years and Shishiiwa Observatory viewpoint which provides the tourist with amazing views of all the Setoudu Islands. 

Upon reaching the top of the second ferry terminal there is an air-conditioned resting area where you can stock up on cold beverages before starting your hike around the mountain. Our first stop was Shishiiwa Observatory viewpoint which is literally only a 2 minutes walk outside of the 2nd ropeway terminal. The view from here was stunning, and lucky for us it was quite a clear day and we could see kilometers upon kilometers of islands from here. As you continue along there is a forked path at the Misen Primeval Forest Section, using this path you can actually walk all the way down the mountain rather than using the ropeways of which you will end up in Momijidani Park (where the red bridge is located), keep this in mind if you miss the last ropeway down the mountain. After a very strenuous walk, you reach Reikado hall, which is a small shrine that pretty much is just covered in smoke because of its burning flame. Finally as you continue further up the mountain you are met with very large natural rock formations and an absolutely stunning 360 degree view of the islands around you including the bottom of Miyajima. When we were finished there is a second path that leads down which connects back up at the Reikado shrine. At this point we were exhausted and just wanted to get back to an air-conditioned room. The humidity had hit us hard and we were soaked with sweat as we continued the pace back towards the ropeway so that we could make it in time for the last departure.  

Before we knew it we were back in the main area of Miyajima where I picked up a few scroll paintings from the souvenir shops (the shops near the Mt Misen shuttle bus terminal are actually painted and not photocopies, a bit more pricey but definitely worth it) before heading back on the ferry and making our way home. It took a good 1 hour and 30 minutes to make it back to the port to get on a ferry to the island that we were staying. But overall it was a pretty good day. The next day we would be making our way back home using our Seishun 18 tickets whilst stopping in Onomichi and Kurashiki before eventually disembarking back in our base at Osaka. 

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Iwakuni located in the Yamaguchi prefecture of Japan, is a city only about 40 kilometers away from Hiroshima, making it an ideal side trip if you are looking for something extra to do when you’ve got a day free. Although it is slightly off the beaten path for most tourists, who usually don’t frequent its graces, it is home to one of the most eye catching bridges in Japan: The Kintaikyo Bridge. While you are in the area you can also check out Iwakuni Castle that is also within walking distance from the bridge. We started the day off by renting a car from Mazda Rent a car. It cost about 6090 yen for half a day meaning we would need to return it by 5 PM or something, more or less half a day in Japan means you don’t get to keep it over  night. The drive to Iwakuni from the center of Hiroshima took about 1 1/2 hours, and on the Interchange you are hit with a 1100 yen charge for using the highways. The drive itself is nothing spectacular and you can expect the better part of the journey to be typical Japanese highways with nothing but buildings in the main cities, and rice fields if you head out of the cities. Now while we did opt to drive, there is obviously a train station at Iwakuni, which connects you to a bus that will take you to the bridge. This is the more ideal way to get there if you are a tourist without a car. For more information please click the Iwakuni link above. 

Arriving at the bridge it was quite refreshing there was a cool breeze, and it wasn’t so crowded like your average Japanese city would be. There was also hardly any foreign tourists in sight, thus showing its popularity between the foreign population. Nonetheless we had come to see this bridge as it is one of the more famous bridges in Japan and thus we were finally here. If you wish to go across the bridge you will need to pay (yes that means you need to pay to walk on the bridge). There is ticket booths on both sides and they sell a wide array of tickets depending on what you wish to do in Iwakuni. The ticket we had purchased was 930 Yen for an adult and this included return walking on the bridge, the ropeway up to the castle and the castle entry itself. All up they worked out to be about 300 yen or so each so the value was definitely not bad. We took several different shots of the bridge from several different angles before moving on towards the castle. Once you pass over the bridge there is a huge array of shops that you can pick up souvenirs, soft serve ice cream, and a lot of different food. We skipped all this so we could make it to the next ropeway in time as they don’t depart very regularly. We passed by fountains with kids playing in the water. If you’re here with your kids there are plenty of opportunities to get them wet with the large amount of fountains that are dotted around the area. The people here are a lot more lax than their city counterparts and don’t really care if you go in and have a splash around with them; just make sure you bring your bathing suits. The water was crystal clear and looked very appealing considering the blistering heat that was shining down on us. We hoped at the top of the mountain we would be a little bit cooler and have a bit more shade than out here in the open. 

