Shirakawa-gō

Shirakawa-gō was the last very famous Japanese touristic spot that I hadn’t yet visited since I arrived to Japan in 2004. The main reason why I had not yet visited this UNESCO World Heritage is because the access to it is not easy.

During our trip to Gifu I decided that it was the perfect chance fulfil my dream of seeing this place. We used our rented car from Takayama and drove all the way to Shirakawa-gō. It was a very easy ride, it was almost all the one hour travel driving on highways with no traffic at all and going through 11km long tunnels!

Walking through the streets of Shirakawa-gō is as beautiful and idillic as it looks like in pictures. When we arrived at nine in the morning, we were almost the first to arrive and it felt like time traveling to an old Japanese village. After ten in the morning hordes of tourists invaded every corner of Shirakawa-gō. So, here is my little piece of advice: if you can, and if you like loneliness when contemplating something beautiful as I do, visit Shirakawa-gō as early as posible.

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Konnichiwa Sayonara

Firas, one of the readers of this blog visited Japan and created this awesome video! I love the simplicity of it and how it brings smiles in the people he encounters.

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Nakijin Castle in Okinawa

The current Okinawa prefecture was formerly known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. The inhabitants of the Ryukyu islands were able to maintain their independence from the Chinese and Japanese empires during the Edo era. However, they were not very amiable between each other, during many years the Okinawa islands were divided in three kingdoms: Hokuzen (North Kingdom), Chuzan (Center Kingdom) and Nanzan (South Kingdom).

Each kingdom was controlled from one castle. Shuri castle in Naha (South Kingdom) and Nakijin castle (North Kingdom) were the most powerful castles. These are some photos of Nakijin castle I took in a sunny day. You can see the “gusuku” style stone walls, which are unique to Okinawa.

Nakijin castle

Nakijin castle in okinawa

Nakijin castle

Nakijin castle

Nakijin castle

Nakijin castle

Nakijin castle

Nakijin castle

Nakijin castle

Nakijin castle

Nakijin castle

More posts about Okinawa:

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Top 10 tricks for cheap traveling in Japan

This is a guest blog post written by Matt Baxer from Cheapo Japan, I follow his blog/site since a while ago. He is very good at finding ways to not only survive but also to move around Japan very cheaply. I asked him to compile his top 10 tricks for cheap travelling in Japan, here is the result!

By Matt Baxer / Cheapo Japan

Many say Japan is too expensive a country to travel in, but there are some great ways to keep costs down. Cheapo Japan is here to show you the best tricks for travelling in Japan cheaply. Here are my top 10 tips:

1 – Get a free guide

There are a huge number of volunteer networks all over Japan with people who want to practice their English by guiding tourists around famous sites, explaining the historical and cultural meanings behind the sites. Ask at any tourist information center in a big city for help on how to set up these free tours.

2 – Stay in capsule hotels

When in a big city such as Osaka or Tokyo, you are never too far away from a capsule hotel. These offer little pods in which you can sometimes sleep for as low as 2500 yen (about 25 dollars). It’s very cramped, but capsule hotels often have free spa facilities, so you will be too sleepy to care!

Cheap

3 – Get a bento, rather than going to a restaurant
There are so many cheap bento shops around Japan, selling bento boxes from as cheap as 399 yen (about 4 dollars). Look out for chains such as Origin Bento (オリジン弁当) and Hotto Motto (ほっともっと). There are also many independent bento shops, particularly in business areas.

Cheap

4 – Go for a Gyudon

Gyudons are to Japan what the hamburger is to America. It’s a basic rice bowl with meat on top. They are very cheap and come to your table in under 30 seconds. Matsuya (松屋), Yoshinoya and Sukiya have gyudons starting at 300 yen. Be sure to fill up your water bottle for free when you go to these places as well!

Cheap

5 – Use buses and budget airlines rather than Shinkansen trains
They may be super cool and fast, but Shinkansen (bullet) trains are also super expensive. Instead use a bus company such as Willer Bus for journeys within one of the islands. For journeys between islands, LCCs such as Jetstar and Vanilla Air will save you a bunch of money.

Cheap

6 – Get a take-out at lunch
Many rather expensive restaurants are battling for customers at lunchtime, and have therefore started to sell cheap ‘1 coin’ (500 yen) lunches. Walk around any shopping area and you will soon find one of these.

Cheap
500 yen (1 coin) pizza!

7 – Stay in a mountain hut
Buy any hiking map for Japan and you will surely see lots of mountain hut and camp site signs. These are certainly not 5-star accommodations, but they provide a great way to save money over often crazily expensive Ryokans. Many mountain huts are also free, so you just turn up with a sleeping bag and sleep up in the quiet mountains!

