• 広島―世界平和の象徴的世界遺産のある街

    [From August Issue 2010]

    Flying one-and-a-half hours westward from Tokyo you arrive at Hiroshima Prefecture, which faces the Seto Inland Sea. Hiroshima City, the capital of the prefecture and the largest city in the Chugoku region, is infamous as the blast site of the world’s first atomic bomb, which landed on August 6, 1945, and killed tens of thousands people. Now, Hiroshima continuously appeals for world peace as an International City of Peace and Culture.

    Peace Memorial Park is the place where the horrors of nuclear war can be learned, located about 15 minutes by streetcar from Hiroshima Station, and close to the epicenter of the atomic bomb blast. At one corner of the park stands the A-Bomb Dome, but remains preserved in its bombed-out state, showing its collapsed walls and bare iron skeleton. It has been designated as a World Heritage Site.

    The park contains a number of monuments intended to call for peace, such as the Memorial Cenotaph (a monument to the atomic bomb victims), which was designed so that the A-Bomb Dome is visible through its arched roof. Other monuments include the Peace Flame, the Peace Bells, the Peace Gate and the Statue of the A-Bomb Children. There is also an open-air cafe where you can relax and rest beside the river.

    You can learn about the atomic bombing at the park’s Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The museum exhibits artifacts including the charred remains of a lunch box and a tricycle, along with pictures of other similar items, which all reveal the kind of severe damage the blast really caused. A miniature model of the devastated city right after the explosion further depicts the horrors of the bombing. While English explanations are provided throughout, an English audio guide is available while touring the facility.

    From Peace Memorial Park, you can easily get to Hiroshima Castle, which was built in 1599 by feudal warlord MOURI Terumoto. The castle was destroyed in the blast, but a five-story tenshukaku or central tower used as a lookout, was rebuilt in 1958. Inside the tower you will find a history museum where suits of armor and swords are on display. From the tower’s top floor, you can have a panoramic view of the city.

    Walking eastward, away from Hiroshima Castle, you will eventually reach Shukkei-en, a beautiful Japanese garden full of lush greenery. It was originally built in 1620 by the lord of Hiroshima as his personal villa garden. Encircling a pond, it features mountains and gorges from which you can enjoy beautiful views of the water and surrounding foliage.

    Heading out of Shukkei-en towards Hatchobori, you can see the downtown area just across the avenue. Here, you will find a myriad of restaurants serving okonomiyaki, a Hiroshima specialty. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is a filling dish made by frying two layers of thin pancake-like crepes containing chopped cabbage, soba or udon noodles, thinly sliced pork, and eggs, then pouring a thick, salty-sweet sauce on top. Near the main shopping street of Chuo-dori, there stands two buildings housing okonomiyaki-food theme parks, “Okonomimura” and “Okonomi Kyowakoku Hiroshima Mura.” In each, different okonomiyakishops offer different toppings including cheese, rice cake, oysters and squid tempura, making it possible to enjoy a variety of different and tasty okonomiyaki.

    Moving away from the downtown area and towards Hiroshima Station, you will find MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima (Mazda Stadium), the home of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp professional baseball team. The stadium has an asymmetrical playing field, a rarity in Japan, and allows spectators to enjoy games in a wide variety of seating arrangements, from lying on cushioned sofas to having a barbecue while watching the game.

    Another of Hiroshima’s World Heritage Sites is Miyajima in Hatsukaichi City. Taking a train from Hiroshima Station and then crossing by ferry, the bright red ootorii (grand shrine gate), symbolizing Miyajima, soon come into view. Floating on the Seto Inland Sea and measuring 30 kilometers in circumference, the island features many tourist attractions including Mount Misen, which is covered with primeval forests, and Itsukushima Shrine, which stands in the sea. Fourteen percent of the entire island surface, mostly its shrines, is designated as a World Heritage Site.

    Miyajima has been worshiped as an island of God since ancient times. The main place of worship is Itsukushima Shrine, believed that its original building was built in 593. At high tide, the bright red buildings interconnected by long corridors, seem to float on water. The 16-meter high ootorii is located further out to sea. It remains approachable on foot when the tide is low.

    If you would like to further enjoy more of Miyajima’s picturesque scenery, you could climb Mount Misen. To get to the mountain, you can conveniently climb up through Momijidani Park just behind the shrine, and take the two Ropeways. Eventually you will arrive at Shishiiwa Station. The view from here is magnificent enough, but if you keep climbing for about another 30 minutes, you will reach the summit. Here you are afforded a 360-degree panoramic view of the island and the sea, which defies description.

    A popular Hiroshima souvenir is momiji manju, which originated in Miyajima. The typical momiji manju is a maple leaf-shaped sponge cake containing bean paste, but other varieties exist with fillings of white bean paste, cream and chocolate. Shops in Miyajima serve freshly made ones, or deep fried ones called “age manju.”

    Hiroshima Tourist Navigator
    Miyajima Sightseeing Official Website

    Text: KAWANISHI Yukari









    市内の中心街から広島駅へ移動すると、近くには、日本プロ野球チーム・広島東洋カープのホームグラウンド「MAZDA Zoom-Zoom スタジアム広島(マツダスタジアム)」があります。日本では珍しい左右非対称のグラウンドで、クッションソファーの上に寝そべって観戦できる席やバーベキューを楽しめる席などがあり、さまざまなスタイルで試合を楽しめます。







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  • 緑豊かな都市、仙台と日本三景の一つ、松島

    [From July Issue 2010]

    Sendai City is the capital of Miyagi Prefecture and the largest city in the Tohoku (northeastern) region, with a population of over one million. It is also famous as a place deeply associated with DATE Masamune, (a.k.a. “Dokuganryu” – the one-eyed dragon) a warlord of the Sengoku period. And while his home, Sendai Castle, known as Aoba Castle, no longer exists, many people still visit the castle ruins, which offer a panoramic view of the city below. Sendai’s climate is mild, being not too cold in winter and not too hot in the summer.

