Archive for May, 2020

JR Pass Kyushu Itinerary: 5 Cities to Visit with Your JR Kyushu Pass

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

 

The JR Kyushu Passes are a great way to make your way around some of the must-see spots on Japan’s southernmost island, Kyushu! There are seven prefectures located in Kyushu: Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Nagasaki, Oita, and Saga. 

                                                                                                                     
Kyushu offers a diverse landscape and unrivaled natural beauty in the form of hot springs, volcanoes, forests, mountains, & beaches. If you’ve read some of our other Kyushu-centric posts, you’d have picked up on the fact that the regional cuisine in Kyushu is delicious, and second-to-none in my opinion! Furthermore, the juxtaposition of modern and bustling International cities with traditional Japanese culture; such as Buddhist Temples, Shinto Shrines & Samurai history, is a huge drawcard for those wanting to experience this part of Japan.

For the destinations listed here, I would recommend the 5 days All Area Kyushu Pass. Read on to learn about some of the exciting places that you can visit with your JR Kyushu Pass!

Fukuoka

Fukuoka_Yatai_Japan

 

Fukuoka is the largest city in Kyushu, and one of the most populated in Japan. Fukuoka has been an important gateway to the world thanks to it’s Hakata Port & it’s proximity to South Korea and China. When traveling via air to Fukuoka, you would most likely arrive in Fukuoka International Airport via either domestic hubs, such as Tokyo or Osaka, or International hubs such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei or Seoul. If you were to have the National Japan Rail Pass, as opposed to the Kyushu Rail Pass, then you could access Fukuoka via the Sakura Bullet Train from Hiroshima in only 67 mins (cost without the JR pass is approx. ¥9,100 per adult).

 

Fukuoka is abundant with interesting things to do. On top of my list, yep you guessed it, food!! Fukuoka is famous for its Yatai, or ‘food stalls’, that line the streets at night and offer a unique atmosphere. You will find them throughout the city center, but I recommend the areas of Nakasu, Nagahama & Tenjin for the best-of-the-best. Food that you will find in these stalls is usually the famous Hakata ramen (pork broth ramen), yakitori (chicken skewers) and oden (hot pot), along with alcoholic beverages of different kinds!

 

Now onto some daytime activities; there is plenty to do and see in Fukuoka. why not check out Uminonakamichi Seaside Park: a public park made up of an amusement park, playgrounds, flower gardens, a water park, and a zoo with open spaces perfect for bringing a picnic. You can rent bicycles and explore the area, and it is particularly beautiful in spring (late March, early April) as there are cherry trees planted in the parks and along the cycling trails. A beautiful scenic spot to visit for everyone, especially families.         

Uminonakamichi Seaside Park Fukuoka

 

If you’re after a bit of Japanese culture, Shofukuji Temple is another popular attraction in Fukuoka as it is Japan’s first Zen temple, founded in 1195. The Temple buildings have been destroyed and re-built on multiple occasions and they are not accessible to the public, however, the grounds are lovely to walk around. You can access Shofukuji Temple in just a 15-20 minute walk from Hakata Station.

 

I also recommend Dazaifu city and Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine as a day trip from Fukuoka. Dazaifu is accessible in around 35mins via the JR Kagoshima rapid line from Hakata Station to Futsukaichi Station (with your JR pass), a short walk to Nishitetsufutsukaichi Station to transfer to the Nishitetsu Dazaifu Line to Daizaifu Station (not covered on your JR pass but only ¥160 per person fare). This is a large and attractive shrine of torii gates and a pond with arched bridges and islands representative of the past, present, and future.                 

Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine

 

For those interested in shopping and entertainment, Canal City Hakata has been coined a city within a city and is accessible by only a 15min walk from Hakata Station. You can get your souvenir shopping done here and also check out the hundreds of International retailers. I suggest having a go at one of the classic Japanese game arcades and tasting the ramen at Ramen Stadium, a collection of eight ramen shops on the fifth floor, showcasing different ramen dishes from across Japan.                                                                                                                                                       

Finally, if you find yourself in Fukuoka in November, you may have a chance to see a Sumo tournament. Ask us for the dates and ticket arrangements as this is a not-to-miss tradition if you have the chance!                                                            

 

Nagasaki

Mt_Inari_Nagasaki_Japan

 

Another important port city of Japan, Nagasaki was one of the only ports open to foreign traders during Japan’s period of isolation from 1639 to 1853, therefore playing an important role in foreign trade relations. The influence of other cultures, particularly Dutch, is evident in the European architecture that can be found throughout Nagasaki, particularly in the Dejima district. Access with your JR pass from Hakata Station is only 116mins on the Ltd. Exp Kamome Line to Nagasaki Station.                                                                                                                                                               

One of the most popular sightseeing attractions in Nagasaki is, of course, the Nagasaki Peace Park that commemorates the atomic bombing of Nagasaki during the Second World War in 1945. The Peace Park is accessed most easily via the tram in around 10mins from JR Nagasaki Station (the tram is not included on your JR pass).               

 

Nagasaki-Peace-Park

 

Another popular attraction is Mount Inasa, which can be reached by ropeway, bus, or car and offers a stunning view of the city, particularly at night! The ropeway can be reached in only 10mins from Nagasaki Station by bus or taxi and costs  ¥1250 per adult for the round trip.                                                                                         

For those after something a bit different, I recommend booking a tour to Gunkanjima (Battleship Island). Located around a 50min boat ride from Nagasaki Port, the island used to be a coal mine inhabited mainly by the mineworkers and their families. It takes its name from the image of the built-up buildings resembling a battleship. These days, the island is abandoned after the mine was closed in 1974, and it makes for a very eerie but interesting experience.           

