Posts Tagged ‘Travel Guide’

Okinawa – An Island Fit for Any Type of Traveler (Travel Guide)

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Okinawa, said to be “the Hawaii of Japan,” is petite in size but plentiful in life. It is the largest island of the Ryukyu island chain, which makes it a central location for commerce and other activities.

For the traveler bent on seeing the top attraction sites on Okinawa, these sites would suffice: Shuri Castle, Kokusai Dori (also known as “Kokusai Street”), the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, the World War II Japanese Underground Headquarters, and the Peace Prayer Park.

Video from Kokusai Dori

Kuroshio Sea at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium (second largest aquarium tank in the world)

For a more daring traveler, there are many hidden hiking trails and eco-adventurous places to visit. Common hiking spots include the Yara Castle Ruins, Hiji Waterfall, and Aha Falls. Forest Adventure Park is one of the most popular eco-tourist sites on the island. It is a fairly new park in Okinawa’s Onna village and tests the courage and strength of interested customers who use their skills to climb trees and glide through the forest on a special harness.

Hiji Falls in Okinawa Video

When visiting the many sightseeing spots or hiking until the point of exhaustion, relaxation can offer a great alternative. During the summer months, the beaches of Okinawa can be either a great place to relax or mingle with other people. Some well-known beaches on Okinawa are Araha beach, Sunset beach, Toguchi beach, and Emerald beach.

When visiting and salivating for a specific taste, there is always a place on this island to go that will fill or come close to filling this flavor need. On any given day on Okinawa, one can savor an American-style breakfast, taste sushi or ramen for lunch, and in the evening, delight in a home-cooked Peruvian meal for dinner.

This island may seem tiny in comparison to other places, but after spending quite a bit of time on its land, one will see how abundant in activities and food it is. If you have time, check it out!


Visiting Tokyo (Travel Guide)

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

To begin, here’s a wonderful site to help you navigate the train lines in Tokyo:

JR Train Map:

Tokyo Metro Map:

Akihabara Japan

Points of interest according to station/area:

Akihabara (via Yamanote, Sobu, and Hibiya lines)

Famous for having one of the largest electronic shopping areas, it is also the birthplace of maid cafes (where young ladies dressed as maids serve guests food and play games or sing songs).

Akiba Town Guide:

Large eclectic shop found in Akihabara and other areas throughout Tokyo:
Don Quijote

Ryogoku (via Sobu line and Oedo line)

Famous area for Sumo and history in Japan.  You can visit the sumo stadium, sumo museum as well as the edo history museum (usually very easy to spot random sumo walking or biking around the area).

Tokyo Dome City (Suidobashi station via Sobu line and Mita line)

Amusement park (with rollercoasters) games and restaurants.

Tokyo (via Yamanote, Chuo, Marunouchi and Tozai lines)

Great area where you can find the Imperial Palace (near Otemachi station via Tozai line)

Fountain park and restaurant nearby and a great shopping/dining area in Marunouchi (across from Tokyo station).

Also home to Tokyo’s Cotton Club for fine dining, well mixed drinks and fantastic live Jazz shows.

Asakusa (via Ginza line or Asakusa line)

More traditional area with Sensoji Temple (with the large red lantern).  There are rows of stalls selling traditional gifts and food. Usually has entertainment or a festival happening.

You can take a boat cruise from Asakusa to the lovely Hamarikyu gardens right in the middle of the city and continue on to Odaiba island.

Odaiba is more of a tourist area with large shopping malls but it also has the giant and unusual Fuji building, quiet beach and an old fort at the end of the beach by Rainbow bridge.  At night you can have drinks on the deck of some restaurants and get a beautiful view of the water, Rainbow bridge and traditional Japanese floating restaurants (lit up boats called yakatabune)

Odaiba Aqua City:
Venus Fort:

There is also a futuristic floating bar that goes around Tokyo Bay:

From Odaiba, it’s very easy to reach Ginza (via Ginza, Marunouchi and Hibiya lines)

Famous for designer shops and the Sony Building, where you can play with Sony products, dance on the musical stairs and check out the various attractions they have every season.

