I am making this journal to hopefully inspire people to grab their bag and travel around the world
This was my first trip alone outside of Canada, its a hastily planned trip so there were a lot of things that Ive overlooked like when to go, budget, memory cards, souvenirs - to name a few. I had no solid iterinary until I got to Matsumoto where I decided to go Castle hunting.
On large cities I stayed in Business Hotels, on smaller ones in Ryokan (traditional inn) - with private facilities as I wake up early to beat the crowds. I highly recommend staying in a ryokan.
I had no problem communicating. If you're lost or got a question its better to ask a lady, chances are they speak & understand basic english, though in the smaller cities I visited they dont but are still way more helpful than the men. Every city i visited got a Visitor Info kiosk at the train station
Transportation is easy and efficient. I rode the train to get to the city and I rode the bus to get around the city. I bought a 14-day JR Rail pass which gave me unlimited access with some restriction to trains under the JR flag. Japan Railways is the majordomo of railways in Japan.
Buses are like....cabs.....yea....a very huge cab
Food. bring lotsa pepto-bismol or immodium! and your health insurance hanged around your neck you gonna need it! naaah I'm just jokin, its not that bad unless you crave raw octopus or squid. Picture the shops in the mall with their latest clothing line displayed up front. now replace those clothing with plastic replicas of dishes...welcome to dining out in Japan. Drop by an Izakaya(pub) youll love it.
REHYDRATE every hour! there are vending machines on every corner, ABUSE it. The humidity is unforgiving.
http://www.japan-guide.com/ Everything you need to know about.
http://www.itcj.jp/index.html Where I booked my stay. The directions to your hotels are priceless.
I also bought Lonely Planet's Guide to Japan.
Now on with the show...
I landed at Narita Intl. Aiport around 5pm I'd rather it be in the morning so at least I couldve done a day trip around Tokyo but I didnt consider the time factor when I bought my airfare.
I exchanged monies then hopped on the train to Tokyo. I was so anxious to get to Nikko that I didnt even bother walking around Tokyo. From Tokyo I took the train to Oyama then Oyama to Utsonomiya, from Utsonomiya I had to take the local train to Nikko.
All the confidence I had when I landed evaporated when I got to Nikko. Its past 10pm,theres like only 2 ppl at the train station and they dont speak english. I think I boarded the last bus around town, I went to the driver and pointed my hotel map printout. he gave me a stoic nod and I took my seat. minutes later he stopped, looked at me and nodded. I thanked him and got off the bus.
Now I knew my Ryokan was close to the rivers edge so I just followed the sound. It was dead quiet, theres noone on the streets like theres a curfew in effect. The town felt old with a cozy atmosphere, the houses are side by side like packed sardines though they have fancy rooftops.
I really enjoyed my walk, it was cool and breezy, fresh air and the roaring river. I got a feeling its gonna be gorgeous come daytime. I finally reached the Ryokan http://www.itcj.jp/hdb/309013.html
The lady at the counter greeted me with a big smile, she thought I'd never make it, I thought so too. I cleaned up then went to bed. Big day tomorrow.
It must be the excitement that I woke up early. I immediately strutted around in a yukata, I felt energized and relaxed. I decided to go see Kegon Falls near Lake Chuzenji since the temples & shrines opens at 8am.
My new bus adventure begins. I'll explain how it works. When you hop on you'll see a small ticket dispenser - take one, the number represents the stop you got on and will determine your fare. You pay when you leave the bus. On top of the driver is the fare display (pic), underneath the number matching your ticket is your fare; it increases the further you go. As I mentioned in my intro...like cabs. There's also a change machine and in other cities you only pay a flat fare.
Last night I paid a flat fare and was expecting the same on my way to Kegon Falls so imagine my surpise when I noticed my fare had climbed up to 1350. I also missed my stop and ended up in Ryuzu Falls.
Here's a pic overlooking Lake Chuzenji and taking shelter from the rain.
I wanted to beat the crowds at Toshogu Shrine so I made my way back and skipped going to Kegon Falls. Get the combo ticket which gives you access toToshogu, Rinnoji, Taiyuinbyo and Futarasan Shrines. All are in the same area surrounded by forest that it radiates a very serene atmosphere. The craftmanship that went into building these shrines and temples are amazing.
I found it odd that majority of the tourists are Asians not Caucasians, I was expecting hordes of retired folks streaming out of tour buses & into the shrines. I was wrong.
Left: Sacred fountain - Rinnoji Right: Nio-mon - Rinnoji
Hear no evil, Speak no evil, See no evil
Graves of Self-Immolation Victims...... how is it that they're victims? hmnnn.