 

Finally, the open-air museum, Glover Garden, is another stop that should be on your Nagasaki itinerary. It exhibits several mansions that belonged to former foreign residents of Nagasaki, particularly the Former Glover House of Thomas Glover which is the oldest Western-style wooden building in Japan and is an important attraction outlining the history of the Meiji Restoration and Japan’s Industrialisation.         

 

Glover-Garden                          

 

As for food, you must try Champon in Nagasaki: a boiled ramen noodle soup dish with fried pork, vegetables, and seafood in a creamy broth, it is one of the most popular specialty dishes in Nagasaki!                                                                                           

For more detail on what to do in Nagasaki, check out our blog –> Nagasaki Travel Guide – 10 Spots You Must Visit in Nagasaki

 

Kumamoto

Kumamoto_Castle_Japan

 

Kumamoto is accessible from Nagasaki with your JR Kyushu Pass by taking the Ltd. Exp. Kamome line from Nagasaki Station to Shin-Tosu Station then transfer to the Sakura Bullet Train to Kumamoto Station. The journey takes approx. 120mins.                                                                                                                      

Kumamoto City is most famous for Kumamoto Castle and it’s Samurai history. Kumamoto Castle is a must-see when in this region as it’s one of Japan’s top three Castles. Unfortunately, the Castle suffered some damage during the earthquakes in 2016, meaning that the inner grounds of the castle cannot be entered at all times. The main keep is expected to be opened again to the public in spring 2021. This shouldn’t discourage a visit though, especially during spring, in late March and early April, as the hundreds of cherry trees turn the outside grounds into a popular cherry blossom viewing spot! The unique reconstruction of the Honmaru Goten Palace on castle grounds is also a beautiful sight and if you want to have a bit of fun, you can dress up in Samurai armour! You can access Kumamoto Castle via a 15min tram ride from JR Kumamoto Station (¥170 per adult – not included on your JR pass) or in approx. 30min walk.                                                                        

Another popular sightseeing spot in Kumamoto is Suizenji Garden, a stunning Japanese garden built in the 17th century by the Hosokawa family. For a bit of tranquility and zen, take a stroll through the garden, accessible by a 30min tram ride from JR Kumamoto Station to the Suizenji Koen stop (¥170 per adult – not included on your JR pass).             

Suizenji_Garden_Kumamoto

 

Outside of Kumamoto City, in Kumamoto prefecture, there are plenty of must-see sites also. Notably, Mt. Aso is a great spot to visit on a day trip. Mt. Aso is an active volcano surrounded by wide-open farmland and rolling hills. The main crater is accessible via a day tour, volcanic activity-dependent, and this is currently the easiest way to access the Aso area.                                                                                                                                                                                         

Another notable day trip from Kumamoto is Kurokawa Onsen. For those after a day of relaxation in hot springs, particularly during the winter, Kurokawa Onsen is one of the most attractive hot spring towns in Japan. Kurokawa Onsen maintains a traditional Japanese hot spring town atmosphere with many traditional Ryokan (Japanese Inns) and public bathhouses, shops, and restaurants lining the streets. Perhaps a bit tricky to reach as there is no train line out here, I would recommend hiring a car for the day to get to Kurokawa Onsen.     

Kurokawa_Onsen_Kyushu

 

Finally, what to eat in Kumamoto? Most aren’t going to be game enough, however, I highly recommend trying basashi (raw horse meat). Kumamoto’s specialty is a bit scary at first, but once you’ve tried a bit of the gamey sashimi with sides of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, Japanese horseradish, and/or sliced onion, you’ll understand where I’m coming from. It’s surprisingly light and delectable! For those not so into the idea of raw meat, try Kumamoto’s Red Wagyu Donburi: a rice bowl topped with medium-rare wagyu beef and an egg boiled in hot spring waters, it’s a delicious alternative!   

 

Kagoshima

Sakurajima_Island_Kagoshima_Japan

 

Kagoshima is located in the South of Kyushu and is accessible from Kumamoto via a 45-55min ride on the Sakura Bullet Train with your JR Kyushu Pass. This Bullet Train line runs through the center of Kyushu all the way from Hakata Station, Fukuoka, to Kagoshima (approx. 97mins).             

 

Kagoshima is well known for Sakurajima; an active volcano just across Kagoshima Bay. Sakurajima smokes constantly and minor eruptions often take place every day, it’s a very impressive sight! After an eruption in 1914, Sakurajima used to be an island in Kagoshima bay, however, the lava flow connected the land to the Osumi Peninsula. Most travelers still access the volcano via ferry, though, as it only takes approx. 15mins from the Kagoshima ferry terminal. There are many things to do on Sakurajima such as hike along the many trails, visit the observation points, have a hot spring at the Magma Onsen, and even sit down to a free foot bath at Nagisa Park Foot Bath!                     

 

A popular Japanese garden to visit in Kagoshima is Senganen Garden, which offers a unique experience due to the stunning views of Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay. A particular type of cherry tree blooms here as early as the end of January, with the usual varieties blooming in early April. You can also see a peaceful bamboo grove, some shrines, and small ponds within the grounds. Senganen can be accessed by the City View Bus from Kagoshima-Chuo Station in around 50mins and tickets can be purchased at the Station for ¥190 per adult per single trip or ¥600 per adult for unlimited daily use – this bus is not included on your JR pass. 