Heading West from Odaiba you will find Roppongi (via Hibiya line and Oedo line)

Roppongi Hills and Tokyo MidTown are great shopping and dining areas.  Roppongi Hills has an observation area

Roppongi has a lot of foreign clubs and bars that I recommend avoiding due to the types who tend to hang around there.  Lots of women looking to get a man with money and a lot of hostess clubs/massage parlours looking for men with money as well.

Tokyo MidTown has the Suntory museum of art, fantastic restaurants, Fuji Gallery and nice architecture/art pieces.  Also famous for winter decorations and events

Continuing west, you’ll hit Daimon (via Oedo line and Asakusa line) and Hamamatsucho (via Yamanote line and Keihin Tohoku line)

It’s a short walk to Tokyo Tower, Pokemon Center, and Zojoji  Temple.  Near Tokyo Tower, there are many nice cafes and restaurants as well.

Shinagawa (via Yamanote line and Keihin Tohoku line)

Generally a business area, there are great shops and restaurants including the Singapore Seafood restaurant

The Prince Hotel in Shinagawa has a nice, small aquarium and theatre –also has lovely illumination at night.

After Shinagawa, there is Ebisu (via Yamanote line)

This area is one of the best for dining and Ebisu Gardens is a very nice area for dining and shopping.  There is also a beer museum located there.

Very close to Ebisu, you’ll find the famous areas of Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku.
Shibuya (via Yamanote line, Ginza line, Hanzomon line and Fukutoshin line)

This is where you will find the famous scramble crossing from every movie about Japan.  Very busy area at any time, it’s very lively and exciting at night.   Lots of shopping and dining, it’s a great place to experience the true hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

Harajuku (via Yamanote line) or Meiji Jingu Mae (via Chiyoda line and Fukutoshin line)

Harajuku is the place to see the fun and colourful youth of Tokyo dress up and parade down the famous Takeshita street.  Though hectic on the weekend, it’s the best time to visit and see the most eccentric costumes around.

Also very close to Meiji Jingu Shrine, it’s a wonderful contrast to Takeshita street.

A five minute walk from the shrine will take you to Omotesando, a tree lined street with rows of high-end shops and cafes.  Omotesando Hills is an interesting building complex of shops and restaurants.   Check out the small side streets to discover interesting shops, salons and private galleries.

Finally… Shinjuku (via Yamanote line, Chuo line, Marunouchi line and Oedo line)

Shinjuku has rows of shopping malls (like Marui, Isetan, Odakyu and Keio), Japanese Izakaya restaurants (great food and inexpensive), Karaoke places and more.

The south exit will lead you to Takashimaya shopping mall and southern terrace area with lovely displays and decorations.

The West exit is surrounded by large shops and has Mosaic Street which is a small street going uphill with beautiful lights, displays and decorations.  Also has a few cute little shops along the way.

The East exit is where the younger crowd hangs out near Studio Alta (mostly shopping for young girls) but heading down the main road, you will hit all of the major shopping malls in a row.

Very close to Studio Alta, you can access the Kabukicho area.  I don’t recommend going there at night as some people can be shady and love tourists, but if you would like to see Tokyo’s darker nightlife, in terms of pachinko parlours and hostess clubs, it’s worth a peak.

Japanese Sword Museum
It’s a 10 minute walk from Hatsudai Station along the Keio train line that leaves Shinjuku Station.

Great Restaurants

Kaiten Zushi – Shibuya

A great conveyor belt sushi place in Shibuya that offers a deal where you promise to eat at least five plates within 20 minutes or so and if you can finish within that time, you are welcome to stay longer to eat more plates.   This is one of the more popular sushi restaurants, so they have a time limit for people so they don’t just sit there taking up space.

EN Izakaya – Shibuya 

Japan is famous for their izakaya, which is a Japanese pub. There are many different dishes for snacking on and the drinks are usually cheaper than most places. This is one of the nicer izakaya that I’ve been to.

La Rochelle – Shibuya

Certainly not for budget eating, it’s fine French dining from the famous chef Hiroyuki Sakai. I’m not sure if you know him, but he was one of the “Iron Chef Japan” chefs.  Great service, presentation and it’s located on the 32nd floor of Cross Tower above Shibuya.