    Each summer, Sendai hosts a big event – The Sendai Tanabata Festival. It is one of the three great festivals of the Tohoku region, along with the Nebuta Festival of Aomori Prefecture and the Kanto Festival of Akita Prefecture. Held from August 6th to the 8th, it is a traditional festival that continues to be observed since the early Edo period, attracting over two million yearly visitors. A myriad of Tanabata (Star Festival) decorations are put up around Sendai Station, and throughout the shopping arcades. And, a fireworks display takes place the night before the festival officially begins.

    The Jozenji Street Jazz Festival is held yearly on the second Saturday and Sunday of September, with this year marking its 20th anniversary. About 700 bands gather from across the country and perform on a number of stages set up throughout the city. In addition to Jazz, visitors can enjoy various other genres of music.

    Sendai is also known as “The City of Trees,” as its avenues are lined with beautifully tended zelkova trees. In December, the Pageant of Starlight festival is held, in which these trees are illuminated by some 600,000 light bulbs. Many couples visit this place, especially around Christmas time.

    Sendai is also home to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, their professional baseball team. Whenever there is a game, their home field at Kleenex Stadium Miyagai is packed with spectators all wearing caps in the team color of dark red. Their soccer team, Vegalta Sendai, is also well-supported by many of the locals.

    Sendai is also knows as a “study capital.” The city is home to a number of universities, technical colleges and educational institutions, where many people come to study, not only from within Miyagi Prefecture, but also from outside the prefecture and abroad. Tohoku University is especially famous for its high standard of research and for having produced a Nobel Laureate.

    Many tourists visit Sendai, fascinated by not only its various events and beautiful scenery, but also by its rich food culture as well. Throughout the city there are numerous restaurants specializing in gyutan (beef tongue), which is considered to be a luxury food item. Zunda, sweet paste made from crushed edamame (young soybeans), is commonly served with rice cakes, but has more recently been used in milkshakes and parfaits. There are many other Sendai specialties available, including Sasa-kamaboko (a bamboo-leaf-shaped fish cake made from whitefish, sake and salt).

    From Sendai, it’s easy to take the JR Senseki Line to Matsushima, known as one of Japan’s Three Great Views, along with Amanohashidate in Kyoto and Miyajima in Hiroshima. The sea stretches out right in front of the station, where small islands covered with pine trees seem to highlight the water’s blue color. Throughout the year, tourists from home and abroad visit to enjoy this beautiful view. And, there are even some haiku and tanka poems written about it.

    Matsushima is also famous for its fish and shellfish. Since oysters are especially plentiful here, there are special cruises available during the winter and spring months on which you can enjoy oyster pot dishes. Because the Shiogama fishing port is located near by, you can further enjoy fresh seafood in the number of sushi shops and other restaurants serving sashimi.

    One of Matsushima’s more popular tourist attractions is the Marinepia Matsushima Aquarium. Opened in 1927, it is Japan’s second oldest aquarium, displaying many kinds of sea creatures, including sea lions, sea otters and dolphins.

    Matsushima is also a great place for viewing the moon. Kanran-tei was a teahouse that was inherited by DATE Masamune from feudal lord TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi. Also known as Tsukimi-goten (the Moon-Watching-Palace), it had long been cherished by the Date family. There is even an anecdote about the beauty of the moon over Matsushima: it is believed that Albert EINSTEIN once said, “No great artisan could reproduce its beauty.” Many of the great figures in history have also been mesmerized by the beautiful moon over Matsushima.

    A number of important cultural assets remain in Matsushima. One example is the Buddhist temple Godaido, first built in 807 AD, then later rebuilt by Date Masamune in 1604. Zuiganji Temple, designated as a national treasure, was also built by Date Masamune, and is currently under renovation. That work is scheduled to continue until 2018. A beloved place of the Date family, Matsushima has many historic buildings associated with Date Masamune.

    Sendai also offers the Izumigatake Mountains where you can enjoy skiing, and the renowned Akiu hot springs. The famous Zao ski resort is also located nearby. Traveling from Sendai aboard the JR Tohoku Honsen, you can arrive at Shiroishi in about 50 minutes, which is quite popular with Japanese history buffs. The reason for this seems to be that the castle of KATAKURA Kojuurou, who served under Date Masamune, is in Shiroishi, and has recently been popularized through an historical video game. So, as you can see, the Sendai area offers a variety of fascinating places to discover.

    Miyagi Prefecture Tourism Division
    Sendai Sightseeing Information
    Sendai Tourism & Convention Bureaw
    Matsushima Tourist Association

    Text: INAIZUMI Shuko

















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  • 南国リゾートの島―沖縄

    [From June Issue 2010]

    Okinawa Prefecture is located in the southernmost part of Japan, and is reachable via direct flights from major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka. As the only subtropical region in Japan, Okinawa is warm all year round, boasting an annual average temperature of about 22℃, and a winter temperature never falling below 10℃. All this strong sunshine makes the native hibiscus plants, and the sparkling emerald ocean, look even more lush and beautiful.

    Although now a popular tourist destination attracting some 5 million visitors annually, Okinawa was once an independent state called the Ryukyu Kingdom. Over time it has developed a number of historic, World Heritage Sites, as well as other fascinating cultural elements including performing arts, craftwork and local cuisine. While you can travel by bus or taxi when visiting tourist spots within Naha City, traveling to the outskirts is easier done by taxi or rental car.