Senganen_Garden_Kagoshima

 

Another site that I recommend visiting in Kagoshima is Shiroyama Park. The park sits atop Mount Shiroyama and offers sweeping views of Kagoshima city, Kagoshima Bay & Sakurajima from the Shiroyama Observatory. Spectacular views are also offered at the outdoor hot spring bath of the Castle Park Hotel that is open to the public. The Observatory can be accessed by the City View Bus from Kagoshima Chuo Station in approx. 25mins.                                                                                                                                               

 

For those after natural scenery, I would highly recommend taking a side trip to Yakushima Island; a subtropical island located approx. 2-3 hours from Kagoshima Ferry Terminal via high-speed boat. This is a beautiful spot for hiking among the ancient cedar trees and taking in the breathtaking forest. There is a bus network on the island that will take you to the main areas for hiking on the island such as Yakusugi Land (National Park area with 1000+-year-old cedars) and Shiratani Unsuikyo (lush green National Park area that was the inspiration for the Ghibli film, Princess Mononoke), or you could even hire a car and take the car ferry which departs each morning.   

Yakushima_Island_Kagoshima

                                                                                                                                                                                                   

When it comes to the regional cuisine of Kagoshima, I would recommend trying the mouthwatering kurobuta (black pork) as tonkatsu (breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet usually served with rice and sliced cabbage). 

 

 

Beppu

Beppu_Oita_Japan

Beppu is located north-east of Kagoshima and is accessible in just over 3 hours from Kagoshima-Chuo Station via the Sakura Bullet Train to Kokura Station, transferring to the Ltd. Exp. Sonic Line to Beppu Station (all covered on your JR Kyushu Pass). From Fukuoka, you can easily access Beppu, via Kokura also, within 1.5 hours.                                                                                                                   

 

Beppu is well known as being one of the largest hot spring towns in Japan. At the top of your list should be to experience one of the hundreds of public baths here. Relaxing in the warm onsen waters, especially the outdoor ones with spectacular natural views, is something that I love to do in Japan. Most hotels and Ryokan in Beppu will also have hot springs on site. At a lot of these bathhouses, there are restaurants that serve the local cuisine; Jigoku Mushi (steam cooking), where food is steamed over the hot spring pools giving you a healthy and delicious meal!     


Beppu-Cuisine                        

 

Beppu is also home to some types of hot spring that aren’t for bathing; Jigoku, or ‘hells’, are seven different, extremely hot, pools of sulphuric water in different environments. They are made up of different colours, some bright blue, some muddy and bubbly and one blood red! I loved visiting some of the hells in Beppu and tasting some of the different foods that steam above the hot spring waters, such as eggs and pudding! The best way to get around to most of the hells is to do a Beppu city tour.                                                                     

 

Another notable attraction in Beppu is the Beppu Ropeway, which takes you to the top of Mount Tsurumi where you can see a stunning view of Beppu City, Oita City, and Mount Yufu. There are some nice walking tracks atop the mountain and a small shrine as well. For those more experienced hikers, you can climb the entire mountain in around 2 hours instead of taking the ropeway. To get to the Ropeway, you will need to take a bus from Beppu Station which takes approx. 20mins and costs ¥420 per adult, per way.                           

 

For animal lovers, Takasakiyama Monkey Park is another attraction located in between Beppu & Oita. The Park is home to Japanese macaques (the same breed as the famous snow monkeys in Nagano). You can pair this visit with the nearby Umitamago Aquarium. These attractions can be reached by a 10min bus ride from Beppu Station.                 

Takaskiyama_Monkey_Park

 

Finally, if you haven’t had enough of hot springs, the nearby town of Yufuin is a quaint little town located nearby Mount Yufu. The town is made up of Ryokan, hot springs, art museums, restaurants & cafes, and boutiques, surrounded by farmland and rice paddies, making for beautiful scenery to stroll around. There is also Lake Kinrinko located about 1.5km from the station. You can access Yufuin with your JR Kyushu Pass with a change at Oita Station in approx. 80mins one way.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

For more detail on what to do in Beppu, check out our blog here: Beppu, Japan: A Day of Onsen, Nature & Food!

 

Summary   

If you’re wanting to visit Kyushu, the JR Kyushu Pass could be the right option for you. For any inquiries regarding the diverse Kyushu region and how to best make use of your JR pass, contact our knowledgable Japan Specialists or your local Travel Agent and we will tailor-make a special Kyushu itinerary just for you!

 

 

JR Kyushu Pass

JR Kyushu offers 3 types of Rail Pass: the All-Area Kyushu Pass (unlimited train travel on JR lines on 3 or 5 consecutive days), North Kyushu Pass (unlimited train travel on JR lines on 3 or 5 consecutive days) and the South Kyushu pass (unlimited train travel on JR lines on 3 consecutive days). The All-Area Kyushu Pass, as the name suggests, offers unlimited JR line travel on all of the Kyushu JR lines. For more information on the specific passes, see our JR Kyushu pass page here↓↓↓

 

Japan Rail Pass

JR East Tohoku Pass: The 10 Best Places to Visit in Tohoku

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

 

Weary of the crowds and looking for somewhere off the beaten track to explore?

Why not escape from the packed streets of the main cities and discover a region overflowing with stunning natural landscapes, samurai history, festivals, delicious food, and warm-hearted locals!
Spreading out just above Tokyo, the Tohoku region features six prefectures all with their own experiences to explore!

I fell in love with the Tohoku region when I had the amazing opportunity to live there for two years. The more I explored the region, the more I felt like I’d found my second home! I wanted to share my favourite places in Tohoku, so without further ado, let’s jump into my top ten places to visit in the deep North of Japan!

 

1. Hirosaki Castle – Aomori Prefecture 

Hirosaki_Castle_Aomori

 

One of Japan’s best spots for Cherry Blossom viewing, Hirosaki Castle is the ideal getaway for a spring holiday in Japan. Although the original castle burned down, it was rebuilt in 1810 making it one of the few castles in Japan rebuilt in the Edo Period and the only one in Tohoku.