Lockup – Shibuya

Jail/medical themed restaurant that has waitresses dressed as nurses, guys in prisoner and monster outfits in a dungeon-like setting. Guests sit in jail cells for their dining experience and can order a variety of strange dishes including drinks served in test tubes.

*on the map, I marked two areas that Lockup could be at. I’m sorry, I can’t remember which intersection it is exactly –but it’s one of those two.

Ginza Lion – Ginza

A chain of beer halls that started in Ginza in the late 1800’s, Ginza Lion serves a variety of dishes and drinks.  When you travel around Ginza, you’ll find several in the area.

Kudan Kaikan

Historical hotel and restaurant that may interest you:

Ninja Restaurant – Akasaka

A ninja-themed restaurant the entire experience is like none other.

Outside of Kyoto and Osaka: Discovering True Japanese History

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

If someone asks you what the best historical destinations in Japan are, chances are you’re going to say ‘Kyoto and Osaka’. This may very well be true but one of the best things about Japan is that history is everywhere you go, whether it’s an old castle city or a small pottery town in the remote mountains. There is no limit to the samurai towns, folktales and impressive architecture, so how on earth can you narrow it down if you’re Japan is your next holiday destination? Speaking from an albeit limited experience, one or two weeks does not feel like enough.

So, here’s one of the many possible ‘historical Japan’ itineraries that, if you don’t mind lots of travelling on the Shinkansen, will give you some insight into just how diverse Japan’s culture really is…

Kakunodate (Akita Prefecture)

Nicknamed Little Kyoto of Michinoku, Kakunodate is home to many samurai houses and one of the best places to see an example of a Japanese castle town. Today, these houses are privately owned by the descendants of the samurai warriors although many are open to the public. Along with its remaining shrines and merchants’ storehouses, there is a strong sense that Kakunodate’s history is still alive today.

A beautiful tunnel of cherry blossoms along the Hinokinai-gawa Fiver bloom in spring and is designated a Place of Scenic Beauty by the national government. It is a popular spot all year round as the foliage changes with the seasons.

Festivals are held to celebrate the four seasons; the Sakura Matsuri in spring, the Sasara-mai Dance in summer and the Hiburi-kamakura in winter, where a bundle of rice straw is set alight and swung around to ward off evil. Perhaps the most exciting is the Yama-buttsuke Matsuri, where giant samurai-themed floats collide.

Kawagoe (Saitama Prefecture)

Known as ‘Ko-edo’ or ‘Little Edo’ because of its architecture, Kawagoe City flourished as a castle town in the 17th century and its streets are still lined with traditional merchants’ houses. A bell tolling the time, originally built in the 17th century and now in its fourth generation, is another important symbol of the city.

A visit to the impressive Toshugu Shrine, honouring the Tokugawa family, is absolutely essential. Built in 1633 following the death of the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu, it was mostly destroyed in a fire five years later but has been fully restored.

The Kawagoe Matsuri, where seven-meter tall floats parade the city, is one of the three best festivals in the Kanto region. Another of Kawagoe’s specialities is Kashiya-yokocho, a confectionary lane with shops selling a wide range of nostalgic Japanese sweets, rice crackers and other snacks.

Kamakura (Kanagawa Prefecture)

Kamakura has flourished since the warlord Minamoto Yoritomo established a new government there in 1192. With its many historical temples and rich natural scenery, the city draws visitors throughout the year.

Perhaps the most important monument to visit is the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) at the Kotokuin Temple, which stands at 13.35 meters and weighs 121 tons. It has stood in Kamakura since its construction in 1252. For an additional fee, visitors can even go inside the statue! From there, there is the Engaku-ji Temple, with its extensive grounds and Sanmon Gate, said to bring enlightenment to those who pass through it, the Kencho-ji Temple with its wooden structures and huge bells, and the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, where you will learn of the various samurai legends.

Even more breath-taking is the Wakamiya-oji Street, built by Shogun Yoritomo and stretching 1800 metres to the sea. The avenue of cherry blossoms leading to the Hachiman-gu Shrine is a sight to behold in the spring.

