Destination: Kyushu

With summer quickly approaching, why not try a destination off the beaten path of Tokyo-Kyoto for your next trip? Although it takes some time to get there, the island of Kyushu has a lot to offer: gorgeous natural scenery, delicious foods, and activities to satisfy anyone’s interests. Whether you aim to soak in an onsen, learn more about Japan’s history, or go out on the town (or a combination of the three), you can do so on Kyushu.

Eight prefectures make up Kyushu, seven of which are on the mainland; the eighth, Okinawa Prefecture, encompasses hundreds of islands south of Japan’s major landmass. Since Okinawa is a destination in and of itself, I will leave it out of my travel advice for this column—besides, I haven’t been there yet! (Neither have I had the chance to travel to Saga or Miyazaki Prefectures, so I will leave them out, too. If you have recommendations for any destinations in Kyushu, feel free to comment below!)

The most convenient way to access Kyushu from Ishikawa Prefecture is by plane. Regular ANA flights connect Komatsu Airport with Fukuoka Airport, where you can disembark and travel downtown within six minutes by subway. Flight times average about an hour and twenty minutes, with prices depending on the season and booking times. If you wish to fly directly into any other prefectures on mainland Kyushu, you will have to travel to Osaka to do so. Taking the train is another option; it’s a two-and-a-half-hour trip by shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station to Hakata Station in Fukuoka (about ¥15000 one-way).

The weather in Kyushu is most favorable during fall and spring, with average temperatures slightly warmer than those on Honshu. In the summer, temperatures can rise to over 30°C with high humidity and rain. Winters are cool to cold, with lows in the single digits. Be sure to bring your rain gear, regardless of the season!

Fukuoka: Fukuoka Prefecture’s capital city, also called Fukuoka, is the largest city in Kyushu and a convenient launch point for trips around the island. The Sanyo and Kyushu shinkansen lines converge at Hakata Station in Fukuoka, and flights to Miyazaki Prefecture and Yakushima leave regularly from Fukuoka Airport. For a night in Fukuoka, I suggest fueling up with a bowl of the region’s famous tonkotsu ramen from Fukuoka’s yatai (food stalls), then walking along the Nakagawa River to see the city light up at night. From the riverbank you can easily venture into the Nakasu or Tenjin entertainment districts lining the east and west side of the river, respectively. For those wishing to travel to Fukuoka over the summer, the city’s oldest festival, Yamakasa, takes place in early July. The festival centers around a series of races run by groups of male representatives from Fukuoka’s seven districts…while carrying enormously heavy kazariyama floats.

Nagasaki: Nagasaki is an infamous name for many: the prefectural capital was the second and (so far) the last city in the world to experience an attack by nuclear bomb. The Fat Man plutonium bomb detonated over Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945. The city as it stands today is a testament to the extraordinary capacity of the Japanese people to overcome adversity and rebuild. Naturally, many places of interest in Nagasaki City reference this horrific historical event. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb museum features a collection of fascinating and sobering photographs, survivor accounts, and other mementos from the bombing. Nagasaki Peace Park displays a number of sculptures and monuments donated to Nagasaki after the bombing as well as a huge statue of a titanic male figure, one hand pointing to the sky to warn of the impending blast.

Peace Statue, Nagasaki Peace Park

Peace Statue, Nagasaki Peace Park, Nagasaki-ken

Nagasaki has much to offer in the way of history outside the realm of World War II as well. Nagasaki Port was one of the only ports open to international trade during sakoku, Japan’s period of “closed country” foreign policy. As a result of Dutch traders’ influence during this time, the Japanese were introduced to badminton, coffee, and photography, among other Western products and inventions. Since 1996, Nagasaki City has endeavored to restore the artificial island of Dejima, which served as a trading post for the Dutch from the 17th to the 19th century. Nagasaki’s expansive Chinatown district lies adjacent to Dejima, if you’re hankering for some Chinese food.

The expanse of the city and Nagasaki Port is perhaps best viewed from Glover Garden, the site of the oldest surviving western-style house in Japan. Completed in 1863, the house and its surrounding gardens were owned by the Scottish merchant Thomas Blake Glover. Both the house and garden escaped the atomic bombing unharmed. The garden is especially beautiful during sakura season.

