Posts Tagged With: japan travel

Whirlwind Of A Day In Kanazawa – Matt’s Trip To Japan

If I did decide to settle permanently in Japan, there is only one city that I could happily live in forever: Kanazawa. Kanazawa City is about 2 hours away from Fukui, and it’s been my little version of paradise these past three years. It’s somewhere I could escape for some quality alone time, and enjoy both modern and traditional Japanese culture.  In my opinion it’s a hidden tourist gem of Japan.

I was over the moon to get to bring my brother here to explore for a day. I took a day off work (so worth it!) and we once again hopped into my tiny car, nicknamed The Snickerdoodle, and headed out on Road Trip #2! I had downloaded the soundtrack from the movie ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ and we really enjoyed cruising down the highway listening to that.

The first thing we did when we got to Kanazawa was meander through the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.

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It’s my all-time favourite museum in the world, and if you ever visit Kanazawa you MUST go there! I never really “got” modern art, and I’m nearly certain I rolled my eyes the first time someone suggested we go. But trust me, this museum really changed my opinion of what modern art can be. It’s very interactive and will make you feel like a little kid at times. It’s full of permanent exhibits (like the awesome Leonardo’s Pool) and also has numerous rooms with rotating shows to spice things up, so every time I’ve gone it’s been different.

This new exhibit was cool! Peek-a-boo Matt!Kanazawa 21st museum2Kanazawa 21st museum

I also really loved this metal capsule you could climb inside, and it felt like you were the the heart of a silver geode! The light shone in through the cones and reflected off everything! Pretty neat, eh?!Kanazawa 21st museum3 Kanazawa 21st museum4

This new elevator exhibit was pretty trippy too!

Kanazawa Modern artMatt, of course, loved my favourite exhibit “Leandro’s Pool” which is a permanent exhibit at the museum and by far THE coolest modern art I’ve ever seen. First you look down on the pool from outside…Leandro's pool exhibit

Then you go down a flight of stairs, and enter the pool from below. Matt’s just a smidgeon taller than the national height average in Japan…poor guy!

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Lucky there’s lots of room inside! Enough he could jump around for joy! Leandro's Pool2 Leandro's Pool3

And when you look up you can see the other museum explorers through the water and glass ceiling. Such an amazing concept in my opinion, a full kudos to Leandro Erlich (the artist) for this idea!leandro's poolAfter the museum we went to the second best thing to do in Kanazawa: Kenrokuen Garden!

Kenrokuen Garden is the 3rd most beautiful garden in Japan and definitely worth walking through. Matt wasn’t the keenest on this but I insisted because I love it so much and the weather was beautiful. Lucky us, the iris flowers were in full bloom and quite spectacular to behold! Ummm, gorgeous much!?!?! kenrokuen garden kenrokeun Kenrokuen Garden Iris 3Kenrokuen is beautiful regardless which season you go. It’s even beautiful in winter! So add it to your list of things to do if you ever visit there.

We also nipped through the Higashi Cha-ya District, which is an old preserved area Kanazawa’s past.  It used to be a street of tea houses and shops, and when you walk there, it’s like you’ve been transported back in time. I love strolling through this scenic neighbourhood with its cute shops and cafes, but unfortunately most shops were closed the day we went.  Having been open for the weekend, I guess they take Mondays and Tuesdays off. Matt still enjoyed our stroll though. Higashichaya Tea District KanazawaAfter that we did a little shopping at the Kanazawa train station and spent our time choosing a nice cake for dessert.  We were headed back to Fukui for dinner at my friend Tomomi’s house and didn’t want to show up empty handed. Tomomi had invited Matt to dinner so she could teach him how to make Sauce Katsudon, another very famous Fukui food. Sauce Katsudon is a thin breaded pork cutlet which is then fried, covered in delicious sauce and plopped on top of a bowl of Fukui rice. Did you know Fukui’s rice is supposedly the best rice in Japan?