Seto City (Aichi Prefecture)

Not everyone necessarily associates ceramics with historical Japan, even though this craft is instrinsic to the heritage of Seto City. Walking down the Kamagaki-no-komichi at the foot of the mountains, where plates and cups are embedded into the walkways’ stone walls, will give you a sense of the everyday life of Seto’s craftspeople. A visit to the Seto Ceramics and Glass Art Center will give you the perfect opportunity to observe or experience the city’s crafts. The unusual Kamagami-jinja Shrine is dedicated to the people who have passed on ceramic manufacturing methods through generations and the Ceramics Festival held in early September drives their importance back home.

If you are a car fanatic, a visit to the Toyota Automobile Museum in nearby Nagakute town is essential. You may even spot your favourite model among the 120 automobiles from the end of the 19th century to the 1940s.

Kiso (Nagano Prefecture)

Nestled in a steep valley area in the upper reaches of the Kiso-gawa River is Kiso. It is home to the famous Nakasen-do highway, an essential point of transportation that connected present day Tokyo and Kyoto between the 17th and 19th century. The most scenic part of the highway is the Kiso-ji Road, which is surrounded by steep mountains. At the mouth of Kiso-ji is the former post station Magome-juku, where rows of old houses line the stone-paved sloping roads.

From Magome, you can reach Tsumago, which hosts the Bunka-Bunsei-Fuzoku-Emaki Gyoretsu on 23 November each year. People dress in costumes from the Bunka-Bunsei period (late Edo period). If you’re up for a challenge, you can climb the 3,067-meter-high Mt. Ontake-san, known as a holy mountain that has been visited by many worshippers since the 18th century.

Shirakawa-go (Gifu Prefecture)

A registered UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, Shirakawa-go is a quiet yet beautiful mountain village at the foot of Mt. Haku-san. With 114 thatched roof houses, rice fields and a river running through it, this village is truly Japanese in every sense of the word.

Amazingly, 27 thatched roof houses have been relocated from various areas in the village to the nearby Gassho-zukuri Minka-en outdoor museum. A temple, coalhouse and horse paddock have also been built to preserve the old scenery and there are live performances of traditional industrial arts such as dyeing and soba noodle making. Of course, the village is home to its own Doburoku Festivals every autumn. Its namesake is a white, unrefined sake served to visitors during the festival period.

Takayama (Gifu Prefecture)

During the Takayama Matsuri, intricately crafted festival floats are displayed around the city, a testament to the region’s history of craftsmanship. Held in spring and autumn, it attracts thousands of visitors from across the world.

Those who are interested in the local artistry will want to visit the Hida no Sato, an outdoor museum displaying traditional architecture and thatched roof houses, some of which have been relocated from Shirakawa-go.

The Takayama Jinya, a 17th century government house, is the last one of its kind in Japan and is open to the public. A farmer’s market is also held in front of the house every morning, where artisans sell everything from pickles to carvings.

Nada Go-go (Hyogo Prefecture)

Nada Go-go is the name of the five areas that lie between Kobe and Nishinomiya. The area is most famous for its high quality sake breweries, many of which line the Sakagura-no-michi, or Sake Brewery Street. The name of Nada became known throughout Japan in the 18th century for three reasons; its excellent quality water for making sake, its high quality rice and its convenient location for transportation by sea. All three are, of course, essential for the production and distribution of sake.

Visitors can watch the process of sake brewing at the Hama-fuku-tsuru Brewery factory and then try it at the tasting corner. Most of the brewers have their own museums to pass on the process of sake brewing. Even if you’re not a particular fan of the taste of sake, Nada Go-go really should be on your ‘to do’ list for the experience alone.

Miyajima (Hiroshima Prefecture)

A short boat ride away from Hiroshima is Miyajima Island, worshipped as a sacred place since ancient times. The island is home to several important cultural assets; including the floating tori gate, the Five Story Pagoda, built in 1407, that stands almost 30 meters high, the Hall of One Thousand Mats, built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi but never completed and Itsukushima Shinto Shrine, the appearance of which changes dramatically with the tide.

The founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect meditated at the summit of Mt. Misen 1,200 years ago. Visitors can take a ropeway to the mountain and take in the majesty of the island’s stunning ancient scenery.

In many ways, Miyajima Island has not changed since the Itsukushima Shrine was constructed in the 6th century. It is still widely visited by pilgrims and inhabited by curious deer who are treated as messengers of the gods, and it has lost none of its mysterious aura.

Usuki (Oita Prefecture)

Usuki is home to one of the most unique National Treaures of its kind, a group of more than 60 Buddha figures carved out of the natural rock of a cliff, known as ‘Usuki Sekibutsu’. A Buddha carving of this kind is known as ‘Magai-butsu’ and Usuki takes it to a whole new level. Mysterious and incredibly impressive, this largest scale of Magai-butsu is believed to have been carved around 1,000 years ago.

If you visit Usuki in autumn, twenty thousand Japanese table lamps will be lit in celebration of the bamboo lantern festivals. A trip to the stone pavement called ‘Nioza Historical Street’ and Usuki Castle, built under the prosperous rule of the feudal lord Sorin Otomo, are in order at any time of the year.

This is just but a tiny sample of the historical towns and cities to visit in Japan. There is no shortage of places to visit and stories to discover but, as the most well-versed travellers know, you have to take the path less travelled to find them. I am lucky enough to have visited one of these destinations, Miyajima Island, already but I am hoping that it be a lot more the next time I go to Japan, hopefully next year. The thing I love about Japan the most is, without a doubt, its unique history.

Visit Sophie’s Blog (Old link to her site:

All images taken from the Japan Guide website. Image of Seto taken from Japanican and image of Usuki taken from Trip Advisor.

Hiking Mount Fuji (Travel Guide)

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

One of the most strikingly beautiful mountains in the world, hiking Japan’s Mount Fuji is an adventure that will create memories that will last a lifetime. The mountain is 3776 meters tall, and a hike even part of the way up the mountain offers expansive views and an experience that is perfect for even novice hikers and families. Japan has declared July and August the official climbing season for Mount Fuji, and anyone who does not have a lot of experience with this type of mountain hike should consider going during this season, when the mountain’s mild weather and lack of snow make it easy to enjoy the trip. Access to the mountain’s trails is available via public transportation, and there are scenic mountain huts to stop at.

Beautiful mount fuji view from the lake

View of Mount Fuji

Hiking Mount Fuji isn’t just a popular tourist attraction, there are also many people from Japan who enjoy the trek and hike the mountain on a regular basis. The busiest week for climbers is in mid-August, known as Obon Week, when so many climbers visit the area that they often form lines at some mountain passages. Those who want to avoid large crowds should avoid this week, but the people who climb Mount Fuji are part of the experience that you wouldn’t want to miss. Hiking Mount Fuji with hundreds of others creates a sense of being part of a unique experience that will become almost as memorable as the trip up the mountain itself.

Tour group hiking mount fuji

Going with a tour group hiking Mount Fuji

If you’re a fan of Mount Fuji and planning a trip to Japan, I recommend getting the Lonely Planet Japan Travel Guide. For those who choose to hike Mount Fuji during the off season, be sure that you truly understand what the trip involves before you start. Some of the mountain huts that dot the trails are open a majority of the year, but it can be difficult to find public transportation to the mountain during the off-season. Mount Fuji is generally free of snow from late June to the end of October, but the weather on the mountain can be unpredictable at best during the winter season and strong winds can make climbing tricky even for experienced mountaineers. Only those hikers with significant experiencing and the right equipment should attempt the hike during snowy and cold periods.

Descending down the Sunabashiri Sand Run Mount Fuji

Descending down the sand run

There are ten different stations on Mount Fuji, with the first one at the base of the mountain and the tenth at the peak. The first five stations include paved roads that are easily accessed by even casual hikers, and there are four separate “fifth stations” on different parts of the mountain. The most popular trail is called the Yoshida Trail, and takes between five and seven hours to hike, with the return trip taking about four hours. There are many mountain huts along the trail, and there are different trails for ascent and descent, giving hikers a different view.