Glover Garden, Nagasaki, Nagasaki-ken

Glover Garden, Nagasaki, Nagasaki-ken

Lastly, you can visit Hashima, nicknamed “Gunkanjima,” an abandoned island off the coast of Nagasaki and a relic of industrial Japan (not to be confused with Mitsukejima here in Ishikawa, also called “Gunkanjima.” The nickname means “Battle Ship Island” due to the shape of the islands). Gunkanjima functioned as a coal mine until 1974, when petroleum began to overtake coal as an energy source in Japan. The coal mine shut down and the residents of the island abandoned their large concrete apartment buildings, schools, shops, and public bath house, leaving the buildings entirely intact. Subsequent exposure to the elements has transformed Gunkanjima’s structures into an eerie concrete jungle, said to have inspired the lair of Bond villain Raoul Silva in the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall. For many years the island was closed to visitors and visible only from tour boats that circled the island; as of 2009 visitors can set foot on and tour Gunkanjima. Gunkanjima makes the perfect setting for post-apocalyptic photo shoots and is accessible via 30-minute ferry ride.

Kumamoto: If you think Kumamon, Kumamoto’s prefectural mascot, is prevalent outside of Kyushu, just wait until you get to his birthplace. You can buy pretty much anything with Kumamon’s likeness on it here, including Kumamon panties.

Although the name Kumamoto translates as “origin of bears,” the region is perhaps more famous for its horses: Kumamoto is renowned for basashi, raw horse meat, first consumed when real-life “Last Samurai” Saigo Takamori commanded his starving troops to butcher their horses for food during the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. Sometime between the late 19th century and the present day, raw horse became an exalted prefectural delicacy. Ba-yu, a line of bath products containing “the natural ingredient horse oil,” is also popular here. Extract of horse, according to one bottle’s label, is said to be “even better for your hair than mutton fat!”

Kumamoto’s most popular tourist destination is Kumamoto Castle, the site of the aforementioned campaign of Saigo Takamori against Meiji government troops, who entrenched themselves within the castle walls. The castle is considered one of the mightiest and most historically significant castles in Japan for its survival during this time. Another majestic sight, albeit of a different kind, is the volatile Mt. Aso volcano which rests within the world’s largest volcanic caldera. Although certainly out of the way, Mt. Aso is worth a visit. Depending on the season, you can walk, take a bus, or ride in a cable car up to the top of the mountain and look directly into the active crater (although if you have asthma or other breathing problems I would not recommend exposing yourself to volcanic fumes). The eerie, almost Martian landscape surrounding the volcanic crater makes for great hiking, and you can view the expanse of the surrounding caldera from the crater’s highest points.

The active crater of Mt. Aso

The active crater of Mt. Aso, Kumamoto-ken

Oita: Oita Prefecture is the site of some of Kyushu’s most famous onsen resort towns. In Beppu, pungent sulphuric steam rises from vents in the earth every few yards and from the flues of those fortunate enough to have personal hot-spring baths in their own homes. The streets are lined with stands selling corn, sweet potatoes, and eggs steamed in the hot spring vents. The city’s hot spring facilities are numerous and usually charge about ¥1000 to ¥2000 for entry, depending on whether it’s a weekend or weekday. Apart from the onsen, Beppu’s most prominent attractions are the so-called “Hells,” eight geothermic hotspots including vibrantly colored pools of hot water and a geyser. The Hells, considered viewpoints of scenic beauty, have unfortunately become quite touristy—you have to pay admission at each of the Hells separately and you often have to walk through a gift shop in order to see the Hell itself. Furthermore, many kitschy sites have sprung up around the Hells to draw visitors, and a few of them (a gloomy zoo and a crocodile exhibit) keep their featured animals in pretty appalling conditions. My advice is to visit only one or two of the hells and save your money. The Sea Hell (Umijigoku), is striking and features a spacious walking area to boot.

Umijigoku, Beppu, Oita-ken

Umijigoku, Beppu, Oita-ken

Just 10 kilometers inland from Beppu lies the trendy and scenic onsen resort district of Yufuin, said to be the most famous hot spring resort town in Kyushu. Yufuin offers a peaceful, secluded atmosphere, cute boutiques, and museums in addition to hot springs. Some of the rotenburo (open-air baths) here include a lovely view of Mt. Yufu.