    The northern part of Okinawa’s main island is just a few hours’ drive from Naha Airport and remains a precious part of the main island, preserving its rich natural environment. The area’s most popular tourist spot is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, one of the world’s largest, located within the Ocean Expo Park in Motobu-cho. Featuring “The Kuroshio (Black Current) Sea,” and “The Coral Sea” tanks, which allow for direct interaction with creatures that live in the shallows, the aquarium introduces the waters of Okinawa from every angle, providing plenty of things to see.

    The captive breeding of several whale sharks and manta rays, along with the large scale exhibit of living coral sustained in an “open system” (in which water pumped directly from the sea flows into the tank and then directly back out again) are the first such attempts at this in the world. Through one of the world’s largest acrylic windows, you can peer across the huge Kuroshio Sea tank’s massive 7,500 cubic meter size, and see whale sharks and manta rays swim vigorously. While just outside you can further enjoy a dazzling dolphin show at the open-air Okichan Theater.

    Five minutes by car from the Ocean Expo Park is Bise Village, offering streets lined with fukugi trees (Garcinia subelliptica), some of them 300 years old. They were originally planted across Okinawa long ago to protect village houses from typhoons and sea winds.

    The northern part of Okinawa’s main island is also the first place in Japan where people can enjoy viewing the yearly cherry blossoms. Hikan cherry trees, which have bell-shaped blossoms in deep pink, bloom in the area in late January, with later blooms happening further down south. At the popular viewing spots such as Yaedake (Motobu-cho) and near the Nago Castle Ruins (Nago City), various festivals are held while the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Furthermore, throughout Okinawa, cherry trees are planted along slopes so people can enjoy the seasonal ritual while taking long walks through the rows of blooming trees.

    Heading South on national route 58, which runs along the island’s west coast, you can see the breathtakingly beautiful emerald ocean stretching out before your very eyes. In this area there are a number of side-by-side resort hotels and beautiful beaches where vacationers can enjoy swimming.

    In Okinawa, the swimming season lasts from May through October, during which time you can also enjoy other aquatic activities such as riding banana boats and jet skiing. Okinawa is also known as a mecca for scuba diving, which can be enjoyed all year round.

    In Naha City, the center of Okinawa, popular tourists spots including the busy Kokusai Street, and Shuri Castle can be found. Naha City also boasts a number of cultural assets, including the ruins of “gusuku” (meaning “castle” or “fortress” in Okinawa) that dates back to the Ryukyu Kingdom era. Of the prefecture’s nine designated World Heritage Sites, four are located in Naha City, with the Ruins of Shuri Castle, the king’s royal residence, playing an important role as the center of politics, where most official ceremonies took place.

    The Shuri Castle Festival, held annually in early November, is a big event that celebrates the Ryukyu Kingdom era through traditional dance and a gorgeous procession of people dressed in the costumes of the royalty, and nobility of that period. Around Shuri Castle there are many spots where strolling can be enjoyed, including the stone-paved road in Kinjo-cho, where Bingata (Okinawa’s traditional dyed cloth) studios are also located.

    During the Ryukyu Dynasty, the chefs of Shuri Castle developed some excellent cuisine, having been sent to China to learn how to cook. Since then, typical Okinawan pork dishes are said to use every part of the pig, except for its squeal, and are staples for most of the locals. Rafute, braised pork belly, and Ashi Tibitchi, stewed pig’s feet, are still served at dinner tables across Okinawa, and are indispensable for special occasions.

    Naha City’s Makishi Public Market, a.k.a. “Okinawa’s Stomach,” offers a huge variety of local food, but what immediately catches your eye upon entering the building, is the fresh fish corner displaying such vividly colored catch as irabucha (parrot fish). In the meat corner, every part of the pig is sold, from chunks of meat to feet and chiraga (skin from the head). There is even a restaurant on the second floor where you can have food you purchased on the first floor cooked for you right then and there.

    Okinawa’s main street is the 1.6 kilometer long Kokusai Street that’s lined with souvenir shops, boutiques and many restaurants, and is usually festively crowded until late at night. Every Sunday from noon to 6 p.m., the street turns into a “transit mall” (“for pedestrians only”), remaining vehicle-free so that people can enjoy the lively street performances and open-air cafes.

    Yachimun (Okinawan for “pottery”) Street in Tsuboya, located near the Makishi Public Market, is known as a pottery street, and is lined with dozens of pottery studios and retail shops. Many visitors to Okinawa keep returning, fascinated by its beautiful, natural surrounding, the unique culture and rich history. In Okinawa, there is always something intriguing to learn about!

    Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau

    Text: SATO Kumiko
















    財団法人 沖縄観光コンベンションビューロー


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  • アジアの玄関口―福岡

    [From May Issue 2010]

    Fukuoka City is the biggest metropolis on Kyushu Island, and is considered to be one of Japan’s most vibrant cities. Just a mere 200 km across the sea from Busan, South Korea’s southernmost city, it is closer to both Korea and China than it is to Tokyo. To more warmly welcome its many non-Japanese tourists, signs in both Hangul and Chinese are everywhere across the city. The Kyushu Shinkansen (bullet train) connecting Fukuoka and Kagoshima in about 1 hour and 20 minutes, is scheduled to start operating in the spring of 2011.

    Kyushu Island offers many famous tourist destinations, including Aso, Yufuin, Kurokawa, Beppu, and Nagasaki. Fukuoka, the transportation hub and commercial center of the Kyushu region, is the perfect starting point for a deeper journey into Kyushu, with many interesting points along the way. It’s also a popular destination because of its easy accessibility, with both the international airport and the ferry terminal connecting to the city center by a quick, 15-minute, public transportation ride.

