December 21, 2011

Dangyou Falls (壇鏡の滝)

My time to tour around on Dogo was very limited, but I did manage to see the Dangyou falls. We rented a car to get there and while I think it’s possible to get there without a car, even with a car it was a bit of an ordeal. The road was very narrow and I would have been even more spooked trying to ride the steep narrow road up the mountain on a bicycle. With the car we rented, I was constantly afraid of another car coming from the opposite direction. The road is 2-way, but it barely fits one car.

In the end, we made it to the waterfall completely unscathed. And the waterfall was beautiful, so it was worth the trip.

Before going to the waterfall, you are supposed to toss a stone onto one of these gates. It's harder than it looks to get a stone to stay on there!

Towards the waterfall

The sign says that this waterfall is one of the top 100 waterfalls in Japan.

More pictures after the jump (more…)

December 20, 2011

Off to Oki

Last month, I took a short trip to the Oki islands. (Correction: Waaaaay too short. I only saw the tiniest fraction of all the beautiful spots there are on the islands there.) The Oki islands are roughly 3 hours away from the largest Japanese island of Honshu by ferry. There are 4 islands clustered together. (In addition, there is an island that is disputed between Japan and South Korea. It takes another 3 hours to reach by boat from the Oki islands. It is called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean.)

On this trip, I only went to the largest island, Dogo. The Oki islands are currently working hard to bring more tourists and are promoting the islands as a Geopark.

Even though it was mid-November, we really lucked out with beautiful warm weather. The following pictures are mostly from the ferry ride.

Looking back at Honshu just after the ferry leaves for Oki

On the ferry

More pictures after the jump. (more…)

December 19, 2011

Adachi Museum of Art

There’s one reason the Adachi Museum of Art (足立美術館) gets so many visitors despite being in the middle of nowhere and it’s not the paintings. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of beautiful paintings on display. They simply aren’t the main draw of the museum. The reason everyone goes to the museum is to see the garden.

Although the museum garden is not counted as one of the three great gardens of Japan (日本三名園), it has been ranked as the best garden in Japan by the American Journal of Japanese Gardens for 8 years running! (2003-10) (I’ve been to one of the top 3 gardens as well, Korakuen in Okayama.) The museum was also given 3 stars in the Michelin Green Guide for Japan, putting it into the must see category.

The museum was opened by Zenko Adachi in 1970 when he was 71 years old. The museum’s garden and collection have been preened over to years to become the shining gem they are today. The museum does not allow pictures of the artwork, but I have some pictures of the garden to share.

This is what the best garden in Japan looks like.

Due to an unseasonably warm fall, the autumn leaves were not up to their usual brilliance this year (throughout Japan), but I still found a few trees that managed to produce some nice color.

I assume that they were so happy about being named the best garden that they got in engraved on stone, but then they got the prize again and had to improvise because carving a new stone each time is costly.

See more of the best garden, after the jump. (more…)

December 13, 2011

Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine

Japan loves its UNESCO World Heritage sites. And throughout the country there are 16 designated World Heritage sites. (Not too many compared to some other countries, but not too shabby either.) The Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine became a World Heritage site in 2007. The silver mine area is nestled in the mountains about 2 1/2 hours north of Hiroshima in Oda city, Shimane prefecture.

The silver was discovered in 1526 and the mines were in operation for the next 400 years. When production in the mines were at their peak in the 17th century, 1/3 of the world’s silver was extracted here. But the area is not industrial. It is well-off the beaten path and you feels more like a mountain valley than a once prosperous silver town. Perhaps that is why the official UNESCO name for the site is “Iwamai Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape.”

I went to visit the mine on a rainy day in May.

Like most people who visit the mine, I began with a visit to the World Heritage Center. I was driving to the mine by myself and I got lost for a while on the rural back roads. There is virtually no English signage leading people to the mines and even the Japanese signs are confusing.  Eventually, I found the World Heritage Center, parked my car and went inside. Inside is a small museum about the mines, a 3D model of the region and several peppy volunteers, happy to give information about the mines and offer sample itineraries, based on the amount of time you have available. (I was a bit surprised to discover that there are no staff members there who speak any English.) They pointed me towards the bus that runs between the Center and the center of the old mining town every 15 minutes.

The mountains surrounding the mines.

Looking down the main road of the tiny mining town.

Lots of old style architechture around the silver mines. It feels like stepping into the past. Can you see the rain pouring down in this picture?

More on the silver mine after the jump


October 7, 2011

Autumn Fog

The autumn fog obscures the Chugoku mountains on an early October morning.

Chugoku mountains when the leaves are just starting to to change color.

Fog over the Chugoku mountains




October 3, 2011

Broken Love Bell

Filed under: Chuugoku, Domestic, Interesting, Trips — myyearinjapan @ 12:55 pm

At a rest stop on the Sea of Japan coast, a love bell sticks out from the ground. It was designed so that 2 people would have to press 2 separate buttons at the same time to make it work. Perhaps it’s supposed to be 2 people in love? But the bell is broken!

Looking out at the Sea of Japan on a sunny day. This place is completely packed on summer afternoons.

The bell. It's particularly good looking if you ask me.