Kagoshima: Kagoshima is the southernmost prefecture of Japan’s main islands. I have had the opportunity to visit this wonderful place three times through a sister-city-like connection with my hometown, so of all the places in Kyuushu, I know this one the best. In the prefectural capital of Kagoshima, I recommend the aquarium, which has a large host of fish as well as exhibits featuring the local fauna of Kagoshima Bay. (And who doesn’t enjoy hearing Japanese visitors exclaim “Oishisou!” when observing aquatic exhibits?) Within the city you can also sample kurobuta, specialty pork from black pigs, and other regional delicacies: sweet potatoes, daikon radishes, tiny tangerines, and shochu, liquor distilled from sweet potatoes. For an unparalleled view of the city, ride the Amuran Ferris Wheel on top of the Amu Plaza shopping center or bathe in the rotenburo at Shiroyama Kanko Hotel for an admission fee of about ¥1350.

Kagoshima City faces another one of Kyushu’s stunning active volcanoes, Sakurajima, which frequently belches ash and soot from its main crater. Although living within proximity of an active volcano is certainly dangerous, people in Kagoshima seem to take it in their stride. It’s not uncommon to see the citizens of Kagoshima sweeping soot from their storefronts and wearing masks to prevent the inhalation of the fine gray ash that occasionally descends on the city. About 20,000 people even live on the volcanic island of Sakurajima, and you can pay a visit yourself by taking a trip on one of the regular ferries from Kagoshima Port. On the island, you can rent bicycles and visit Sakurajima’s volcanic museum, hot spring foot baths, an ancient stone torii gate buried in volcanic ash from the volcano’s major eruption in 1914, and a volcanic observatory with a view of Kagoshima City across the bay.

Sakurajima, Kagoshima, Kagoshima-ken

Sakurajima mid-eruption, Kagoshima, Kagoshima-ken

If you’re looking to spend some time on the beach, travel an hour south of the main city along the Satsuma Peninsula to Ibusuki. Underground geysers heat Ibusuki’s black beaches, and burying oneself in the hot sand is said to promote blood circulation (it definitely promotes perspiration). Also worth visiting in Ibusuki is the Flower Park, a botanical garden with over 400 varieties of plants, some of which are downright alien in appearance. A hike to the top of the garden yields an awesome view of Kagoshima Bay. Lastly, be sure to try some nagashi somen, Ibusuki’s famous “swimming noodles.”

One of the craziest flowers I've ever seen, Ibusuki Flower Park, Kagoshima-ken

One of the craziest flowers I’ve ever seen, Ibusuki Flower Park, Kagoshima-ken

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View from the top of Ibusuki Flower Park, Kagoshima-ken

Kagoshima Bonus: Yakushima About 3 hours south of Kagoshima by ferry, Yakushima is an absolutely gorgeous subtropical island forested with ancient cedar trees. The island is accessible by two types of ferry: a fast but expensive Jetfoil that leaves seven times a day (two and a half hours, ¥13000 round trip) or a slow but cheap car ferry departing twice a day (four hours, ¥7900 round trip). Driving the circumference of Yakushima, it seems there is a breathtaking view around every bend. After visiting the island in November, I can assure you it is a must see, as long as you fulfill these conditions:

1) Rent a car. One main road encircles the island, with smaller interior roads. It is easy to drive on Yakushima and worth it to rent a car to avoid having to wait for infrequent buses. Scooters are also available for rent, but if you have substantial luggage you’d do better to rent an enclosed vehicle to keep your belongings out of the rain; the cost is almost the same as that of a scooter if you split the cost between multiple travelers. One of the best ways to see the island is to drive the entire length of the main road, which takes only a few hours depending on how frequently you stop to take pictures.

And who wouldn't want to take pictures with views like this? Yakushima, Kagoshima-ken

And who wouldn’t want to take pictures with views like this? Yakushima, Kagoshima-ken

2) If you don’t speak Japanese well, travel with someone who does. I encountered few English speakers on Yakushima, and renting the car in particular required comprehension of Japanese. The elderly gentleman with whom I negotiated had such a strong accent, it was hard to comprehend if he was even speaking Japanese.

3) Although certainly not necessary, I recommend that you travel to Yakushima during the off season. It makes you feel as though you have the whole island to yourself, and you may even be the only guests in your whole hostel (as my travel buddy and I were!).

Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima, Kagoshima-ken

Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima, Kagoshima-ken

4) Bring a raincoat and rain gear. It rains a lot on Yakushima, but don’t let that stop you from exploring the extraordinary natural beauty this island has to offer.

Have any additional tips for destinations, lodging, or restaurants in Kyushu? Add your comments below!

Close acquaintances have described Karin as “a loose cannon cop on the edge who doesn’t play by the rules.” When not on the run from bounty hunters, she enjoys listening to public radio, eating ice cream, and challenging herself with ambitious cooking projects.

Ishikawa in the News: Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2014

In case you missed it, Hokuriku was named as one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 regions for 2014!

Image by Agustin Rafael C Reyes / Flickr / Getty Images. Via Lonely Planet.

Image by Agustin Rafael C Reyes / Flickr / Getty Images. Via Lonely Planet.

Hokuriku, on Honshū’s west coast, bordered by the Sea of Japan and the magnificent Japan Alps, is saturated with culture, history and striking natural beauty. The city of Kanazawa is king, but is often overlooked by time-poor visitors who favour the more accessible sights to the east. That’s all about to change. In March 2015, the first of the long-anticipated Hokuriku shinkansen (bullet trains) will roll into town, slashing travel times from Tokyo and giving visitor numbers a meteoric boost. Kanazawa is second only to Kyoto for its population of authentic working geisha. Photogenic districts radiate from the site of the former Kanazawa Castle and Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s finest gardens. Rent a car and explore the dramatic scenery of the Noto Peninsula, or dissolve yourself in the sumptuous waters and incomparable ryokan of the Kaga Onsen area.

Read more: Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2014 – top 10 regions

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-tips-and-articles/lonely-planets-best-in-travel-2014-top-10-regions#ixzz2lsPUwqbs

 

Nabana-No-Sato Winter Illumination Tours

Following on from the Kobe Luminarie, `Asunaro Tours` is offering trips to Mie Prefecture`s most beautiful winter illumination, Nabana-No-Sato.

Nabana-No-Sato

Nabana-No-Sato

Nabana-no-sato Winter Illumination

Tour 1:
Cost: Y5,500
Operation Days:
– December 8,9,15,16,17,21,22,23,24
– January 1,2,3,5,6,12,13,14,19,27
– February 2,3,9,10,11,14,16,17,23,24
– March 1,2,3
Length: 1 day
Includes:
– Roundtrip bus fare and inter-area bus travel between Kanazawa/Kaga Stations and the light-up area.
– Stop offs at Jazz Dream Outlet Mall (4hours), Nabana-no-sato Winter Illumination (2.5hours, includes entry fee to the Begonia Garden)
Departs: Kanazawa Station West Exit 7:30am (next,Kaga Station)
Returns: Kanazawa Station (last stop via Kaga Station) 23:30

Tour 2:
Cost: Y8480
Operation Days:
– January 19,20,22,26,27,29,31
– February 2,3,6,8,9,10,11
Length: 1 day
Includes:
– All-you-can-eat lunch at Gamagoori Orange Park (ebi-fry,beef steak,crab,pork shabushabu,kishimen noodles, chirashi-zushi sushi, etc winter`s best foods)
– Nabana-no-sato Winter Illumination (3hours, includes entry fee to the Begonia Garden)
Departs: Kanazawa Station West Exit 8:30am
Returns: Kanazawa Station 23:30 : This tour departs from & arrives at Kanazawa Station only

Again, for bookings and further information, go to your local Hokutetsu Bus office or contact Hokutetsu Koukuu on 076-242-3337. Pamphlets available at Hokutetsu stations and bus offices.

Kobe Luminarie Tours

Winter in Japan = snow. Right?

Wrong. Winter in Japan = snow and illuminations!