Cheap

8 – Don’t pay for a rental phone or internet
Free Wifi access is available at all 7-Eleven and Family Mart convenience stores, as well as subway stations, bus stops and JR stations. Rather than paying for a rental mobile phone, you can just use Skype or such from one of these numerous Wifi spots.

Cheap

9 – Eat like a king
Lots of traditional Japanese restaurant chains, such as Yayoiken (やよい軒) or Ootoya (大戸屋ごはん処) offer reasonably priced set meals, with free rice bowl refills and drinks. Look out for these signs outside a restaurant: 食べ放題 (all you can eat) orご飯のおかわりが無料 (free rice).

Cheap

10 – Shop in 100 yen shops
You can buy almost anything in a 100 yen shop, from envelopes to hot drinks. There are also an increasing number of ‘300 shops’, which have a larger range and are great places to buy cheap souvenirs.

Cheap
Daiso es one of the most popular 100 yen shops in Japan

For more tips and advice for travelling in Japan on a budget, visit Cheapo Japan.

Do you have any other tips that you would like to share?

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Cowshed Reconverted Into An Artists Playground

The other day while wandering with our car around the east of Chiba we ended up in what looked like a cowshed or farm.

Artists Playground in Tokyo

Artists Playground in Tokyo

However when we got nearer to the place we saw that we could enter and we found people playing music, clowns doing performances to kids and even photo exhibitions. It turns out that the place is a popular venue in the area called Gyusha Number 8, 牛舎8号 (Cowshed number 8). It is a farm reconverted to attract artists from nearby locations to the community. I love it when I find this kind of places in Japan. Places where things that apparently don’t have any common relationship converge.

We were told that many artists from Tokyo come here to live in the small towns to the east of Chiba because the rents are much cheaper and they can afford the lifestyle they wish to have. We had the chance to see the performances of several groups of music and also a clown/magician.

Artists Playground in Tokyo

Artists Playground in Tokyo

Chiba artists

Chiba artists

Chiba artists

Chiba artists

Chiba artists

Chiba artists

There’s no cows anymore but there are hens and some crops. We walked for a while until the crops near a mountain and we found these jails right by the forest. They are traps to catch wild boars. It seems wild boars are a big problem for the farmers in this area.

Chiba artists

Chiba artists

Chiba artists

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Kyotoku-maru no.18 第18共徳丸 in Kesennuma

Kyotoku-maru number 18 (第18共徳丸) is a 330-ton fishing boat that was dragged 750 meters inland by the power of the 2011 tsunami.

The name of all Japanese boats ends with maru 丸, which means literally “circle”. It is said that maru 丸 symbolizes the departure from the port, the journey through the seas and the safe return to port, thus completing the circle. It is also said that the suffix maru is used because Hakudo Maru is the name of the god that taught the Japanese people how to build boats.

The Kyotoku-maru number 18 has been two years and a half trapped inland which hasn’t allowed it to complete its circle. Moreover the god Hakudo Maru was not able protect it. After several discussions (some people went as far as wanting to make it a World Heritage Site), the citizens of Kesennuma have decided that they don’t want to use the boat as a memorial. According to the tsunami victims the boat is becoming a nuisance to the city’s reconstruction and they don’t see the boat as a monument but as a scar. This month the dismantling of the boat has started which will eventually make room for new buildings.

Last month we drove along the new road that has been built next to the boat. The following pictures show how we saw it just before dusk:

Kesennuma

Kesennuma

Kesennuma

Kesennuma

Kesennuma

Kyotoku-maru

Kyotoku-maru

Kyotoku-maru

More photos in my Flickr.

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533 Days Around The World

When I was Thailand and Singapore in 2010 with my friend Ignacio I found him several times taking a picture of his face. “It’s for a project I’m thinking about; it’s going to be really cool!” – he told me. “The idea is to take always the same kind of picture, with the same angle and using the same lens, so when I go back home after my trip around the world I can make a video”.

It’s taken a while but the result is impressive; it’s very interesting to see how Ignacio’s beard changes!

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Gardens by the Bay

During my last visit to Singapore we visited the latest “place of interest” built in the city, Gardens by the Bay, which was opened to the public last June. It is a botanic garden with artificial trees called “supertrees” of up to 50 meters tall that are powered by solar energy.

Gardens by the Bay

In total there are 18 supertrees with photovoltaic panels and that are also able to accumulate rain water thanks to their conical shape. They are not arcologies yet because they can’t host human life, but when you go up the trees and walk from one to another you can’t avoid thinking that they look like structures generated by rendering software used in science fiction movies.

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

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