Nikko delivers, I dont regret skipping Tokyo and starting my trip here.It was invigorating, from the roaring Daiya river, mountainous landscapes, waterfalls, to gardens & hiking trails..
I bid farewell to my host and went on to Utsonomiya. Didnt do much xcept walk around abit and ate lunch. I went to Nagano & found that I wont be able to fit in goin to the Jigokudani Monkey Park. I was upset, I really wanted to see some wild monkeys. Only now Ive realized I wasted my time in Utsonomiya. O well. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6025.html
First stop, Zenko-ji, a 7th century buddhist temple
I was so ecstatic to learned that an old battle took place a little outside the city so I quickly took the bus to get there. The bus driver was seriously hot I almost miss my stop hehe. Ok sorry to digress, the battle-site which now is a park is where the battles of Kawanakajima took place during the Sengoku Era ( Warring States Period) 15th century. Im sorta a History geek so it was quite a feeling to be walking on the same plain where samurai warriors fought and died 500yrs ago. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battles_of_Kawanakajima
I took my time and spent a few hours here. I then went home to my Ryokan in Matsumoto City, too bad I didnt catch the same kawaii bus driver.
I stayed at Enjyoh Bekkan, its outside the city but you get access to a hot spring. The staff are very cheerful and accomodating, not to mention the rooms are big. I had dinner at a local inn. It was run by a retired couple; dinner was good and Grandma was so adorable. I had a great time talking with her... with the use of my awesome hand gesture techniques and my basic japanese skills. I really felt at home, I said I'll come back again tomorrow.
I woke up and went to the hot springs. It was very relaxing, I couldve stayed there the whole day...but, Im going today to see my first original Japenese castle and Im pretty stoked about it, so no hot springs in this planet will keep me from going... unless, of course, its filled with horny party girls...then yea..
A temple near my Ryokan and a cool statue in the city.
Matsumoto-jo ( jo = castle ) one of the National Treasures of Japan. It's one of only 4 castles in its original state which makes it special. It looks like a 5-story but inside theres a hidden floor where the lord of the castle can hide in case of an attack, pretty cool. Are you a person who grumbles when taking the stairs? Well the staircases inside are at a crazy 55-61 degrees incline!
The other castles around the country are concrete reconstructs due to either disrepair, fire and WW2 bombings.
Old school gun display and the city's layout in 1500s
I checked-out and headed down to Nagoya. I spent a couple hrs. looking for a place to stay because there was a big expo in the city. I went to like 3 business hotels and they were all booked, and not only that, the price for a room is jacked-up to 8000yen. I was pissed and I was exhausted. I ended up staying in Sakae's red-light district. After recharging I went to Nagoya-jo
Having not spoken to a fluent english-speaking person has taken a toll on me. It's fun talking to locals but I'm getting tired of explaining things over and over and having to repeat myself 10 times. Lucky me I met Ayako at the tourist info at Oasis 21. she went to school in North Carolina. I asked her out and she took me to a great Izakaya. We stayed till closing time. I had a great time.
I didnt took pictures at night but Oasis 21 is amazing that a picture is in order. http://www.flickr.com/photos/yayatan/31691590/
Big day. I mapped out 4 cities in my hunt for castles. First stop Inuyama, home of Inuyama-jo, one of the few castles in all Japan that is still in its original state and is considered to be the oldest!
I was the first to arrived ( quarter to nine ) so loitered around for abit.
Overall I enjoyed Inuyama. Its a cute little city.
Next stop Gifu!!!! ohohohoho! When I stepped off the bus I was wondering "did I miss my stop? I dont see any castle around here!" Then I looked up and there It was..... Gifu-jo on top of Mt.Kinka! What an amazing sight!
2 ways to get there: hike or via cable car, I chose the latter. I wouldve preferred to hike but im on a clock.
Gifu was a stronghold of Oda Nobunaga - who set the wheel in motion for a unified Japan in the Sengoku Era, he's the guy with the moustache. The clean shaven man is Akechi Mitsuhide who betrayed Oda and forced him to commit seppuku.
Ninja weaponries... this castle kicks-ass!
On top of the castle you can enjoy a spectacular 360 view of the surrounding mountains, river and city. Absolutely breathtaking!!!
It was so breezy and refreshing on top that it was such a torment going down to the scorchin humidity below. Gifu is an absolute must see if youre in the Nagoya area.
Next stop Ogaki.
I didnt find anything special in Ogaki except the castle so I went straight to Tsu.