Hokutetsu/Komatsu Bus company are offering several great-value day/weekend trips out to some of Japan`s most fantastic illumination events, and it`d be a shame to miss out 🙂 Listed below are the details for the Kobe Luminarie ones:

Kobe Luminarie

Kobe Luminarie

 Kobe Luminarie
By far one of Japan`s most famous illuminations, the Kobe Luminarie is held every year in memorial of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. It is on from December 6 – 17th, 18:00 – 21:00. Expected to be very crowded on weekends in particular, so anticipate queuing and moving around the display in lines on weekends (unfortunately).Tour 1:
Cost: Y4500
Operation Days: Every day from Dec 6th – 17th
Length: 1 day
Includes: Roundtrip bus fare from Kanazawa/Kaga stations to Mitsui Outlet shopping Park, and on to Kobe Luminarie event area.
Departs: 7am Kanazawa Station (West exit) (next,Kaga Station)
Returns: 24:00 Kanazawa Station (last stop,via Kaga Station)
The itinerary is completely free-plan, so you can do your own thing until departure time from the Luminarie 🙂

Tour 2:
Cost: Y16,980
Operation Days: Every day from Dec 7th – 17th
Length: 2 days/1 night
Includes:
– 1 night`s accommodation for 1/2persons per room at Chisan Hotel Shin-Osaka (9pm-9am, western room,breakfast included)
– Roundtrip and tour bus fares from Kanazawa/Kaga Stations, within Kobe City, Osaka City, and to and from Mie and Aichi prefectures
– Day trip to Kobe Harbourland (free plan exploring), and Kobe Luminarie (free plan)
– Day trip to Aichi & Mie prefectures, Outlet Mall Jazz Dream, and Nabana-no-sato Winter Illumination (entrance fees included, free plan)
Departs: Kanazawa Station West Exit 7:30am (next,Kaga Station)
Returns: Kanazawa Station (last stop) 22:30

For further information, or to book one of these tours, you can go to your local Hokutetsu Bus office, or phone Hokutetsu Koukuu on 076-242-3337. On booking the tour, you will need to pay either 20% of the fee as a deposit, or the whole sum upfront. The pamphlet for these `Asunaro Tours` is available at Hokutetsu Kanzawa Station, and other Hokutetsu stations and bus offices, and it may help to have it on you for simplicity-sake when booking 🙂

In addition, MKBus Tours is offering a rather no-fuss roundtrip tour for Y3800 (excl Y100 donation to the Luminarie), departing December 8,9,15 & 16th from Kanazawa Station West Exit 8am, and returning there at 24:15. See the link below for the bookings procedure (telephone and furikomi):

http://www.mktour.net/contents_daytrip2.html

KIX Round-trip Ticket Special

The holiday season is fast approaching, and many of us are planning a hasty escape from the icy Ish to warmer pastures (or just home!).

For those of you using Kansai Airport (KIX) as your escape route of choice, there is a special discount ticket being offered by JR West for just that purpose 🙂

The ticket is valid for 14 days, and includes round-trip Thunderbird express train reserved seat tickets + round-trip Haruka express reserved tickets (Osaka KIX). Departing from Komatsu = Y14,800, Kanazawa = Y16,200, and Nanao = Y18,300. Each yields a saving of Y4-5000 🙂

The ticket, called 関西空港往復きっぷ (Kansai Kuukou Oufuku Kippu), can be purchased from one month before your day of usage, up until the very day of.

In addition, holders of this ticket have access to a luggage collection and drop-off service (also both ways of the journey) from their home to KIX for the special price of Y3500. You can ask about this on purchasing the ticket at your local JR office.

Lastly, special discount coupons are available to ticket holders for use in Duty Free shops, refresh services and facilities, and restaurants at KIX, too 🙂

Quite a nice, luxurious way to start off your holiday adventures 😉

Happy holidays and safe travels! 😀

Noto 2-Day Free Pass!

Conveniently in line with festival season, JR West has introduced a new special ticket – the Noto Furusato Free Ticket.

What:

The ticket allows you to travel between the JR area Kanazawa station <-> Wakura Onsen station, and the Noto Tetsudo area of Wakura Onsen station <-> Anamizu station (Nanao <-> Wakura Onsen is also possible on this line) for 2 days as much as you like.

The ticket is only valid for use on normal trains (i.e. Shirasagi, Hokuetsu, and other rapid express trains are out). However, these lines have the most awesome `futsuu-ressha` you`ve ever seen, so you still get to travel in style 😀

Cost:

Adults Y1500, children Y300.

The ticket is on sale until October 11 2012 (purchasable up until the day before you intend to use it), and usable between July 6 – October 13 2012. Be careful in specifiying your date(s) of travel because these can not be changed once you have bought your ticket.