    A 30-minute train or car ride will take you either to Seaside Momochi, offering a beach overlooking Hakata Bay, or the scenic Abura-yama Shimin-no-Mori (Nature Observation Woods) where you can mingle with farm animals. Another possible day trip is to the historical Futsukaichi Spa, which dates back some 1,300 years. Such varied destinations allow tourists to enjoy both the city, as well as the area’s abundant natural surroundings.

    In Fukuoka, also referred to as “Hakata,” a strong, traditional culture still exists. There are many age-old shrines and temples to visit, including the Shofukuji Temple, Japan’s very first Zen temple. There are many famous festivals in Hakata, including July’s well-known, annual Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival, where men kaku or carry 1-ton “Yamakasa (floats)” on their shoulders. There is also the 800-year-old “Hakata Dontaku Minato Festival,” Japan’s largest citizen’s festival, held during May’s Golden Week holiday.

    Displayed at the Kushida Shrine, fondly referred to by the locals as “O-kushida-san,” is a 10-meter high “Kazariyama” (decorated float) that can be viewed anytime of the year. Within the shrine grounds, visitors can reflect on Hakata’s long history while viewing the 1,000 year-old gingko tree, that has been designated both a prefectural and natural treasure, or, at the Hakata History Museum, where a shuinjou (official document) written by the famous feudal lord TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi, is on display.

    A 5-minute walk from Kushida Shrine will take you to CANAL CITY Hakata, a commercial area offering shopping, a movie theater, and a performing arts center. Through it flows a canal approximately 180 meters long where visitors can enjoy an hourly water fountain show. With approximately 12 million annual visitors, CANAL CITY ranks up there with similar commercial areas in both Tokyo and Osaka, and is popular not only as a shopping destination, but also as an entertainment area.

    A 15-minute walk from CANAL CITY Hakata, you’ll arrive at Tenjin – Kyushu’s biggest commercial district. The area around Nakasu Kawabata is famous for its yatai culture. A yatai is a small, simple food stall that can be packed up and change location. In the evenings many of these carts, equipped with compact kitchens and limited counter space, line the streets and run along the riverside, where both locals and tourists enjoy visiting.

    A conventional yatai menu includes ramen and oden, but at either a Hakata or Tenjin yatai, you will find a variety of foods being served, including tempura, okonomi-yaki, Italian food, Okinawan food and cocktails. The most popular of them all is the Hakata ramen characterized by its thin noodles and tonkotsu (pork bone) broth. Stewing the pork bones over high heat for a long time makes the fat and flavor blend into the soup stock, thus creating the soup’s signature thick texture. This is especially popular with non-Japanese people who don’t often enjoy fish and soy flavors. The pushcart business, which started just after World War II, has grown to about 160 stalls in Fukuoka City alone, which is estimated to be roughly 40 per cent of all the pushcarts in Japan.

    The “Hakatakko (people who were born and live in Hakata)” are characterized as “taking in the new and valuing hospitality.” People are often seen conversing and drinking with strangers at yatai stands. An ippai (drink) at a Hakata yatai stand often consists of shochu rather than Japanese sake. Shochu is distilled alcohol made most commonly from sweet potato or barley and often has a strong aroma. Kyushu is the greatest shochu-consuming region in Japan.

    Shochu is usually made from sweet potato, buckwheat, and barley, but other unique ingredients such as sesame, brown sugar, and corn can also be used, with oyuwari (diluting it with hot water) being the most common way to drink it. The shochu found and fancied at yatai or izakaya can be purchased at liquor stores as omiyage (souvenirs) or on visits to local distilleries.

    After a scrumptious night out in Hakata, take a stroll over to the western beachside area of Fukuoka City, where you will find the 234-metre high Fukuoka Tower, Japan’s tallest seaside tower, as well as the Fukuoka Yahoo Dome. Shopping enthusiasts should not leave without visiting Marinoa City Fukuoka, the huge outlet-shopping/resort facility with a hotel proudly boasting, “The seaside outlet mall with a ferries wheel.”

    At Marinoa City Fukuoka, shoppers can purchase world-famous, brands-name merchandise at discount prices – some slashed down to 50% off. On weekends, it’s a very popular destination with visitors from all over Kyushu as well as many other Asian countries. Traditional culture, good food, and great shopping – just the right elements for traveling enjoyment – are all found in one compact, international city. That is the fascination of Fukuoka.

    Fukuoka Convention & Visitors Bureau
    Photo courtesy by Fukuoka City

    Text: YOSHIDA Akiko
















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  • 世界自然遺産の森と歴史につつまれて― 青森

    [From April Issue 2010]

    Aomori Prefecture is located on the northernmost tip of Honshu Island, where the Mutsu-wan (bay) nestles between the eastern Shimokita, and western Tsugaru Peninsulas. It is a region blessedly surrounded by the abundant waters of the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan and the Tsugaru Kaikyo (Straits). The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri Festival held annually in August is a well-known festival. Currently only accessible via the Touhoku Shinkansen to Hachinohe station, the Shin-Aomori station is scheduled to open this December, enabling visitors to travel without transferring, directly from Tokyo station to Aomori City.

    In Aomori City visitors can explore the Sannai Maruyama Site, Japan’s largest archeological dig that dates back to the Jomon Period (approximately 16,500 to 3,000 years ago). The full-scale excavation, which began in 1992, revealed that ancient residents lived communally in neighboring villages and regularly interacted with one another.

    Findings considered between 4 ~ 5,500 years old reveal pit-house remains, grave sites, traces of larger buildings, Jomon-era clay pots, stone ware, clay figures, jewelry, jade and obsidian (volcanic glass) from far off regions. DNA analysis further revealed that chestnuts were also cultivated – a discovery which greatly changed the perception of Jomon-era culture.

