Japan – Due South: The hot, the humid, and the festive.

On Mt. Fuji at dawn.

It’s been almost a couple of months since I last posted about Beijing. My 3 month tour extravaganza of Japan has come to a close and I’m currently in Busan, Korea. Posting about Japan will involve 2 separate entries: the first one being about my time in the south and west and the second about my time heading north. Overall I had a great time checking out a variety of cities, both big and small, as well as a variety of festivals, again both big and small. During this time in the southern/western area, an unprecedented heat wave was going on especially in the Kansai region where I was spending most of my time. There wasn’t a day I ended up with a dry shirt until I got up to Lake Kawaguchiko (at the base of Mt. Fuji at about 800 meters elevation). However, I managed to persevere with liberal use of water and green tea which enabled me to hit up most of what I wanted to see.

Just a note: I won’t be including Tokyo as part of my post as it was mostly visiting friends and relaxing.

  • July 1st: Happy Canada Day! Arrived in Tokyo.
  • July 1st-14th: Tokyo chillaxing.
  • July 14th: Hopped the train to Kyoto. Checked out the Nishiki Market Shopping District.
  • July 15th: Brunch was a Michelin rated unagi (BBQ eel) restaurant (Gion Uekoya U). Wandered over to Yasaka Shrine which is the source of the Gion Matsuri. Stopped by the Samurai and Ninja museum. Stepped out in the sweltering evening to wander through the crowds while viewing the parade floats (yoiyoiyama – 2 nights before the parade).
  • July 16th: Tried Kyoto style sushi (not raw – pickled, smoked, steamed, etc). Worked off lunch by melting while exploring the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Followed up with the Museum of Kyoto. Once again checked out the the festival food booths and floats (yoiyama – night before parade).
  • July 17th: Woke up pretty early and scouted out a decent spot for the Parade of yamaboko floats (Yamaboko Junko). Spent about an hour watching before I had enough of the heat. Relaxed the rest of the day.
  • July 18th: Caught the regional line down to Kansai Airport and flew to Okinawa.
  • July 19th: Wandered through Naha and the markets. Checked out a local small traditional restaurant with a new friend. A night of music and dancing and had entirely too many beers.
  • July 20th: Headed over to Okinawa World to check out a cave, some cultural performances, and a nice stroll through a tropical fruit garden. Followed up with a trip to one of Japan’s few remaining cat islands.
  • July 21st: Rainy day due to effects of typhoon. Still managed to get out to see Shuri Castle.
  • July 22nd: Took the bus up to Chatan. Had a leisurely swim/float in the ocean and spent the day reading on the beach.
  • July 23rd: Flew back to the Kansai region and ended up in Osaka.
  • July 24th: Started off the scorching hot day at Shitenno-ji which is arguably the first Buddhist temple in Japan. Met up a with a friend and checked out the first day of the Tenjin festival.
  • July 25th: Met up with the same friend and hit up the Osaka Museum of History before wandering over to Osaka Castle and it’s museum. After my friend had to head off for other obligations, I managed to get a decent spot to watch the Tenjin festival parade procession.
  • July 26th: Spent the day in Nara checking out the deer as well as the various shrines and temples such as Todai-ji and Kasuga-taisha.
  • July 27th: Headed to Himeji for a couple nights. Managed to visit Himeji Castle and Koko-en garden late afternoon.
  • July 28th: A bit of a drizzle so I decided to check out the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History. The evening cleared up enough that I was able to go to a very small festival just up the road on the grounds of a school yard.
  • July 29th: Said farewell to Himeji and managed to get to Nagoya in decent time. Wandered around and found some interesting summer evening events such as a concert series and a festival.
  • July 30th: Early morning as there was a full day planned for travel and sightseeing. Took an early train out to Inuyama and enjoyed the morning climbing the castle and exploring the local shrines/temples. The afternoon was spent at Meiji-Mura which is a large outdoor museum of Meiji era buildings that were transported to the location.
  • July 31st: Had a typical Nagoya breakfast – you order a coffee and get free thick sliced buttered toast with ogura-an spread. Another day, another castle. This time was Nagoya Castle. Unfortunately, the main castle was under renovations. However, the newly opened lower castle section was a gorgeous stroll. Spent the afternoon at the Nagoya Science Museum although really the only interesting part was the planetarium as the museum is geared mostly towards interaction for children. Met up with a friend (at an international event that was taking place in Nagoya) for dinner.
  • August 1st: Took the direct bus from Nagoya to Lake Kawaguchiko. Gorgeous views of Mt. Fuji (which only 11 days later I would return to climb part way up). Took a long walk which ended up at Kawaguchiko Music Forest.
  • August 2nd: Spent the day strolling through Aokigahara (aka Sea of Trees aka Suicide Forest) and exploring the 4 major caves (Fugaku Fuketsu, Narusawa Hyoketsu, Ryugu Doketsu, and the Saiko Bat Cave).
  • August 3rd: Been a long stretch of travel through Japan and was I glad to arrive in Hakone as I knew I was going to partake of the hot springs extensively.
  • August 4th: Took the ropeway up Mt. Hakone to view the sulphur mines as well as try one of the famous sulfur spring black shelled eggs. Took the river boat down Lake Ashi before climbing up to view Hakone shrine which was the center of a week long festival of which various shrines around the lake would host it until the final night in front of Hakone shrine. That night was up in Kojiri where I headed after Hakone shrine. It was a nice smallish festival with only a few food stalls but the fireworks over the lake were fantastic.
  • August 5th: Unfortunately I couldn’t stick around one more night as I had to head to Sendai for the Tanabata Matsuri. Sendai is the only point north of Tokyo on this trip but was a must due to the festival. While the festival is officially from Aug 6th-8th, the evening of the 5th is the opening ceremonies with a large fireworks display. It was overly crowded and drizzling, but the fireworks were suitably dazzling. Decided to leave before they were completely finished as there were massive crowds and I didn’t want to wait too long to get on the subway. Managed to get back in time for a late night movie.
  • August 6th: First stop was Asaichi market just in time for one of the noted small parades during Sendai’s Tanabata Matsuri. Explored the shopping avenues that were bedecked in hundreds of hung streamers as well as the festival grounds that featured festival dancing and various food booths.
  • August 7th: Spent the day just relaxing/laundry/posting about Beijing.
  • August 8th: Returned to Tokyo.
  • Special addition – August 12th/13th: Climbed up to the beginning of 8th station on Mt. Fuji.

I stayed in a large variety of lodgings including hostels, capsules, and small single room lodgings. The best ones were the Piece Hostel Sanjo in Kyoto (due to cleanliness and comfort) as well as K’s House Hakone (in-house onsen/hot spring). The only place I would not recommend is Hostel Wasabi in Osaka (the AC doesn’t seem to be able to keep up and everything felt damp).

Overall, everything is really efficient from the world class public transport system to service in restaurants being prompt and accurate. This speaks to my own desire for efficiency but it does take getting used to as with efficiency, there is a lack of customization and flexibility. Being Canadian, I suppose it does help being laid back when things don’t exactly go the way I’d like them to (due to an obtuse rule or confusing regulation) but I can see why some travelers might have an issue with it. Okinawa was the most laid back place and I suppose that might be the reason why I enjoyed it the most so far in Japan – a nice mix of efficiency and casualness that I find appealing.

And now, random photos from the first part of my Japan tour.

Categories: Travel

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