The three-story keep of Hirosaki Castle is surrounded by Hirosaki Park, which holds over 2500 cherry trees. This is the main draw of the area as the park is spectacular when the cherry blossoms are blooming, around late April. The paths here turn into tunnels of perfectly pink blossoms and at the end of the full-bloom period, the moat around the castle becomes a carpet of petals. There are boats to float around the moat if you’d like to sit, relax, and enjoy the ambiance.

From April 23 to May 5th each year, the city holds the Cherry Blossom Festival. During this festival, the castle grounds are open at night to enjoy the illuminated cherry blossoms. It’s the perfect place for a nightly stroll and if you feel peckish there are food stalls around the park as well!

A short walk from the park, mosey on through the preserved samurai residences in Hirosaki’s samurai district. The Ito, Umeda, and Iwata residences all belonged to samurai families during the Edo Period, while the Ishiba residence were members of the merchant class. The Ishiba residence is still in active use as a brewery and a home.


How do I get there?

Using your JR East Tohoku Area Pass, take the Hayabusa Bullet Train from Tokyo Station to Aomori Station. Change at Aomori Station for the JR Ou Line for Odate/Hirosaki to Hirosaki Station.
From Hirosaki Station, take the Dotemachi Loop Bus and get off at Shiyakusho-mae bus stop which is the closest to Hirosaki Castle.

Best time of year to visit?
Spring!

 

2. Aizu Wakamatsu – Fukushima Prefecture

Turuga_Castle_Aizu_Wakamatsu

 

Easily accessed through use of the JR East Tohoku Area Pass, Aizu Wakamatsu is a very old town that was once a battleground in the Boshin War. Nowadays, it’s a great place to visit to see the beautiful Tsuruga Castle, try some fantastic Sake and learn about the Samurai history of the area.


Tsuruga Castle was built in 1384 and has been rebuilt after the castle was destroyed after the Boshin war of 1868. Featuring a unique red roof, the castle also showcases an exhibit to the history of the Tsuruga Castle and the samurai life of the time. The castle is surrounded by the Tsuruga Castle Park and if you’re feeling like a nice cup of green tea, the Rinkaku Teahouse is in the Park grounds.


If tea isn’t your cup of, well, tea, then why not try tasting some delectable sake at the Suehiro Brewery? In addition to sake tasting, they offer guided tours every 30 mins and even have a cafe that features original desserts made with sake!


If the Castle exhibit doesn’t quench your thirst for samurai history, then the Aizu samurai residence just might! The expansive residence was also burnt down during the Boshin War, but has since been reconstructed and furnished to replicate its original appearance dating back to the Edo Period.

 

How do I get there?

Using your JR East Tohoku Area Pass, take the Yamabiko Bullet Train to Koriyama Station and change there for service to Aizu-Wakamatsu Station.

How do I get around?
Catch the Aizu loop bus, which will take you around the main attractions of the city.

Best time of year to visit?
Any season is beautiful – special mention, of course, goes to Spring as the Castle grounds bloom pink with Cherry Blossoms!

 

3. Risshakuji Temple – Yamadera, Yamagata Prefecture 

Risshakuji_Temple_Yamagata

 

Around a twenty-minute train ride from Yamagata Station, the small town of Yamadera is a breath of fresh air away from the hustle and bustle of the cities. Most famous for the mountain temple of the same name, the small town also plays host to museums dedicated to Basho and western art respectively, as well as a few mom-and-pop restaurants and stores.

From Yamadera Station it is about a ten-minute walk to the Temple grounds where the climb begins. The stone path to the top of the temple has around a thousand steps, winding its way up the mountain through the lush cedar forest. Around the half way mark lies the memorial to Matsuo Basho, the site where he wrote his famous poem.

Once at the top of the mountain temple, the Godaido viewing platform will reward you with spectacular views of the surrounding valley and mountainside. Be sure not to miss the rest of the temple though, the paths and small temple areas set high into the mountain walls were amazing to behold.


After working up an appetite climbing up and down the mountain path, I suggest trying Imoni at one of the small shops in the area – Izumiya or the Endo main store. It’s a regional stew that actually has its own festival in Yamagata in mid-September where stew for 30,000 people is cooked in a large pot five metres in diameter!

 

How do I get there?

Using your JR East Tohoku Area Pass, take the JR Senzan Line from either Yamagata Station or Sendai Station to Yamadera Station.

Best time of year to visit?
Spring, Summer, or Autumn. Although there is a spectacular view in Winter as well, the snow can make the climb a little dangerous.

Please check out the map that the lovely shop ladies of Yamadera drew and put together for tourists;

See more details>Here

 

 Toreiyu Tsubasa – Yamagata with the JR East Tohoku Area Pass 

Yamagata_foot_in_high_speed_train

Why not arrive refreshed and relaxed, with the Toreiyu Tsubasa! The Joyful train designed to feel like stepping into a hot spring town featuring an onboard foot spa! It runs between Fukushima and Yamagata Stations and is available for online reservations with the JR East Tohoku Pass!

 

4. Ginzan Onsen – Yamagata Prefecture

Yamagata_Ginzan_Onsen

 

Take a step back in time by visiting the old hot spring town Ginzan Onsen! Said to be one of the inspirations for the Ghibli film Spirited Away, the main draw of the town is the beautiful streets lined with old wooden buildings and illuminated by gas lamps. A beautiful sight all year round, Ginzan Onsen is truly magnificent in winter.

Winter is also best for experiencing the hot springs the town is known for! Although there are a few public hot springs, I do recommend staying here for a night to experience the atmosphere of a Japanese Inn, including their hot springs and of course the scrumptious food!

If you’re not traveling in winter, there is a walking trail up to the old silver mine beyond the 22-meter waterfall at the back of the town. The trail leads up to the mine entrance, a section of which is open to exploring, however both the trail and mine entrance are only open from May 4th until the first snow.