    Renown for its history, Aomori Prefecture is also known in the literary world as the birthplace of author DAZAI Osamu (1909~1948), whose works include “Shayo (The Setting Sun)” and “Ningen Shikkaku (No Longer Human).” Dazai, the youngest of eight surviving children, was born into a wealthy landowner family in Goshogawara City. Now, both his enthusiastic fans and the local citizens look after his home, which houses the Dazai Osamu Museum, or “Shayo Kan.” And more recently, Dazai’s work has attracted new fans through the comic book version of “Ningen Shikkaku” and the film adaptation of “Viyon no Tsuma (Villon’s Wife).”

    Hirosaki is known for Mount Iwaki and Hirosaki Castle. Mount Iwaki, also referred to as “Tsugaru Fuji,” stands tall at 1,625 meters above sea level. At Hirosaki Castle, annual cherry blossoms bloom just in time for May’s Golden Week holidays (from the end of April to the beginning of May), making it a favorite viewing spot for visitors from all across the country.

    The castle grounds, measuring 385, 200 square meters, were built during his reign of TSUGARU Nobuhira, daimyou (lord) of the Tsugaru Han (domain), and can hold more than 10 Tokyo Domes. The current tenshukaku, the castle’s tallest and most-central building with rooftop views, was rebuilt in 1811. Hirosaki Castle is one of last 12 remaining castles that have tenshukaku from the Edo period, along with the hori (moat) and ishigaki (stone walls).

    Aomori prefecture also grows the most apples in Japan. The Tsugaru region around Hirosaki City, which is located in the Southwestern part of the prefecture, is the main apple-producing area. During typhoons it is common for apples to fall from the trees, with those that remain known as “unfailing apples” which some farmers sell to students preparing for exams.

    Additionally, Aomori Prefecture is proud to have the “Shirakami Sanchi” (Mountains) designated as a UNESCO World Nature Heritage Site. Spreading over to its neighboring prefecture of Akita, it is one of the largest, primeval, beech tree forests in the world, and home to various precious flora and fauna, including black bears, Japanese Macaques, black woodpeckers, and golden eagles. All of Shirakami Sanchi, with its roaring waterfalls and beautiful landscape, is said to be a natural, living, outdoor museum, and as a Heritage Site designee, it is an invaluable and precious global asset.

    Similar to Shirakami Sanchi, Towada Lake also adjoins Akita Prefecture. Surrounded by primeval forests, it is 378 meter deep, with 20 meters of underwater visibility. On its lakeshore stands the bronze statue of “Otome-no zou (maiden by the lake)” created by the poet and sculptor, TAKAMURA Kotaro.

    Drained by the Oirase River, Towada Lake is such a popular spring and autumn tourist attraction, with its roughly 14 kilometer walkway, that there are often traffic jams getting to and from the area.

    Another popular tourist destination is Mount Osorezan, located near Mutsu City, in the middle of the Shimokita Peninsula. According to Japanese tradition, “Dread Mountain,” where the smoky, sulfur smell always hangs in the air, is the gateway to Hell or the Pure Land, through which souls pass on their way to the underworld.

    During the summer festival season, worshippers gather at Mount Osorezan from all over Japan to welcome back the itako (spiritual mediums), who return in the hopes of communicating with the departed. Popular itako usually have very long line ups. At Mount Osorezan, lodging at the temple is also available.

    The three, spoken Aomori dialects are so distinct that sometimes people in Aomori prefecture can’t understand one another. Their dialects are all short. For example: asking “Ku?”, or saying “Ku.” or “Ke.” while similar sounding, all mean slightly different things: “Would you like to eat this?” “I want to eat it.” “(Go ahead and) eat it.” When Aomori people are interviewed on national television, sub-titles are sometimes included so that viewers can understand what is being said. Aomori Prefecture: pleasantly filled with unique surprises.

    Aomori Prefectural Tourism Federation
    Hirosaki Tourism and Convention Bureau

    Text: HAMADA Miyako

















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  • 外国文化が芽生えた港町― 神戸

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Kobe City stretches east to west, facing the Seto Inland Sea and with the lush green of Mount Rokko in the background. Since the opening of the Port of Kobe in 1868, Kobe continues to thrive as an international port city. With a fine mixture of retro and modern elements, this stylish city offers ritzy culture.

    Movies, jazz, soccer, golf, coffee, ramune (lemon soda), cafes, buta-man (steamed pork buns), Worcestershire sauce, karaoke equipment and even perms, have all spread from Kobe to the rest of Japan. The tendency of “Kobekko” (people in Kobe) to enjoy new things is seen everywhere across the city.

    Most of the tourist spots in the center of Kobe are within walking distance of one another, but you can visit these spots more efficiently by using the “City Loop,” a green bus route that covers Kitano Ijinkan-gai, the Former Foreign Settlement, Nankin-machi, Meriken Park, Harborland and other sights. The bus covers the entire route in about 60 minutes. You can get on and off the bus freely at any of 17 green stops if you buy a one-day pass, which also provides discounts at many tourist spots.

    The Sannomiya and Motomachi areas form the center of Kobe. Heading up the mountain from Sannomiya will take you to Kitano Ijinkan-gai. After the opening of the Port of Kobe, non-Japanese built their residences in Kitano-cho’s elevated area, overlooking the ocean. Many of the foreign residences are open to the public as museums, including Weathercock House, with the weathercock on its triangle-shaped roof, Moegi House, Rhine House, Uroko House, English House and Youkan-Nagaya-French House. Blending in with these foreign residences are a number of fashionable cafes and restaurants.