Extra stuff:

By showing your Noto Furusato ticket at the various tourist attractions (including the Notojima Aquarium) you can receive entrance fee discounts, and various free goodies (ice-cream included!).

The pamphlet for the ticket is available at all major stations and JR offices, and includes a full list of the attractions, their discounts and access methods. There is also a train schedule attached.

Since the Noto will be hosting some of the best festivals this summer, and is a place that is usually a bit difficult to access, this ticket really is a bargain 🙂 So `let`s enjoying` the Noto this summer!:P

Special note about Wajima Taisai transport:

– Using this ticket, you can go as far as Anamizu station. From Anamizu, there is a regular bus that runs between Anamizu station and Wajima station. The last bus on Friday 24/8 is at 19:30 to Wajima station, arriving 20:04. They run from early morning until 19:30, so those of you on holiday can easily go up earlier. The whole journey takes a total of an hour more than the Wajima express bus. You can see the bus timetable here:

http://www.hokutetsu.co.jp/htd_hp/timetable/rosen/0960_1_1_01.html

This Week: Wajima Taisai August 22nd-25th

Salutations! I hope this post reaches you in good and pleasant spirits. I’m writing to tell you about an amazing festival that is taking place this week in the Noto!

“Where is the Noto?”, you might ask. The Noto is the northern half of the Ishikawa prefecture. The Noto is split up into 3 sections: Kuchi-Noto (Entrance of Noto), Naka-Noto (Middle of Noto), and Oku-Noto (Depths of Noto). 

One of the biggest reasons to come to the Noto is the massive festivals that take place throughout it. In fact, if you have free time or cultural furlough this week, I’d recommend that you come to Wajima for the Wajima Taisai. As one of the premiere festivals of the Oku-Noto, you can count on having large amounts of merriment and long lasting memories. The festival comes highly recommended and is a must see event for JETs and visitors to Ishikawa. 

Where:

Times and Locations:
 
The Festival is a combination of the festivals of four different shrines in Wajima in the towns of:
Ama-machi (海士町): Aug. 22 (Wednesday) 16:00 – 23:00
Kawai-machi (河井町): Aug. 23 (Thursday) 15:00 – 24:00
Fugeshi-machi (鳳至町): Aug. 24 (Friday) 8:00 – 24:00
Wajimazaki-machi (輪島崎町): Aug. 25 (Saturday) 8:00 – 11:00

Resident Expert Tip #1: The festival starts getting exciting after 8:00pm
Resident Expert Tip #2: Find a Kiriko Team, follow them and you’re bound to have fun.

Highlights of Wajima Taisai:

  • One of the main highlights of Noto festivals are Kiriko. Imagine if you will, 10 meter tall lanterns that tower over you and are carried by at least 20 to 30 strapping men (and women!). On these lanterns are children or adults playing flutes or taiko drums, filling the narrow road that you’re on with merrymaking and sonorous booming. Oftentimes, it’s not unheard of to be pressed up against a wall in a narrow street while Kiriko make their way through or to be drafted into service of carrying a kirko with a celebratory swig of Shochu or Sake.
    Note 1: 8-23, Thurs: Groups of Kiriko will gather near the ocean, have a parade and burn tall stalks of bamboo.
    Note 2:  8-24, Friday: Many of the Kiriko traversing Wajima will spin madly at intersections with an ‘insane amount of vigor’, definitely a sight to see or experience.
    Note 3: Wajima’s festival Kiriko are especially distinctive (as compared with those in the other parts of the Noto) because of their famous Wajima lacquer coatings that are applied to the Kiriko.
  • Portable shrines called ‘omikoshi’ are carried through the town streets. With them comes the good natured and well known revelry that makes Wajima Taisai a famous and memorable event.
    Note: ‘Omikoshi’ carrying takes place every night of the festival.
  • On the first night (Wed, 8-22) you can see one of Japan’s best youth taiko groups perform, Yoranosuke. They usually perform right before the sunset. It’s best to show up around 5:30pm-6:00pm.
  • On the the last two nights of the festival (Friday, 8-24 and Saturday, 8-25), a special tall bamboo bonfire by the sea is lit, and Gohei (decorative strips of white paper used in Shinto rituals) that fall from the top of the structure are scrambled for by brave men wearing loincloths. It is believed that the person who catches a Gohei strip will achieve success in everything he does. It’s not rare for men to scramble into the burning embers of a just burned tower to grab a strip at a chance of wealth and good fortune.