 

How do I get there?

Take the train from Yamagata Station to Oishida Station, covered by the JR East Tohoku Area Pass. Change at Oishida Station for a local bus to Ginzan Onsen, the local bus costs about 710JPY and operates around every 60-90 minutes.

Alternatively, during January and February, there is a bus that operates out of Tendo (a few stops away from Yamagata Station and also covered by the JR East Tohoku Area Pass) that will take you to Ginzan Onsen for about 4000JPY for a round trip.

Best time of year to visit?
Winter! Autumn is lovely as well, but the winter scenery here is the main draw.

 

5. Matsushima Bay – Miyagi Prefecture

Miyagi_Matsushima_Bay

 

Considered one of the top three scenic views in Japan, Matsushima Bay is dotted with 260 pine-clad islands. Around a 40-minute trip from Sendai Station, accessible with the Japan Rail Pass, Matsushima makes for a lovely day trip, especially in Spring or Autumn!

Although the main reason to visit is the fantastic view of the islands, often seen by sightseeing cruise, the bay area has a few other places to explore on foot. A short walk from the station, the small island of Oshima is connected to the mainland by a short footbridge. Exploring this quiet island reveals a few small shrines, meditation caves, and viewpoints for the bay which are connected by trails.

Following the bay back towards the station, stop by Karantei – an old tea house originally part of the Fushimi Castle in Kyoto and gifted to Date Masamune, a ruler of Sendai at the time. Presently, you can enjoy a cup of green tea and some Japanese sweets while viewing the beautiful bay and the delightful tea rooms. The tea house does cost a small fee to enter however this also covers the cost into the small Matsushima Museum at the back of the grounds.

Take a stroll through the two temples built by the Date family hundreds of years ago, Entsuin Temple and Zuiganji Temple. Both temples feature beautiful grounds and buildings, with two gardens on the grounds of Entsuin, a Japanese style garden, and a western-style rose garden, while Zuiganji Temple is surrounded by shallow caves and towering cedar trees.

For a gorgeous nature walk, check out Fukuura Island – one of the larger islands connected to the mainland by a long red bridge. This natural botanical garden island has plenty of easy walking trails, which take about an hour to walk at a leisurely pace. It’s a great way to unwind and get a different perspective of the bay!


How do I get there?

From Sendai Station, use your JR East Tohoku Area Pass and take the JR Senseki Line to Matsushima Kaigan Station. This is closer to the main sightseeing areas than Matsushima Station on the Tohoku Line.

Best time of year to visit?
Spring and Autumn!

 

6. Hiraizumi – Iwate Prefecture

Hiraizumi_Chusonji_Iwate

 

Located in the south of Iwate prefecture, Hiraizumi is an ancient city that once rivaled Kyoto with its beauty and elegance. Once the seat of the powerful Fujiwara clan, much of Hiraizumi was razed by Minamoto Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura shogunate. Despite so much destruction, Hiraizumi is definitely worth a visit to truly experience a city that contended with the old capital of Japan!

One of the more famous remnants of the ancient city, Chusonji was a temple for the Tendai sect of Buddhism established in 850. Although the temple suffered damage to many of its buildings, two of the original buildings that survived include Konjikido Hall, which is covered in gold similar to Kyoto’s Kinkakuji, and Kyozo Hall where the sutra, or Buddhist scripture, were kept. The grounds of Chusonji also hold a beautiful Noh theatre stage, which is used during the Autumn Fujiwara Festival during November.

Geibikei Gorge, not to be confused with Genbikei Gorge, is a short walk from Geibikei Station which is a little further away from Hiraizumi. This spectacular gorge is best appreciated by boat, which takes roughly 90 mins, with a 15-20 min walk at the turning point in the gorge. The boatman sings a local folk song while you float down the calm river surrounded by the striking scenery.

I would recommend taking a night to stay in Hiraizumi or close by, as the local trains here can run once or twice an hour – it can be hard if you miss a train to fit it all in one day!


How do I get there?

From Tokyo take the Hayabusa Bullet train to Ichinoseki Station and change here for the JR Tohoku Line for Morioka to Hiraizumi Station.

For Hiraizumi to Geibikei, take the JR Tohoku Line for Ichinoseki to Ichinoseki Station and change here for the JR Ofunato Line for Kesennuma to Geibikei Station.

I would recommend getting a rental bicycle in Hiraizumi if able or catching the Hiraizumi “Run Run” Loop Bus.

Best time of year to visit?
Spring and Autumn! There is a lot of Wisteria around too, so May can be a good time to visit to see them in full bloom!

 

7. Kakunodate – Akita Prefecture

Kokunodate_Akita

 

A former castle town and samurai stronghold, Kakunodate has been heralded at the little Kyoto of the North, and rightly so! The town features some of the best examples of samurai architecture in all of Japan.

Walking the samurai district is a stunning experience in Spring, as the streets here are lined with weeping Cherry Blossoms. Most of the samurai properties here are open to the public, although I would definitely recommend the Ishiguro House and the Aoyagi House if you’re on a time limit and not able to visit all of them! These complexes contain museum collections, restaurants, and gift shops. The displays provide information in both English and Japanese on the traditions, lifestyles and the historical context of the town. For anyone interested in samurai history I highly recommend giving these properties and the museums nearby a look!


A little further down the street from the samurai district is the merchant district which also holds some interesting buildings! Among these is the Ando Jozo Miso storehouse and shop, which is a Meiji Period brick storehouse that still sells miso and soya sauce in the same method it has been produced in for 150 years! Some miso or soya makes for a good souvenir, as well as a gift made locally from kabazaiku (cherry-bark woodwork)!