Iwakuni Castle is only accessible via ropeway as it sits on top of a mountain (pretty good natural self defense in the olden days). At the top of the ropeway there is a musical clock (which is more of a gimmick clock) that has a strange show every hour or so. There is also a little covered area that allows you to buy a drink from one of the several vending machines and take a rest while waiting for the musical clock. When your ready you venture into Siroyama Omoshiro Park which is a densely covered tree canopy pathway that has a couple different paths to get to the castle. We were happy that the tree coverage protected us from the sun’s rays and we continued to walk towards the castle with a new found energy from the breeze before us. The walk to the castle is about 300 meters (the shortest path) and once your there you’ll be met with some pretty amazing views of the local area. The entry to the castle itself costs 300 yen by itself without the set ticket you can pick up at the bridge. Iwakuni Castle itself is nothing special on the outside compared to some of the more grand castles of Japan, but the coupled with the leisurely walk to the castle it is definitely worth visiting. The castle is home to arguably one of the nicest collections of swords and Japanese weapons than most other castles in Japan. upon entry you are greeted with a 5 kilogram katana blade that is 2 meters long. With it’s sheath it easily wags 8.5 kilograms. Which is more than enough to cut a horse in half if it is wielded by a massively strong man, or a team of Japanese men. The castle is also great because you can take photos everywhere in the castle without and restrictions. If you head to the top floor there is stunning views of the Kintaikyo bridge, all of those fountains I talked about and the surrounding city of Iwakuni. If you have a great lens you can actually get perfectly zoomed pictures of the people walking across the bridge! Overall the view from up here allows you to appreciate how peaceful this city actually is with hardly any noise pollution down below and the mountains in the background. 

Once you have finished admiring the castle head back down towards level ground and stop by one of the main soft serve stores. There is one particular store that has been on TV for having over 100 Flavours of Ice cream. Yes I typed correct, 100 different flavours of soft serve ice cream. If your game you should try every one of them. You might feel a bit sick afterwards but you can easily say to your friends that you have tried 100 different flavours of soft serves. A little hint though, there is a stop next to the takoyaki store that also sells soft serve’s, the quality here is far superior to that of the 100 Flavour shop, but it is not as well advertised. Go here if you want really good tasting ice cream. Once your down, I suggest picking up a local souvenir (possible some Kintaikyo shaped biscuits) before heading home via JR or car. Overall it was an interesting day, it was definitely hot but we got to see a few snippets of Japan that most tourists don’t usually visit. I definitely recommend Iwakuni for those in the Hiroshima area. 

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Continuing on from Day One and after a good nights rest and a pretty late start, we were once again off to do some sightseeing. Although I have been to Hiroshima in the past there was still a few things I had wanted to do. On my first trip to Hiroshima back in early 2009, we did the usual peace museum itinerary path. This time however I wanted to visit the Mazda Museum (unfortunately you need to book well in advance so we were unluckily able to do that), the A Bomb dome again and Shukkein Garden. Fortunately for us my girlfriends sister was a local here and was able to drive us around of which avoided the use of public transport.

The first stop of the day was Shukkein Garden. It is only a good 10 minutes away by car from central Hiroshima or if you don’t have a car, you can get off at Shukkein Eki Mae Tram stop which traveling time varies depending on where you get on the tram. The garden costs about 300 Yen for entry and for this money you get to view a garden that is well marked (not easy to get lost), has an easy path to follow and a garden that rivals some of the best gardens in Japan. The garden itself is home to many scenic photo opportunities from bridges, to traditional huts, and as usual as a large pond/lake type feature in the middle, that is home to an assortment of fish and turtles. The best thing about this garden is the turtles can (upon seeing you) swim right up to you, up to the point where you could literally pat them on the heads. This however might of just been us, but it was a pretty amazing sight to see this turtle being so curious as to us taking photos of him. Along the path there is a lot of points to stop and take a rest or have a quick bite to eat if the heat is getting to you, these rest points also allow you to take in nice views or not only the garden but also Hiroshima City as a backdrop to the garden. Its interesting to see the traditional garden with a backdrop of a modern and bustling city. The large bridge that cross over the man made water feature is quite nice and from the highest point on the bridge you’ll be able to take photos of all the Koi’s that are swimming around. There is also a couple ‘Nikko-Like’ Bridges in the garden (red and black) which are scattered around the place. Overall the garden is quite good value for money and has a decent souvenir shop at the entrance (or exit) which you can pick up a Shukkein Garden unique souvenir or just a soft serve ice cream if its a bit more hot than usual

Still slightly disappointed that we weren’t able to visit the Mazda museum we made our way back to the Hiroshima A Bomb Dome. While we had visited this site in the past I only had a pretty average compact camera. So it was defintiely something I wanted to photograph using my new DSLR. After a few shots we made our way to the final stop of the day: The Hiroshima Down Town Area. This area is famous for having some of the best Hiroshima shopping in the city. It is a collection of arcades and department stores alike where you can find all types of fashion. We stopped to get some food before heading to the game centers to kill a few hours of time. All in all the day was quite relaxing compared to the day that came before it. Nonetheless it is always nice to visit Hiroshima as it is definitely more laid back than the other prefectural capitals of Japan. On next week’s blog we travel to Iwakuni for the famous Kintaikyo Bridge 

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