I mistakenly boarded a local train (top left) and I got lost. It wasnt too bad because the train ran thru the beautiful countryside, the only problem is that it was painfully slow and I was gettin anxious of Tsu castle closing time. Turned out I didnt miss out because... there is no Tsu castle? I was completely lost in Tsu, asking directions left and right. When I arrived to the site all I found were ruins and a statue of Takatora Todo (top right)
One particular lady went out of her way to show me the bus stop to get back to the train station. Domo Arigato Gozaimasu!
Ahh Okazaki, a somewhat inspirational visit as I learned a bit more of Tokugawa Iyeyasu(Ieyasu), who was born here. There are 2 museums and a Noh theater.
I accidentally deleted pics of the castle......
Arrowheads with the clans' mon (crest)
The Deified Tokugawa Ieyasu's Teachings on the Conduct of Life engraving. I took a pic of the translation but its easier if I just write it down.
"Man's life is like going on foot a long way bearing a heavy burden, with no need to hurry. Remember that absolute satisfaction is denied mortals, and you will be contented. If you are ruled by avarice, call to mind the needy circumstances you were once placed in."
"Forbearance is the root of peace & prosperity, and if you forget sufferings & defeat, you will be ruined. Be severe in criticizing yourself & be lenient with others. To fall short is better than to go too far."
" A man shld know himself! Even the weight of a dewdrop, bows down a blade of grass"
Next stop Hamamatsu!
A nice park is built around the castle. I spent my lunch relaxing around.
My day just got even better when I got to Kakegawa. A few minutes walk from the train station, I laid eyes on the jewel of this quiet city... Kakegawa-jo!.
There situated on top of a hill lies in my opinion, one of the attractive castles Ive seen in the whole trip, maybe because of the luscious green grass around the castle ground that made the castle stand-out even more on top of the hill.
I recommend visiting Kakegawa-jo. Its a really pretty castle. It left an impression on me that my journey is only about to get better. Ive yet to see Himeji-jo and Osaka-jo, how much more awesome could it be?
I felt elated as I walk back to the station. I tried to go to Odawara but I didnt had the time.
I said farewell to Nagoya, my home for the past few days. I will certainly miss her nightlife.
I headed down to Hikone-jo which is one of Japan's National Treasure. It's one of the oldest original constructed castles in Japan.
Not much happenin in Hikone so I went North to the city of Nagahama.
Top of the castle overlooking Lake Biwa.
I thinking of going for a dip to cool off but then realize I left my G-string speedo. Dang.
So with not much else to do or go I went to Kyoto. Dropped off my things at the Ryokan and then proceeded to wander aimlessly around. I decided to go west tomorrow to Okayama and Himeji and do my Kyoto escapade the day after.
The city of Fukuyama is like an hour away from Okayama and have a gorgeous castle. I made the mistake of skipping it.
Dont make the same mistake. If you're already in Okayama go swing by Fukuyama.
I wasnt really expecting much today, hmnnnn Ok well maybe I'm a little more excited than usual, sure Ive heard about the grandoise that is Himeji-jo but for me its all just talk till I get to see it myself but before that lemme show you Okayama-jo.
Okayama castle is a concrete reconstruction of its former self. It has an elevator and the beautiful Korakuen garden.
I highly recommend visiting Okayama-jo. Its striking in appearance both inside and out, plus you get to dress up in a kimono free of charge! Yea it was really Awesome!
I wanted to stay a bit longer but Himeji calls.
All the people Ive met have all one thing to say... Himeji. Its like instant reflex, you mention castle and people instanstly blurts out Himeji. "Dont leave Japan w/o seeing Himeji" etc. Ive never seen a picture of it so all this talk had somewhat tickled my curiosity.
The moment I stepped pass the Otemon gate, everything I've read or heard about the castle is true, I pictured it in my mind but I was still completely blown away. It is grand. It is majestic. It is magnificent. I stood there dazzled and mesmerized.
I was overwhelmed by its beauty.
I sat at the entrance a good few minutes enjoying and absorbing the serenity it has given me.
The stone walls are massive!
I made my way to the top of castle and was treated to a splendid view.
It is just astounding to be in a place that had stood for 600yrs, To be able to experience its rich history and glory, its amazing. Himeji is just incredible! I could go on all day raving about it. you just havta see it for yourself. Im greatful I was fortunate enough to visit such a wonderful place. I read it will be under renovation till 2014. Lucky me.
Indeed the Japanese have everything to be proud off and were certainly true to their word.
An unforgettable experience. Himeji delivers.
PS: The only thing that I ruefully regret is not having a DSLR to fully capture the beauty that I saw and share with you all. I would definately come back in April during the cheery blossom season.