 

How do I get there?

From Tokyo Station, catch the Komachi Bullet Train to Kakunodate Station.

Best time of year to visit?
Spring!

 

8. Nyuto Onsen – Akita Prefecture 

Nyuto_Onsen_Akita

 

Deep in the mountains of the Akita prefecture, not too far from the samurai town of Kakunodate, Nyuto Onsen is actually a collection of seven different onsens all set in the same beautiful mountain area. It’s also an area less well known than other onsen towns, so a great place to go if you’re wanting to get away from busy bathhouses!

I highly recommend staying a night and getting the Yumegiri Pass (only available to those staying the night), which includes a one-day bus pass and admission to the seven onsens. Although it’s more than possible to walk if you’re so inclined, I wouldn’t recommend it in the winter thanks to all the snow! The area feels so untouched by the modern era, it’s very easy to get lost in the beauty of the natural world all around you.

The Seven Onsen here all have their own different properties, said to help with a wide range of health problems. The most famous onsen here is Tsurunoyu, with opaque water and a thatched-roof terrace over the outdoor bath. It is also the oldest place in Nyuto Onsen, with roots dating back to the Edo Period, some even with a fireplace set into the floor of the room!


How do I get there?

Using your JR East Tohoku Area Pass, take the Komachi Bullet Train from Tokyo Station to Tazawako Station.

From Tazawako Station, take the bus to Nyuto Onsen which takes around 50 mins and costs around 820 JPY.

Best time of year to visit?
Winter, if you’re wanting to get the full experience of the hot onsen water and the cold snowy conditions!

 

9. Lake Towada – Aomori Prefecture

Lake_Towada_Akita

 

A beautiful blue lake surrounded by an untouched natural landscape, Lake Towada is the largest caldera lake on mainland Japan. Part of the Towada-Hachimantai National Park, the lake is on the border of Akita and Aomori prefectures and is most famous for its autumn colours and the Oirase stream.

The peaceful, undeveloped lake has a small town called Yasumiya, which in addition to a few attractions like the Towada Shrine, is one of the two areas the sightseeing cruise docks. These sightseeing cruises are the best way to really appreciate the beauty of the lake. There are two different cruises you can take, a round trip or a one way from Yasumiya to Nenokuchi or vice versa.

If you’re looking to do some hiking in this area I would recommend staying the night in town as it does take a bit of time to get to the lake and back out to Aomori city. The small township does start closing up quite early as well, especially in Autumn.

Another point of interest nearby, perhaps even more well known than the lake itself, is Oirase Stream. This stream is the only outlet for Lake Towada and luckily the bus route goes next to it so it’s quite easy to get the bus there. The rushing water covers the sound of nearby traffic, drawing you into an instagram-worthy world of your own.

 

How do I get there?

Using your JR East Tohoku Area Pass, take the Hayabusa Bullet Train from Tokyo Station to Aomori Station. Change at Aomori station for the JR Bus bound for Lake Towada.

Best time of year to visit?
Autumn!

 

10. Resort Shirakami and Furofushi Onsen 

Shirakami_Furofushi_Onsen_Tohoku

 

Take a leisurely journey along the North-West coast of Japan, experience one of the most picturesque train rides, and take a bath up close and personal with the ocean! The Joyful Train Resort Shirakami will present you with a stunning view of the coast as well as entertain you with performances on board!

Leaving from either Aomori or Akita, the Resort Shirakami can be booked online before you travel with the JR East Tohoku Area Pass! The journey takes around 5 hours from start to finish, although we’ll be stopping partway to get to the ocean baths of Fukaura. The train will slow down when approaching particularly scenic locations so that you have time to snap photos from the larger panoramic style windows. Along the way there are performances from local artists, depending on the day and service, most popular are the musicians who play Shamisen and sing traditional Japanese folk songs!

Disembark at the JR Wespa Tsubakiyama Station and board the free shuttle bus to Koganezaki Furofushi Onsen-Hotel. This has the most amazing outdoor bath set on the peninsula protruding into the Sea of Japan, it really feels like you’re a part of the beach! I recommend staying the night at the hotel here as the outdoor bath closes for day-trip customers at 4 pm and the best part of this outdoor bath is experiencing the sunset over the ocean horizon.

After all this relaxation, why not stretch your legs a little and explore the hiking trails around the Juniko, a series of small lakes and ponds in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakami-Sanchi. This extensive mountain range stretches over the border of Akita and Aomori prefectures. Among the lakes of Juniko is Aoike, famous for its unnaturally blue water which creates an enchanting atmosphere amidst the verdant forest.

 

How do I get there?

Using your JR East Tohoku Area Pass, from Aomori or Akita Stations, take the Resort Shirakami to the Wespa Tsubakiyama Station.

Best time of year to visit?
Summer, Spring, Autumn.

 

Summary  

With a wide range of experiences to explore, the Tohoku region is ideal for getting away from the hustle and bustle of Japan’s big cities! I hope that these places have inspired you to visit and fall in love with Tohoku as I have. Why not give us a call and we can put together the best itinerary for you!

 

Japan Rail Pass

Enoshima – Most Underrated Tokyo Day Trip?

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

Have a day to spare? Sick of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of Tokyo? Want to make the most of your Japan Rail Pass? Let me tell you why Enoshima is one of the most underrated day trips from Tokyo and some of the best places to visit to make the most of your adventure.