After dinner Tomomi’s very kind father-in-law taught Matt a little Japanese calligraphy. It was my first time to try calligraphy too, so I had a blast with him. I learned how to write the kanji 茶, read “cha” which means “tea” (my favourite thing in the world), and Matt learned how to write 山, read “yama” which means “mountain” (his favourite thing in the world).

It was a wonderful whirlwind of a day! Matt’s enormous smile as we drove home from Tomomi’s house made me feel like singing “Happy” by Pharrel Williams. (Because I’m happy! Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. Because I’m happy! Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. Because I’m happy! Clap along if you know what happiness is to you…)

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Exploring Legends in Takachiho – Kyushu Road Trip Part IV

Mother nature never ceases to amaze me. There is so much raw beauty in the world that sometimes it’s easy to see where fantasy writers come up with their inspiration for magical lands. Certain places on this earth that feel like they’ve been plucked right out of some far away mythical land; Takachiho Gorge is one such place.

Takachiho Gorge (高千穂峡, Takachiho-kyō) is a narrow chasm cut through the rock by the Gokase River. The nearly sheer cliffs lining the gorge are made of slow forming volcanic basalt columns which resemble the scales of a dragon. IMG_3038

Do you know the scene in from The Lord of the Rings where the fellowship is paddling down a beautiful river with steep cliffs on either side? Remember that moment of utter awe at the grandeur as they float through the entryway guarded by 2 statues? That is what entering Takachiho Gorge in our little rowboat felt like. IMG_2966 IMG_2901

But before I get carried away singing the praises of Takachiho, let’s backtrack to the beginning.

We awoke very early that morning, gobbled up the delicious and beautiful breakfast our hostel provided, and made a beeline to the boats at Takachiho Gorge. We parked our car in the small parking lot next to the boat rental company for 500yen. Over time I have learned that one of the keys to enjoying traveling in Japan is to figure out the most popular tourist activity (or the place you are the most excited about) and get there eeeearly, before the hoards of tourists descend and transform a tranquil environment into a chaotic pandemonium.

For us the activity we were the most excited about was the row boat experience through the gorge. I knew that if we didn’t get there early we would spend our precious 30-minute time allotment fighting to manoeuvre through throngs of boats. Not appealing in the least. I wanted to feel the magic of that gorge, and appreciate its splendour without stress. The boat rental, if you go early, is definitely something I would recommend.

Boat Rental Information:

  • Hours of operation: 8:30-5:00pm (last boat rental time 4:30pm)
  • Cost: 2000 yen per boat for 30-minutes (maximum of 3 people per boat)
  • Open every day (unless water levels are dangerous)

The company is pretty strict, we were made to don dorky life jackets, only one person could man the oars they explained, they also made us promise to not switch seats, told us what time to return and because we were 4 people we had to rent 2 boats (1000 per person is still a steal in my opinion for the experience).  I personally appreciated this no-nonsense experience as it made getting on the boat a very quick process, 5 minutes tops! If you don’t speak Japanese don’t worry you’ll be fine.

We saw packets of duck food for sale and each boat decided to purchase some. I have no shame in admitting I love feeding ducks now as much as I did as a small child. It’s the little things in life right? Lizzy and I climbed into the boat after debating who would row; we ultimately decided, although I felt guilty she’d do all the work, that because my camera was nicer I should be the one to take the pictures.

We hopped into the boat and instead of heading straight to the gorge, we got a little distracted by our new feathered friends who swam over like miniature greased lightnings to quack ‘good morning’ to us. They knew where breakfast was to be found the smart things. I won’t lie that at the beginning our attention was solely focused on feeding those adorable ducks.

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Once the food was gone, with identical gleeful grins on our face, Lizzy paddled us off to have our adventure. “Captain Lizzy” did a great job navigating. IMG_2908 IMG_2947 IMG_2906 IMG_2955When our 30-minutes was up far too soon I felt very sad to leave Takachiho Gorge behind. Luckily there was lots more to be excited about that day. Next we walked the length of the river up to the Takachiho Shrine which was a really nice 15-20 minute walk.