    No tour of this foreign community is complete without a visit to Kitano Meister Garden. Using the former Kitano Elementary School building, which faces the Tor Road, connecting Kitano Ijinkan-gai and the Former Foreign Settlement, it houses 21 unique ateliers, where you can browse and buy “Kobe Brand” items while observing the skills of the professionals firsthand. You can also try your hand at making your own Kobe Brand item.

    Shinkansen (bullet train) Shin-Kobe Station is a short walk from Kitano Ijinkan-gai, where the Shin-Kobe Ropeway (aerial lift) is available from the mountain side of the station. This takes about 10 minutes to arrive at the last stop, Nunobiki Herb Garden, offering greenhouses, museums, a restaurant, and a garden filled with pleasant and relaxing aromas, from which, you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view. Just under the elevated railroad on the first floor of Shin-Kobe Station, you will come to Nunobiki Falls. These falls are just one of the sources of “Kobe Water.”

    Sannomiya, where the city’s major transportation systems are concentrated, serves as Kobe’s gateway. Flower Road, stretching from JR Sannomiya Station both north and south, is the city’s main street. Located on the station’s south side are the Flower Clock Kobe, one of the city’s most famous symbols, Kobe City Hall Building with its 24th-floor observation deck offering panoramic views of the city, and Higashi Yuenchi Park, an oasis of relaxation for locals. Kobe Information Center (Hello Station Kobe) is located on the first floor of Kotsu Center Building near the West exit of JR Sannomiya Station, where non-Japanese tourists can obtain “welcome coupons” giving them discounts at many facilities.

    It has been 15 years since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (the Kobe Earthquake) occurred in the southern part of Hyogo Prefecture on January 17, 1995. A memorial ceremony is held annually on January 17 at Higashi Yuenchi Park to mourn the victims and pass on stories of the disaster. At the park, “1.17 A Light of Hope,” is a memorial to the victims that is lit on this day. Another monument to the victims, which also symbolizes the city’s revival, contains plaques engraved with their names. At the park’s north side stands a monument featuring the statue of MARINA holding a clock that stopped at the precise time of the earthquake.

    Other spots of interest include Meriken Park’s “Earthquake Memorial Park” and the “Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution” located in HAT Kobe, near the newly developed waterfront area. You can further visit “Nojima Fault Preservation Museum” in Hokudan-cho Earthquake Memorial Park on Awaji Island, and don’t miss Nagata’s symbol of revival, the giant-sized, “Tetsujin 28-Go” (Gigantor) figure created by Kobe-born cartoonist YOKOYAMA Mitsuteru.

    The Former Foreign Settlement is an area straddling Sannomiya and Motomachi, to the west of Higashi Yuenchi Park. After the opening of the port, it was organized as a center of commerce and trade and a residential area for non-Japanese. Lined with boutiques, restaurants and cafes, which are all housed in Western stone buildings, the area has a sophisticated feel. Since it is also home to the Kobe Lamp Museum, the Kobe City Museum and the Kobe Lampwork Glass Museum, visitors can also enjoy looking at works of art there. Along with Higashi Yuenchi Park, this neighborhood is the site of the popular winter illumination event “Kobe Luminarie.”

    To the south of the stylish Motomachi Shopping Arcade, defined by its arched, stained-glass entrance way, lies Nankin-machi, Kobe’s Chinatown. In a small area accessible through three two-story gates to the east, west, and south, a number of shops including Chinese restaurants, yum cha (dim sum) stands, Chinese variety stores and sweet cafes stand side-by-side. With raucous cries from merchants, the street is full of energy and always bustles with people, especially in the central Nankin-machi Square.

    Walking from Motomachi toward the beach, you will find the Bay Area. Meriken Park was built by reclaiming Meriken Pier, a remnant from Kobe’s earliest days as a port city. The red Port Tower, the city’s landmark, creates a beautiful contrast against the white Kobe Marine Museum, inspired by waves and sailing ships. The park houses a replica of the sailing ship Santa Maria, as well as the Meriken Theater, a unique monument to Japan’s birthplace of film.

    An esplanade connects the park and Harborland, located on the east side of the port, with various places for shopping, gourmet food and entertainment, most notably the waterfront commercial complex “MOSAIC,” which is also a popular dating spot. From nearby ports, you can take various cruises ships on a variety of routes, such as sailing around the bay and passing through the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge. The views from the sea are quite impressive as well, and since Kobe has many spots frequently used as movies and TV dramas locations, some people may enjoy visiting those places as well.

    When traveling from Tokyo to Sannomiya, take the shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station to JR Shin-Kobe Station, then transfer to the Kobe City Subway and get off at Sannomiya Station. When traveling from Osaka, take the JR Kobe Line from Osaka Station or the Hankyu Railway Kobe Line from Umeda Station, and get off at Sannomiya Station. Or, take the Hanshin Railway from Hanshin Umeda Station to Sannomiya Station.

    Kobe Information Center (Hello Station Kobe)
    Kobe Convention & Visitors Association

    Text: HATSUDA Sachiyo


















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  • 高水三山ハイキングコース

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Located in Tokyo’s Okutama area, this hiking trail traverses three separate mountains: Takamizusan (759m), Iwatakeishiyama (793m) and Sougakusan (756m). Despite their modest heights, hikers can still enjoy fine views of the Kanto plain, Mt. Tsukuba, the Nikko Mountain Range, and neighboring mountains including Tanigawadake on the Jouetsu boarder (between Gunma and Niigata Prefectures) as well as the Okuchichibu mountain area. Hiking the Takamizusan trail is an ideal introduction to other Okutama-area hiking trips.

