January 12, 2012

Lake Biwa, Japan’s Largest Lake

Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) is the biggest freshwater lake in Japan. It is in Shiga prefecture, not too far from Kyoto.  Having grown up around the great lakes, when I hear “largest lake,” I imagine something pretty big. When you stand on the shore of any of the great lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, or Ontario), you can’t see the opposite shore. The lakes are enormous. Even the smallest of them, Lake Erie, would talk about 11 hours to drive around. (According to Google Maps. I looked up Buffalo, NY to Toledo, OH to Detroit, MI to Buffalo, NY and Google told me it would take 10 hours and 59 minutes.)

But looking at Lake Biwa last month, I was disappointed to see that even Japan’s largest lake is not large enough for the opposite shore to remain unseen. And a similar search on Google Maps told me that it would talk only 4 hours and 15 mins to drive around the lake, even though the drive around Lake Erie was mostly on highways and much of the drive around Lake Biwa was on local roads (with much lower speed limits).

Still, despite my disappointment about the size of the lake, it was very beautiful. I took these pictures about an hour after sunrise.

See that shore in the distance?

Built-up shore of Lake Biwa

The sky and water seems to fade into one color.

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…)

October 17, 2011

Autumn Festival

This year, I was invited to see a local fall festival (秋祭り). It was held in a small neighborhood nestled deep in the mountains. In good weather, this neighborhood is a 20 minutes drive from the nearest store. Once the snow falls, it takes even longer. The festival involved bringing a large object from the elementary school to a local shrine. (The school only has 5 students and will be shut down at the end of the school year.)

On the bottom left is the object that will be transported. The building on the right is the school gymnasium. The blue jacket like things that everyone is wearing are called Happi. They say 祭, or festival, on the back and are a very common sight at any local festival in Japan.

Everyone had interesting outfits for the festival.

I thought this guy was pretty funny. He had a bunch of daikon raddies and he kept grating them in a menacing way throughout the day. He would go up to small children, scare them with his creepy mask, and then hand them a piece of candy. The confusion on their faces was priceless!

It took 15 or 20 men to carry the heavy...thing. (I'm not really sure what to call it...) They had a lot of trouble keeping it steady.

More pictures after the jump (more…)

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.

May 17, 2011

Sanouji, a Japan top 100 Terraced-Rice Field

I apologize for the delay in new posts, but I am back from my travels and have many more pictures to post in the coming weeks. I went to Hong Kong and Thailand during my 2 week trip. But I have yet to sort through those photos, so for now I will keep posting some pictures taken in Japan before my trip.

Not too far from the Japan top 100 pond from my previous post, is another Japan top 100, a top 100 terraced-rice field (棚田日本100選). When I visited, it was still barely spring and the lush green that I could probably see in the summer time was still a lazy brown. But it was still very…terraced. I can see why it’s in the top 100!

Several levels of the terraced rice field

These rice field levels are all smushed together

This tree was blooming by the rice fields.

April 23, 2011


Japan has a tendency to make everything cute. From No Smoking signs to manhole covers, the most mundane things are overly adorable. I have posted many other sign pictures on here before, including the beware of bear sign, the sign asking you to prevent forest fires, the water system mascot sign (at the bottom of the page in the link), and this sign proclaiming Toyooka to be a town of bags. Here’s some more fun signs!

This sign says Kids House No. 110. Its a government program to help keep kids safe. People in the community volunteer to have this sign posted outside their house, or put a sticker in the window. Homes displaying the No. 110 emblem are supposed to be safe havens for kids to go to when they are in trouble.

Mr. Cool Frog says, "Dont toss trash into the river! The river is for everyone and we should all protect it together."

At the construction site, the sign politely bows to me to apologize for any inconvenience.

Isnt this manhole a bit too cute? It has characters from the Yamata no Orochi legend, in which the god Susano slays the great Orochi serpent.

On a train with no glass windows, a sign telling everyone not to stick out their hands or head because its dangerous.

April 18, 2011

No Shopkeeper Used Car Dealership

Going along with the store-without-people idea that I wrote about yesterday, today I have some pictures of a little car dealership not too far from where I live. If you didn’t stop to read the sign, you would probably just drive right by this place and wonder who parked all those cars on the side of the road. But if you take a closer look, there is a sign shouting “Used Cars” and then underneath that proclaiming, “No people. Please take a look.” There’s also a number you can call if you are interested. I pass by this place almost everyday and I think I’ve only seen people here once or twice. I’m not sure how good business is, but if any cars have been sold or new cars have come in, I haven’t noticed.

Cars galore.

This little truck costs 130,000 yen or about 1,500 USD.

The sign for the "store" is across the street. And there are more cars parked there as well.

"Come on it and take a look!"

April 17, 2011

No Shopkeeper Store

This store has no shopkeeper. Right now, there is nothing for sale, but at another similar store, I saw fresh produce, including green leafy veggies and adzuki beans. Each was pack into a little plastic bag and closed with tape and had a price sticker on it. There’s a money box that looks like a piggy bank with a lock (but nothing as fancy as the things they have at the Piggy Bank Museum, it’s just a plain wooden box.) And There’s also a notebook and pen, so people who buy things can make a note of it.  I can’t imagine this business model working anywhere but rural Japan. I’m sure that everything would be stolen if a store like this were to open in the states.

The sign literally says, "no person selling shop." Money is supposed to change hands without having to see the other person's hand.

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