Instructions for how to ring the bell. Looks like you're meant to hold hands while you do it.

The sign says that the bell is broken and will never be fixed because it's too old to be fixed. Sorry for the inconvenience! But why keep a broken bell there as a blight on their beautiful beachfront?

May 19, 2011

Riding the Nostalgia Train

Ok, there is no train called “Nostalgia Train,” as far as I know, but I rode one of several trains that run through rural regions of Japan and are meant to be reminiscent of old time-y trains. We were hoping to go on a sunny, spring day, but we had to settle for a rainy day. To me it was more of an overpriced rural train than a nostalgia train, but it was still fun.

The nostalgia train! It costs twice as much as riding the normal train! Yay!

Inside the train. They only use this train for these special "nostalgia train" trips.

The view from the train. We waited until cherry blossom season had started, hoping to see some beautiful scenery, but we hadn't counted on the fact that the train moves farther and farther into the mountains. We saw great scenery pulling out of our local station, but as the altitude got higher and higher, the scenery got browner and uglier. This is near our local station where the scenery was still nice.

When we pulled into one station, this kindergarten class was waiting on the platfom to serenade us and hand us origami tulips through the window. It was adorable.

One of the little kindergateners singing a song about tulips. Did I mention that it was raining that day?

Watching the scenery pass us by through the window with no glass.

Another highlight of the trip is supposed to be hopping off at this station to get water that is said to be so healthy that it will lengthen your life. (Not scientifically proven)

This is a part of one of the most overrated tourist sites ever. It's just a part of a roadway that curves up and loops around by this mountain (the bridge in the picture leads to the loop). The local government is trying to get more people to visit the area so they advertise this road loop as a tourism hot spot. At the loop itself is a small shop and a little art museum, but the loop is very far off the beaten path and the museum is not worth the trek, in my opinion.

February 21, 2011

Hiroshima Children’s Peace Monument

Filed under: Chuugoku, Domestic, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 3:54 am

Sadako Sasaki was 2 years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She was about 1 mile away from the hypocenter during the blast, but did not sustain any injuries. However, ten years later when she was 12 years old, she suddenly became sick and was diagnosed with leukemia. Her family was told she would die within a year. While she was in the hospital, she started to fold paper crane because there is an old belief that you may be granted one wish of you fold 1000 paper cranes. According to the Hiroshima peace memorial, she completed her goal, but according to a book about her life, she never had enough paper to complete all the cranes. Sadako passed away 8 months after being diagnosed with leukemia.

After her death, her classmates started to raise money for a memorial. The Children’s Peace Memorial (原爆の子の像) was completed in 1958. Everyday, people bring thousands and thousands of paper cranes from all over the world to be placed at the memorial.

Sasaki Sadako

Sadako sits atop the memorial, holding a paper crane.

Crane Cases

Cases filled with paper cranes.

Kurashiki cranes

Cranes brought from Kurashiki, Japan. They wrote peace in green cranes.

middle school, elementary school students

Cranes made by middle school students and elementary school students.


Children's call for world peace. If you pray for it, it will come?

February 20, 2011

Traditional Toilet Instruction

Filed under: Chuugoku, Domestic, Interesting, Strange, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 11:39 pm

For those who have never encountered a Squat toilet, the traditional style in Japan, here are some instructions on how to use one.

Japanese toilet

I found these instructions in the bathroom at the Hiroshima Peace Museum. They get a lot of international visitors, so I understand their decision to put up some instructions. The picture is very informative!

February 19, 2011

Hiroshima Atom Bomb Dome

Filed under: Chuugoku, Domestic, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 11:55 pm

Every Japanese elementary student recognizes the Atom Bomb Dome in Hiroshima. It is as famous in Japan as the Statue of Liberty is in the US. Not only do they study it in school, but they also see it on TV, especially around August 6th, the memorial of the dropping of the bomb. There is always a big memorial ceremony in Hiroshima on August 6th.

The building was first made in 1915. And before the war, it was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall (広島県産業奨励館). When the bomb was dropped in 1945, they were aiming to hit the T-shaped bridge located right near this building. The bomb detonated 600m (1,968 ft) in the air and 150m (450 ft) away from the Industrial Promotion Hall. Considering how close it was to the bomb, it was left surprisingly intact. And because of that, it did not get demolished during the initial clean-up after the bomb. Eventually, it was decided to keep the building and preserve it in its post-bombing condition. It now serves as a reminder of the destruction that took place in Hiroshima and the power of the bomb.

The very first time I came to Hiroshima, I remember walking past the atom bomb dome on the way to my hotel. At night, it get lit up and looks quite eerie. I also had not been told that we would walk right past the iconic building and was surprised to see the ruins in display. But as we were walking past it, there was a concert happening across the street at a stadium. With all this cheering going on in the background, here was this symbol of destruction.

Anyway, on to the pictures.

Atom bomb dome

The Atom bomb dome in Hiroshima.

looking at the atom bomb dome

Right after I took this picture of this guy studying the a-bomb dome, he turned around and asked me to take of picture of him in front of it.

Then and Now

Then and Now. A picture of the atom bomb dome as it looked before the bomb fell.

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