    The hike begins at Ikusabata train station, where 50 meters to the left of the ticket gate you’ll find a railroad crossing. About 15 minutes after crossing over you’ll come to the Hiramizo Bridge. At the bridge follow the signpost to the left and pass through a quiet mountainside village. You will then come to the Hiramizogawa Bridge. Cross it then and follow the “Tozanguchi” signpost to the beginning of the ascent.

    Ten minutes after passing the landslide marker, you will see the Sabo Dam, where the road you are now traveling on becomes the trail. Crossing a stream, you will climb the mountainside that leads to a small waterfall, and arrive at “Kata no Kohiroba” – a tiny open space on the mountain’s shoulder.

    But don’t stop to rest just yet, for a little further along are some benches and a nice view from Rokugome – the sixth of this mountain’s ten stage ascent. About another 30 minutes up a log stairway is Joufukuin Temple. Rebuilt in 1822, the main building offers various sculptures of lions, elephants and dragons. And while the peak of Takamizusan is located just behind the temple surrounded by trees, with no view to speak of, you can still greatly enjoy the changing colors of maple trees during the autumn season.

    The trail then descends northwestwardly down a steep slope towards Iwatakeishiyama. Flattening out, you can now view from a distance and to the right, the dome-shaped peaks of Nikko’s Nantaisan, just over the mountains of Okumusashi. Then, at the foot of Iwatakeishiyama the trail splits in two, with the right trail leading upwards towards the peak where the mountaintop commands a full view of the Kanto plains and Bou no Oreyama. For a short rest there are benches at the summit.

    Lined with rocks, the trail then meanders southwest towards Sougakusan. Passing through a reforested area, it climbs to the flat hilltop, where Aoi Shrine, dedicated to Okuninusi no Mikoto, stands. After descending the Sougakusan’s southern face, the trail continues along the ridgeline eventually doubling back through the reforested area. You will eventually find yourself walking along the Ome Kaido Street towards Mitake. The Mitake train station is located on your right.

    Ome City Tourist Information

    Text: YAMAMOTO Masanori










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  • 花々の宝庫 - 八丈島















    [:en][From February Issue 2010]

    Located near the southend of the Izu Island chain, 287 kilometers from Tokyo, Hachijo-jima offers a relaxing yet slightly exotic environment just 50 minutes from Haneda airport. The plane lands on a small strip that cuts right through the center of the island on land formed from the lava of two volcanoes, which provides most of the islands habitable area. Once off the plane, the layout is simple, Mt. Mihara in one direction and the iconic Hachijo-fuji directly opposite.
    Hachijo-fuji gives a lot of reward for very little effort. Most of the trail to the 854-meter peak consists of steps, and while it can leave one short of breath, it’s simple and relatively fast. At the top is a spectacular view of the rest of the island and its smaller but striking neighbor Hachijo-kojima. Walking around the narrow edge of the crater takes anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour depending on your speed.
    Unlike some of the recently active volcanoes in Japan, Hachijo-fuji’s last eruption was as far back as 1605, allowing time for a small forest to grow at the bottom of its deep crater. A clear illustration of the old lava flow as it hit the ocean can be seen at Nanbara-senjojiki, a stark expanse of black rock by Yaene Port.
    Back down below, it’s hard not to notice the island’s other natural wonder – its flora. Besides fishing, cultivating and harvesting flowers and other plants is a large part of the islanders’ business. Bright red hibiscus can be seen near houses and streets throughout the island along with aloe and the Colorful Bird of Paradise flower, which can be bought much cheaper than on mainland Japan.
    The ashitaba (tomorrow leaf) plant can be found growing just about everywhere as well and is used in many foods like udon, tempura and even ice cream. The only thing more ubiquitous might be palm trees. They’re everywhere, lining the streets and decorating some people’s front lawn.
    The plethora of tropical foliage owes much of its prosperity to the rich, volcanic soil and sunshine, as well as to the rain which frequently falls on the island. But there’s still plenty to do if a rainy day intrudes on one’s trip. Maybe the most obvious, and relaxing, would be to take advantage of Hachijo-jima’s numerous onsen (hot springs).
    To learn about the island’s history – for example how it was used as a prison of sorts for exiles during the Edo period -, there’s the Hachijo History and Folklore Museum with loads of artifacts for the curious. The Hachijo Visitor Center in the Botanical Garden, which houses 140 different species of flora, focuses on the island’s plant and wildlife.
    The TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) geothermal plant is also a fascinating place to visit to see exactly how they harness the island’s natural heat deep below the surface to provide over 20% of Hachijo-jima’s energy needs. More hands-on activities like slicing up your own sashimi with local fishermen or trying weaving on an old school loom, used to make local textiles, are also possible.
    Last, but not least, one other must-see is the Ozato Tamaishi cobblestone wall, with its naturally rounded stones. The beautifully unique neighborhood has an old-fashioned feel reminiscent of Okinawa.
    The journey to Hachijo-jima is not only possible by plane, but also by ship (about an 11 hour journey). Tours can be arranged, and once there, travel can be done by rental car or bicycle, city bus or tour bus, and taxi.
    Hachijo Town Office
    Hachijo Island Sightseeing Association
    Text: Jeremy DROUIN[:]