Enoshima Shrines

Enoshima_shrine

 

Enoshima is a small offshore island around an hour from the hustle-bustle of Tokyo city. Located in Sagami Bay, Enoshima is linked to the mainland by a 600m bridge over the ocean with views of the closest swimming and surfing beaches to Tokyo and Yokohama. Scattered around the island are three shrines (Hetsumiya, Nakatsumiya, and Okustumiya) that make up the collectively known, Enoshima Shrine. All three are located around ten minutes from one another and can be visited by foot or by the outdoor escalators. The shrines are dedicated to Benzaiten, the goddess of art, music, and good fortune. Visitors can wash money at the designated shrines as Benzaiten is said to multiply it! 

 

Local Food

Shirasu_Local_Enoshima_Food

 

Enoshima is famous for its shirasu, or whitebait. Specifically, shirasu-don, shirasu served over rice. Benzaiten Nakamise – the main street leading up towards the shrines and further into the island – is lined with small businesses selling local delicacies. Including tako senbai, octopus crackers that are very hard to miss due to their massive size. Ice cream monaka, or green tea ice-cream sandwiched between two crispy wafer shells with red bean paste is perfect for sustaining visitors for the short hike through the island, or even as a recuperation snack on the way back down. 

 

Caves

Enoshim_Caves

 

On the furthest side of Enoshima lies a rocky coastline called Chigogafuchi plateau. The view overlooks the ocean and is said to be one of the most romantic scenic views in Kanagawa. Just a little further along the coast are the Iwaya caves, which visitors can enter for 500JYP. Inside is a shrine, built 1500 years ago, once a site visited by monks and influential samurai after long pilgrimages.  

 

Enoshima Views

Enoshima_beautiful_view

Everywhere you look on Enoshima are picturesque views over the ocean, narrow, moss-lined stairways and local flora. Standing in the centre of the island is the Enoshima Sea Candle, an observation tower with an indoor and outdoor observation deck. A 360 view of the surrounding beaches and the entire island is visible from the top. Visitors might even spot Mt. Fuji on a clear day. The Sea Candle sits within the Samuel Cocking Garden, a botanical garden full of flowers and plants from all seasons. 

 

Enoshima Cats

Enoshima_cat

 

Before heading back to the mainland, it’s worth taking the ten-minute walk out to the lighthouse and boardwalk. Back down Benzaiten Nakamise-Dori and past the sea-front food stores boasting buckets and buckets of live fish, crabs, octopus, and other weird sea-dwelling creatures ready to be cooked on request.  During the walk, you may see cats lounging in the sun near the yacht port, Enoshima is known for its feline inhabitants and it’s not uncommon to see locals putting down food and taking care of their furry guests. However, sadly, Enoshima’s cat population has dwindled in the last few years due to the island’s growing popularity. The white lighthouse stands on the end of the long boardwalk. Be careful not to get wet as the waves crash against the rocks and splash up through the dock. (They can get dangerously large!) Watch as the yachts arrive and depart and fishermen do their best to reel in something big on the port below. 

 

Summary   

Japan Rail Pass holders can take the JR Tokaido Line from Tokyo station, changing to the locally operated Enoshima Electric Railway line to Enoshima Station. The Enoshima Electric Railway (or Enoden) is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass however a trip on this old-timey train is worth it for the experience and views alone.  Why not join a tour? Our Kamakura & Enoshima Bay Drive 1-Day Tour also visit Kamakura, home of the Great Buddha, and is only half an hour from Enoshima. Tick off two must-see destinations in one day without having to navigate public transport and maps!

 

Footer CTA banner

Travelling Gluten Free in Japan – It Is Possible!

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

Travel preparations can be stressful and difficult at the best of times but this is exacerbated even further for people traveling to Japan with gluten intolerance or Coeliac Disease. Food is an integral part of a country’s cultural identity and a necessity to experience if you want to fully submerse yourself in local life. Someone with gluten intolerance must contend with unfamiliar ingredients and a language barrier when traveling which can cause a great deal of stress.
Do not be discouraged, I hope to provide you with some useful tips on how to experience the beauty of Japan whilst enjoying a rich gluten-free diet! On the surface, Japan can seem like a gluten-free haven as the staple grain is rice and not wheat. The problem lies within a lot of the sauces used in Japanese cooking as they contain soy and wheat. Coeliac Disease and gluten intolerance are not common in Japan so there is no real demand for gluten-free food. Japanese diners do not usually ask for a meal to be modified at a restaurant, so it unsurprising that a chef, who would have worked for years perfecting a dish, would consider it rude to make such a request and refuse. But there are some ways to make this easier:

 

Use Translation Cards

Osaka_Shinsekai_district

 

The language barrier can be difficult in Japan as English is not widely spoken. These useful phrases will make eating out at a restaurant a lot easier:

私は、グルテンの摂取によって発症する「セアリック病」という深刻な病気をもっています。そのため、小麦・大麦・ライ麦が使われている食品は食べられません。小麦を原料としている醤油や味噌もいっさい口にできません。
I have a serious disease called Coeliac Disease, so I cannot eat food that contains gluten. I cannot eat anything made with wheat, rye, or barley. That means that I cannot eat soy sauce that contains wheat or miso that contains wheat.

私はグルテンを含む食品が食べられません。小麦・大麦・ライ麦が使われているものは全部です。そのため、小麦を原料としている醤油や味噌もいっさい口にできません。
I cannot eat food that contains gluten. So, I cannot eat anything made with wheat, rye, or barley. That means that I cannot eat soy sauce that contains wheat or miso that contains wheat.

Click here to download r a more comprehensive translation card. This can be printed or saved on your phone for easy use.

 

Know Your Kanji!