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That big tree got us pretty excited for Yakushima. What can I say I like big trees and I cannot lie….sorry that was a really terrible joke, I just couldn’t resist.

After a quick exploration of the temple grounds we walked back the way we came (we needed to get back to our car) and hunted down the #2 recommended viewpoint of the Takachiho Gorge (#1 is inside the gorge on the boats). It’s from up above which is really nice. IMG_2978

After the Takachiho Gorge, we went to explore the birthplace of my favourite legend and a very famous “power spot” in Japan.

According to legend, the sun goddess Amaterasu was upset by her brother’s cruel pranks. So she decided to hide herself away in a cave, she refused to come out, thereby denying sunlight to the world.  Worried for the sake of the world, the other gods and goddesses searched high and low to find her hiding spot. Eventually they found her cave, but she refused to come out. The gods and goddesses tried everything they could think of to lure her out, it was to no avail, until one of the goddesses decided to dance in a ridiculous way which made all the other deities laugh. Amaterasu grew curious about what they found so funny and at long last decided to come out, thereby returning her light to the world.

About ten kilometers outside of central Takachiho, the Amano Iwato Shrine (天岩戸神社, Amano Iwato Jinja) was built near the cave where legend says the sun goddess tried to hide. Although tourists cannot enter the cave there is a nice pathway along the river leading to a shrine built nearby this cave into the rocks.IMG_3088 IMG_3125 IMG_3128I can say without a doubt that the Amano Iwato Shrine is one of my absolute all-time favourite shrines in Japan. The reason why is that it was like no other shrine I have ever seen in this country. Also, I had read that this shrine is one of the strongest “power spots” in Japan, but it wasn’t until I was there that I understood what people meant.  I’m normally not superstitious…and I can’t describe the feeling properly, but what I will say is that a visitor cannot help but feel a strong aura of power.

Perhaps this feeling came from the awe looking at the thousands of tiny stones stacked upon one another (called “iwasaka”) by worshippers that were everywhere you looked. An iwasaka was made in ancient times during worship to invoke the presence of a deity.IMG_3078 IMG_3112 IMG_3103 IMG_3123

Heather and I had a real blast scampering around the river taking pictures of these tiny stones. Eventually though, there are only so many photos you can take, we hopped back in the car to return for dinner at our hostel. We all packed our bags for Yakushima as we were leaving early the next morning, and then I napped a little while my friends relaxed as I had come down with a bad cold by this point after Nagasaki’s rain. I really have terrible luck when it comes to planning major hikes.

That evening, I had read on Japan-guide.com that there was a special dance performance held every night at the Takachiho Shrine from 20:00 to 21:00 for 700 yen.  The dance performance done by masked dancers reenacts the legend of the sun goddess, and is about 1 hour long. It’s purely instrumental so don’t worry if you can’t speak Japanese! If you’re a foreigner the people at the front door also will give you a sheet of paper explaining the story in English.  It is held at the Yokagura performance hall, just a few steps from the shrine’s main building. If you drive to the shrine, there’s a large parking lot from which all you have to do is follow the tiki torches. Be sure to get there about half an hour early as it’s a small venue that fills up fast, and you definitely want to be close to the front! We got there at 7:30 and got great seats.

Here are a few shots from the performance! I had a serious obsession with those masks; aren’t they just incredible?!

IMG_3133 IMG_3135 IMG_3136 IMG_3154 IMG_3146 IMG_3155The final scene of the play was by far my favourite as it was interactive with the audience. The story is about a man and wife who decide to enjoy drinking sake one night, things get a little tipsy and they approach people in the audience with a wiggle of their eyebrow (if you know what I mean *wink wink*) to the shock and anger of their partner.