If you’d like to forge your own path in terms of festival planning, make sure to take a peek at the Wajima Taisai event page: http://www.city.wajima.ishikawa.jp/kanko2/maturi/taisai.html
 
 
Transportation:
 
Depending on where you’re coming from, it’s quite easy to get to Wajima.
 
By Bus from Kanazawa:
Ø  Buses leave for Wajima from Kanazawa station roughly once every hour throughout the day, 7 days a week, from PLATFORM 1 from the East Exit (the main exit with the big wooden gate).  It takes 2 hours each way and costs 2200 yen one way (3950 yen round trip, if you purchase beforehand in the Station).  Pay when you get off in Wajima. 
Ø  Bus times from Kanazawa Station Platform 1 to Wajima: 7:20, 8:50, 10:00, 12:35, 13:35, 14:35, 15:35, 16:35, 17:35, 18:35, 20:10
Ø  Bus times from Wajima to Kanazawa Station Platform 1: 5:35, 6:40, 8:10, 9:10, 10:10, 11:10, 12:10, 14:00, 15:30, 16:40, 18:10
 
By Car from Kanazawa, Nanao, Anamizu, Tsubata, etc:
If you’re going by car, just take the Noto Yuryo toll road. Make sure to take the Anamizu Exit on the Yuryo and at the first intersection, take a left and then follow the road signs to Wajima (they’re all in English, so you shouldn’t get lost). The tolls from Kanazawa to Wajima cost about 1600 yen round trip (it’s much cheaper if you’re coming from anywhere in the Noto), so I suggest carpooling with some buds to keep costs down.  There is plenty of free parking at the Wajima Station.

Once again, for more information make sure to take a peek at the Wajima Taisai event page: http://www.city.wajima.ishikawa.jp/kanko2/maturi/taisai.html

Please come out and partake in the festivities, if you can!  It’s a great primer for Ishikawa’s festivals and also an excellent break from life at school or your BoE.
 
Happy Travels!

Alex will be a second-year ALT in Suzu. Where’s that you ask? Oh, it’s in the Noto. You know … the place with rice fields … and kiriko. That’s the one.

Smartphone Apps for Living in Japan

Everyone told you to get a smartphone for your Ishikawa JET tenure, but whether you’re running iOS or Android, your phone is only as useful as the apps you put on it.  Here are some recommendations to get you started or to make your life a little easier.

For Both Android and iPhone

Yurekuru Call (EN and JP, free).  An earthquake warning app. Uses your location and your phone’s notification system to give you up to a minute’s warning before an earthquake is projected to hit your area. Highly recommended–it may be the only English language warning you get.

Japan Goggles  (EN, free). This nifty app uses your smartphone camera to recognize and translate kanji words. It might take a moment for the app to recognize the right kanji compound, but it’s still incredibly helpful.

iConnect (EN, free) Published by AJET, this app is a converter, phrasebook, directory, and national event guide all in one! If you miss the JET Diary, this app is for you.

Ishikawa Travel Guide (EN, Free). Uses Google Maps to show you nearby sights throughout Ishikawa. Unfortunately, the gourmet list is lacking, but the list of sightseeing spots and activities is comprehensive. Good for exploring a new part of the prefecture!

北鉄バスビュワー Hokutetsu Bus Viewer (JP, free). Japanese language bus route-finder and schedule for buses all around the prefecture. Allows you to bookmark your favorite bus routes. It can also use your current location to find nearby bus stops.

乗換案内 by Jorudan (Free, JP). Japanese only. A nationwide train route finder and schedule. Recognizes romaji place name input.  Includes a Live feature that notes train delays. The paid version, 乗換案内プラス (norikae-annai plus), is 630 yen in both stores and allows you to save routes.

EnjoyLearning Japan Map Puzzle (Free, JP).  Want to get 上手 (jouzu) at Japanese geography and prefecture names? This drag and drop prefecture map game will help. It includes hiragana readings of the prefecture names, too.

Platform-specific apps are after the jump!

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