Sushi_lantern

 

I recommend staying at a hotel with its own little kitchenette so that you can prepare gluten-free food and snacks. It can be a little daunting going grocery shopping and trying to decipher a list of ingredients in a foreign language. Below is a list of kanji to look for when grocery shopping:

グルテン (Guruten) – Gluten 無グルテンの (Mu Guruten No) – Gluten Free
醬油 (Shoyu) – Soy Sauce 小麦 (Komugi) – Wheat
大麦 (Oomugi) – Barley ライ麦 (Raimugi) – Rye
オーツ麦 (Otsumugi) – Oats 味噌 (Miso) – Miso

There are so many convenience stores in Japan and they are quite different from what we are used to in Australia – the food is of a higher standard and affordable. They sell onigiri rice balls and while not all the flavours are gluten-free, the salmon and plain ones are. The pain onigiri is actually my favorite and I would eat them for breakfast or for a quick snack!

 

Bring Your Own Soy Sauce

Bring  your own soya

 

Soy sauce is used in the vast majority of Japanese dishes. It is definitely worth bringing your own bottle of soy sauce to ensure that it is gluten-free while also not being contaminated with other gluten products. Avoid buying tamari in Japan as not all tamari is gluten-free!

 

Safest Authentic Japanese Food

Yakiniku_Japan

 

If you really want to experience some local Japanese cuisine then I highly recommend going to yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) restaurants. Here you can ask for the food to be made with salt (shio) instead of soy sauce (shoyu). At yakiniku restaurants, you are seated at your own clean grill so there is no risk of cross-contamination while also having an authentic Japanese experience.                                                                                                                                             Sashimi is another famous Japanese dish that can be gluten-free. It is thinly sliced raw food, mainly fish (but can also be other meats and tofu), available at many types of restaurants and izakaya. Sashimi is seasoned with soy sauce but this is done by the diner’s discretion, just use your bottle of gluten-free tamari!

A Hidden Gem in Tokyo

Little Bird Café is a wonderful café in Tokyo that focuses on gluten-free versions of Japanese and Western food! The chef is a Coeliac and has taken care to provide delicious gluten-free dishes to other gluten intolerant people. Just a 6-minute walk from Yoyogi Hachiman Station, you can try some gluten-free versions of classic Japanese dishes like ramen, gyoza, and chicken karaage. The menu is in English and you can finish off your amazing meal with some incredible gluten-free pancakes or waffles! 

 

Summary 

Japan can be a pretty tough country to navigate without the troubles associated with gluten intolerance. Do not let this deter you from visiting this stunning and unique country. I hope that this has provided you with some useful information to enjoy a gluten-free adventure in Japan! Please do not hesitate to contact us at JTB or your local Travel Agent and we can assist with making your travel plans as stress-free as possible!

Footer CTA banner

5 Specialty Coffee Shops to Try in Fukuoka

Friday, May 1st, 2020

 

Japan’s specialty coffee scene has grown a lot over the last 5-10 years, with the country grooming some of the world’s most acclaimed baristas. Fukuoka, in Kyushu prefecture, has been one of the most active cities. Some of its gourmet coffee shops have been open ahead of the wave, in the early 2000s. This makes for a great exploration if you are, like me, very much into the coffee.

 

REC COFFEE 

Rec_Coffee_Fukuoka

Rec Coffee is a specialty coffee shop and roastery, believing that exceptional coffee is achieved by mastering the chain, from the producer to the cup. First opening shop in 2010, Rec Coffee is the brainchild of 2-time Japan Barista Champion Yoshikazu Iwase.
Dedication, excellence, and trust in amazing coffee have paid off, with 5 shops around Fukuoka city, and now 2 locations in Tokyo.

COFFEE KENCHÔ YAKUIN STATION SHOP薬院駅前店
Address: Shirogane, 1 Chome−1−26, Chuo Ward, 810-0012 Fukuoka
REC COFFEE Website—>>Here 

 

MANLY COFFEE

Manlycofee_Fukuoka


Manly Coffee’s adventure started with the passion of bean origins, process, and service quality; all delivered in a cup of coffee. The shop opened back in 2008, and the team behind Manly Coffee has been involved in organising the Japan Aeropress Championships since 2012. Taking trips to Nicaragua or Costa Rica, and participating in roasting retreats in various countries, Manly embodies the dedication of their motto ‘from seed to cup’.

Address: 2 Chome-14-21 Hirao, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, 810-0014

Manly Coffee Website—>>Here 

 

NO COFFEE

No-Coffee_Fukuoka


The Coffee County adventure started in 2013 in the Southern part of Fukuoka prefecture, in Kurume city, where Takaki Mori established his roastery. Three years later, the Fukuoka city coffee bar was open. The Fukuoka shop offers espresso-based drinks, as well as Aeropress or pour-over filter. Freshness and quality are applied to each step to create a cup that will make you quiver, according to Mori.

Address: 1 Chome-21-21 Takasago, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, 810-0011

NO COFFEE Website—>>Here

 

ETOILE COFFEE

Etoile_Coffee_Fukuoka

 

Minako Yamaguchi worked for 4 years in the specialty coffee industry before opening Etoile Coffee. Her goal is to make exceptional coffee available to everyone, including people that are not yet coffee enthusiasts. Both espresso and French press brews are available, and with Yamaguchi acting as a jury for the Japanese Barista Championship, you’re in for a treat. Along with coffee, Etoile offers Japanese seasonal sweets for a very local experience.

Address: 2 Chome-2-22 Hirao, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, 810-0014

Website—>> Here

 

Coffee hoping during your trip

The coffee scene of Fukuoka has been thriving and there is something for everyone. Japanese coffee is famous for being delicate and very flavorsome, so make sure to try local brewers during your trip. Coffee beans are also a great souvenir to take home.

**Some of these locations have been recommended to me by Kantaro, co-owner of 279 Victoria Street in Melbourne, where guest beans from Japan are often featured, along with their specialty onigiri and high-grade Japanese tea. See details here

 

Footer Banner_Kyushu

 

Secured By miniOrange