The wife approached a really cool dude in the audience who made everyone laugh playing along. He was such a good sport, even smiling as I took his picture and he gave me a wink! I’m not kidding when I say I’ve never laughed that hard at a play in my life. It really helped that the guy was directly in front of me so I had the perfect front row seat to the hilarity. 
IMG_3161IMG_3162 IMG_3163Uh oh! And there came the husband to whisk his naughty wife away back to their bed.We left the performance in high spirits with huge smiles.

I really recommend Takachiho because as you can see on the map everything is relatively close together so it’s easy to see the major highlights in one day. Plus while you’re here it really does feel like you’ve stepped into a page straight out of a Japanese legend. I hope everyone who visits Takachiho can enjoy exploring the legends of the area as much as I did!  Takachiho Map

 

 

 

Categories: Life in Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sailing in Sasebo: Kyushu Road Trip Part I

I have learned 3 things about road trips: (1) Good music is essential (2) Fun mates make the hours fly by and (3) logistics can be your worst nightmare. My good friend Lizzy and I had been planning this trip for nearly a year, a last hurrah for our time here in Japan if you will. It’s hard to believe sometimes that it’s only 4 months until I fly home to Canada!

So when the Japanese school term’s spring break finally dawned it was exciting to ditch the research & planning stage and hit the open road. It was time! “Let the adventure begin!” I exclaimed to myself as I scuttled out of school as fast as my long legs could take me. We packed up the car, crammed the 4 partners in crime inside (myself, Lizzy, Heather and Nicole) and took off in Lizzy’s famous little car “The Green Gatsby” for a 12 hour drive.

Our first stop on our 10-day road trip was Sasebo, home to the famous 99 Islands (Kujuku Islands).IMG_2746

Interestingly enough, although the name would imply there are 99 Islands, there are actually 208 tiny islands in this area. A long time ago in Japan, the number 99 was used to express something large and uncountable. Sailing through the islands is a popular tourist attraction and the entire reason we traveled to Sasebo.

You can ride the leisure boat The Pearl Queen that tours the Kujuku Islands from Saikai Pearl Sea Resort. The journey takes 50 minutes. As your magnificent ship zigzags through the islands, you can observe the islands up close and daydream about life as a pirate. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact I watched Pirates of the Caribbean 5 bazillion times (when I was younger!), but I would love to have a ship of my own one day, a life on the open sea would be amazing. After weeks spent in the office working on paperwork the wind blowing through our hair and sunshine on our faces felt pretty damn nice!

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After our adventures on the high sea we grabbed a cup of jo from the Badass Coffee Company. It was pretty badass indeed!Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 1.08.58 PM

Happily caffeinated we trundled off in the Green Gatsby to the Ishidake Observatory for a 360° panoramic view of the islands. It’s a spectacular view and a great place to take a few pictures. It’s only about a 8-minute drive from the harbour; you can reach there by driving up from the side of the parking lot of the Sasebo Zoological and Tropical Botanical Garden, and walking up the mountain path for a few minutes. Easy peasy!

IMG_2750IMG_2754IMG_2758I was pretty surprised to discover that Sasebo was such a big city! I honestly was imagining a small town in my head when we did the planning….oops! Being adventurous certainly worked up my appetite and we all agreed we were starving. One of these days I’ll learn I am not a robot who can survive on only coffee…one day…perhaps. We decided to try and find a supermarket and grab supplies for a picnic.  Heather found a perfect place to hanami (cherry blossom party) it up and we lounged around in the sunshine relaxing and eating for hours. Hanami Hanami2 photo3 photo4

Just as I dozed off for a wee nap the cutest little boy came to chat to us in English. We were more than a little startled (where was his family?! How did he speak English so well?!) but ended up having an adorable conversation with him about all sorts of things. He said some pretty profound things for a 5-year old, I was impressed. IMG_2760 IMG_2773It was a wonderful end to a wonderful first day!

Categories: Life in Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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