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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

An early start to catch the Airport Limosine took us to Kansai International yet again. This airport is well known for its unique architecture and more importantly being built on a man made island. However this makes Kansai International (KIX) one of the top 5 most expensive airports to land at in the world, which has resulted in not as many airlines taking up slots, and as a further result has continued to maintain the high cost of air transportation from Japan and abroad; This however is getting better with budget airlines starting surface (Skymark) and the possibility that ANA will introduce a low cost carrier to compete with the current Shinakansen network. If you are interested there is another relatively large airport in Nagoya and there is another airport in Kobe, which more or less sums up the Kansai region for air travel. We boarded our JAL plane which was scheduled to take off at 9:00 and as it was a tropical destination with no storms predicted, the plane took off in the usual Japanese ‘on-time’ fashion. Total flight time was approximately 2 hours, and when landing all you can really see outside the plane window is ocean, giving you the illusion that the plane is coming in for a crash landing. At the very last minute you see a bit of land and your already touching down on the run way. 

As the plane taxi’s around the runway you can look farther afield and see part of Japan’s self defense air-force as there is a small Japanese airbase connected to Naha Airport. We were soon on the way to the gate before finding out we had to wait a good 15 minutes or so as there was another plane blocking our path. Being a small airport/coupled with island ‘take-it-easy’ life one would come to expect small delays. On a side note though, – a tribute to Japanese efficiency once again as our plane boarded and debarked within 15 minutes or so. Overall the flight was quite smooth and we had relatively good service even though at the time of flying JAL was still undergoing major changes as the airline had faced a lot of problems over the last few years. I do give credit to the hostesses for really putting in the effort to make the flight run smoother (from what I heard a lot of the problems were attributed to horrendous service which was partially due to bad attitudes etcetera, don’t quote me on that though)

Moving towards the domestic exit and looking out the viewing glasses onto the runway and other gates I was lucky enough to spot the infamous Pokemon Plane which usually flies this route. Even though I was unlucky enough to be on this plane and I am not too sure exactly who to book for that specific plane, I did get to see and photograph it which was a good start to the day. The Pokemon Plane in my opinion is another one of those ‘only-in-Japan’ things you get to see by visiting this very unique country. Before heading out the exit you can take advantage of the duty free in Naha Airport. Okinawa the only domestic island in Japan that allows you to purchase duty free for domestic flights, this could be attributed to the fact that the island is quite far away from Honshu and the rest of Japan. As we were flying domestic we exited without any security checks or hold ups and we were on our way to the monorail which is the only form of train system on Okinawa (in saying that it doesn’t take you all over the island either). 

The best way to see Okinawa is to take advantage of an International Drivers license and rent a car, car rental is quite cheap and provides you with the most flexibility. Alternatively you can use the bus system but with this you are confined to sticking to a time table. But more on the driving of a car to come in later blogs of this series. The monorail has individual tickets starting from around 190 yen and go up to 290 yen for the longest journey. A day ticket costs about 600 yen and go up per consecutive day. The day pass is definitely good value for money as you are more than likely to take more than 3 trips on the monorail system in a single day. If your lucky there is usually staff selling these day passes as soon as you walk into the ticketing area, which will be very helpful if you are a first timer to buying a Japanese rail ticket using the machines. 

We boarded the monorail and made our way to Asahibashi station to make our way to the Chisun Resort Hotel which is part of the Loisir group. The hotel is extremely good value at 5000 yen for 2 people per night and overall was quite homey and spacious with good facilities. The hotel is split into 3 different hotels and the Chisun Resort Hotel is the cheaper of the 3. For a small fee you can use the pool, spa and hot spring facilities which come free with the more expensive rooms and hotels (from memory for unlimited use of the pool/hot spring it costs about 1500 yen per person for your entire stay. The pool is quite nice and is surrounded by an outdoor restaurant and bar which has different styles of Japanese cuisine in most nights. It is usually quite busy so its quite good to book ahead if you want to eat here. Food ranges from Shabu Shabu to Yakiniku. I suggest grabbing an ice cold frosted glass of the local beer Orion, while soaking up some rays poolside.

One main point to note while finishing up this blog is the unpredictable weather being a tropical island. When we arrived it was sunny, a few minutes later clouds blocked out the sun, then the sun came out again and then there was sun showers. So it’s good to plan for variety of different tropical weather patterns when heading to Okinawa. Getting to Okinawa was only just the beginning and we had planned days worth of activities to fill up the week we were to stay for!

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Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 1 Part A: The Journey There.

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 1 Part B: Tsuboya Pottery District and Kokusaidori

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 2 Part A: Ocean Expo Park

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 2 Part B: Nakijin Castle Ruins and Cape Hedo

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 3: Typhoon Komatsu and a Lazy Day in a Hotel Room.

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 4 Part A: Shuri Castle, Former Navy HQ, Himeyuri Monument and Okinawa Peace Museum

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 4 Part B: Okinawa World

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 5: Shikinaen Garden, Nakagusuku Castle Ruins, Nakamurake House, and Ryukyu Village

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Restaurant Reviews: A&W All American Food Okinawa

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 6: Nago Pineapple Park, and Okinawa Fruit Land

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 7: Back Home to Osaka

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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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