The sunrise takes place on this side of the mountain, making early-morning hikes particularly rewarding. The Subashiri Trail takes between five and eight hours to climb, and the return trip is about four hours. The Subashiri Trail connects to the Yoshida Trail at the eighth station. The Gotemba trail takes about nine hours to ascend, and five hours to descend, and is one of the longest trails on the mountain, ideal for hikers who want a slower and less steep ascent. The Fujinomiya Trail is on the southern side of the mountain, and takes about eight hours to ascend and five hours to descend.

Top of mount fuji station 3250 m

Mount Fuji station at 3250 M

In general, the ascent to the summit of Mount Fuji is not considered difficult, with the most challenging areas being those with steep, rocky terrain that is best navigated by experienced hikers or those with an appropriate understanding of the terrain. Since hiking Mount Fuji means that you will be going up more than three thousand meters in altitude, the air does get thin and makes breathing difficult for those who are not athletic or used to higher elevations. Proper preparation and planning make hiking Mount Fuji a good experience for families, couples, groups, and even singles who want to experience one of Japan’s natural wonders.

Photo Credits:
Photo of the tour group and 3250 m check point:
Picture of Mount Fuji descent:

The City of Kobe (Travel Guide)

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Japan holds a strange and somewhat magical hold on the imaginations of some travelers. The subject of fascination can vary greatly between each individual, ranging from romantic visions of ancient landscapes to those of modern pop culture exports. However, to residents of Japan these landscapes (and many more in-between) exist simultaneously. While most foreign travelers focus their sightseeing efforts on the ancient city of Kyoto or the modern metropolis of Tokyo, I’d suggest that those planning a trip to Japan go off the beaten path and experience Japan as it is lived by those who make their homes here. The city of Kobe is a great place to do this; it offers travelers gorgeous natural scenery, delicious food, and lots of history, yet it is a city that many tourists seem to overlook. Though, Kobe doesn’t have an international airport but one one can book an airline ticket till Osaka, which is minutes away from Kobe. Kobe is the sixth-largest city in Japan and is the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture on the southern side of the main island of Honshū.

In the heart of downtown Kobe you will find the bustling narrow streets of the Sannomiya shopping and bar district. Nestled between its sky-scraping buildings is one of the oldest shrines in the country, Ikuta Shrine. The traditional spirit of this shrine was apparent upon my first visit whereupon I witnessed a Shinto wedding procession, bride in kimono and draped in a white headdress, passing a gaggle of hurried and undistracted businessman, all with seemingly identical briefcases in tow, visiting the shine to make an offering, pray, and ring the bell. I was struck how the traditional lives right alongside the modern in this landscape and how alive the past is within the gates of this shrine, which stands almost timelessly against the radically modern neon and steel backdrop of the city beyond.

I am always on the lookout for street art and graffiti; it has always held some fascination for me. While graffiti often comes with a host of negative connotations, to me it is an artistic expression as valid as any painting found on the walls of a museum. Near Ikuta shrine, the walls of the surrounding district offer many examples of graffiti. They juxtapose the timelessness of Ikuta Shrine, they are capricious but for as long as they last they will provide a creative identity for the individuals who painted them. Japan is a country of strict social expectations and it seems to me that these works are a way for some creative individuals to claim and transform their landscapes into dynamic narratives that they share with all who have an eye to appreciate them.

While I enjoy the city and its nightlife, I sometimes hunger for a little escape from the concrete paths and fluorescent light interiors. Not far north of the city center at the foot of Mt. Rokko, situated across a large river is Shin-Kobe train station. Feeding this river is a series of ancient waterfalls named Nunobiki, considered one of the great “divine falls” of Japan. The falls are only a mild and picturesque 30-minute walk from the city center and offer the city dweller and tourist alike a chance to experience a more “natural” landscape. Surrounded by mountains, trees, wildlife, and greenery, the loud cascade of the falls offers me a chance to clear my head, be still, and reflect.

The citizens of Japan often tour their own country and are generally very interested in their own history, culture, and many landscapes. This makes being a foreign traveler, especially one who wishes to experience Japan more like citizens themselves, a much easier task. Keep an open mind, do some preparation, and leave some of your expectations at home, and you are sure to have some memorable adventures.