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  • 1,300年の歴史が残る街―奈良





















    In December 1998, eight cultural assets in Nara were declared World Heritage Sites as the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.” The sites were Todai-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple, the Kasuga-Taisha (Kasuga Great Shrine), Gango-ji Temple, Yakushi-ji Temple, Toshodai-ji Temple, the ruins of Heijo Palace (the Nara Palace Site), and Kasugayama Primeval Forest. Sightseeing tours starting from Nara Station cover most of these eight sites.
    Heading east from Kintetsu Nara Station or JR Nara Station, you will see Nara Park spread before you, with Todai-ji, standing far in the distance. A hall housing the seated image of the Great Buddha (Vairocana Buddha) is said to be one of the largest wooden structures in the world. The statue is 14.98 meters tall (sitting height), with its knees 12.08 meters in width, and weighs an estimated 380 tons.
    Mount Wakakusa, also known as Mount Mikasa, is seen behind Todai-ji, forming part of the Kasugayama Primeval Forest. An event called Yama-yaki (mountain-burning) is held there on the fourth Saturday of January every year. The purpose of the event is to grieve for ancestors’ souls, but it also helps to regulate the grass on the mountain. After a few minutes of a fireworks display, a fire is set and the entire mountain is engulfed in flames.
    To the east from the hall is Nigatsudo Hall, which is famous for the Shunie ceremony or Omizutori. It is a severe training held annually from March 1 through 14 in which priests pray to Kannon Bosatsu enshrined at Nigatsudo Hall for world peace and forgiveness for people’s sins. It has been observed without interruption since the Nara period (710~794).
    A short walk from Todai-ji, toward the southeast, will take you to the Kasuga-Taisha, which was founded to guard the Heijo-kyo metropolis in the Nara period. The shrine houses numerous national treasures and important cultural properties. The Kasuga-Taisha is located within Nara Park and its tame deer are believed to have been messengers of a god that visited the shrine. Therefore, these deer are highly esteemed. “shika-senbei” (deer crackers) are sold in the park to give to the deers, and visitors are allowed to feed them freely.
    There are approximately 3,000 lanterns on the grounds of the shrine, and twice every year, on Setsubun or the day before the beginning of spring (February 3 or 4) and during the Bon period (August 13 to 16), the Mantoro festival is held, where all the lanterns are lit. Another festival, the Kasuga Wakamiya On-Matsuri, is observed in December, where people wearing clothing from past eras, ranging from the Heian period to the Edo period, march in procession. Both of these events have over 800 years of history.
    Heading west out of the first gateway to the Kasuga-Taisha, you will see Sarusawa Pond. Going further west, you will come to an intersection with a shopping arcade. Turning right and walking through the arcade will take you back to Kintetsu Nara Station. If you turn left, you will see the arcade continue all the way to Nara-machi. This area is an old shopping district, with the arcade running the entire length between Kintetsu Nara Station and Nara-machi.
    Nara-machi retains the ancient landscape of the town, with a number of shops converted from old residences. Gango-ji is also located in this area. For the past few years, Nara-machi has been a popular tourist spot, where you can find unique shops such as a store selling small objects made of mosquito net cloth that has long been produced in Nara and restaurants serving locally grown vegetables. The streets in this neighborhood are narrow, and so feel quite crowded.
    Nara-machi is also home to a small shrine called Koshindo, where a statue of Shomen Kongo is enshrined. Red stuffed toys representing monkeys, which legend says are messengers of Koshin (another name for Shomen Kongo), are hung out under the eaves of houses in the area. These are called the “Scapegoat Monkeys” and are intended to ward off evil spirits and ensure the safety of the family. They are sold as charms at Nara-machi Shiryou-kan Museum (open only on weekends and holidays).
    If you walk back toward Nara Park from the shopping arcade, you will come across Kofuku-ji Temple on the way. The temple, which in 2010 will celebrate the 1,300th anniversary of its founding, is famous for the Five Storied Pagoda, the Nanendo (Southern Octagonal Hall) and the statue of Ashura. The most popular spot for posing for photographs in Kofuku-ji is the Five Storied Pagoda. The structure has a sharply pointed roof, giving a powerful impression.
    From Kintetsu Nara Station, you can take a bus to the ruins of Heijo Palace (the Nara Palace Site). Heijo-kyo (where the palace was located) was an old capital of Japan established in 710 by Empress Genmei. It is believed to have been modeled on Chang’an, an ancient Chinese capital during the Tang Dynasty, and it prospered as the capital for about 70 years. The Suzakumon (the main gate to the palace) and the Daikokuden hall (the central audience hall) have been restored, allowing visitors to imagine what the ancient capital looked like in those days. As 2010 will mark the 1,300th year since the capital was transferred to Heijo-kyo, commemorative events are scheduled throughout the year.
    When traveling from Tokyo, take a bullet train from JR Tokyo Station to JR Kyoto Station. Take the Nara Line and get off at JR Nara Station (total time about 3 hours to 3 hours and 20 minutes) or take the Kintetsu Kyoto Line and get off at Kintetsu Nara Station (total time about 3 hours). When traveling from Osaka, take the Kintetsu Line from Osaka Namba Station to Kintetsu Nara Station (about 30 minutes) or take the Kansai Main Line from JR Osaka Station to JR Nara Station (about 50 minutes).
    Horyu-ji Temple
    In order to get to Horyu-ji Temple, take a train from JR Nara Station to JR Horyu-ji Station, which takes about 15 minutes. From the station, it’s about 20 minutes on foot to the temple. Or you can take a bus for Horyu-ji mon mae (10 minutes). Built by Prince Shotoku in the Asuka period (538~710), the temple is said to be the oldest wooden structure in the world. In 1993, it became the first World Heritage Site registered by UNESCO in Japan.
    The vast site of about 187,000 square meters houses a number of articles and structures totaling over 2,300, nearly too many to be covered by a day trip. Many of them have been designated as national treasures and important cultural assets such as the Kudara Kannon statue and the Tamamushi-no-Zushi (a personal shrine). It is said that the temple had adopted Chinese culture via the Korean Peninsula.
    Photos courtesy by Nara City Sightseeing Association
    Ikaruga Tourism Association
    Text: SEKI Keiko
    [From January Issue 2010][:]

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