29th July 2019: Journey to the West: Osaka → Sakaiminato {Japan, summer 2019}

I was determined to cross as many things on my bucket list as I could in this trip as I could, and that involved some crazy travelling – in this case, two hundred eighty-something kilometres, four trains, and a bit over five hours. From the hotel I took the Midosuji underground line from Doubutsuen-Mae Station to Shin-Osaka station, where I took the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Okayama. There, I took the Yakumo Limited express to Yonago, and in Yonago I took the Sakai line to Sakaiminato [境港市] in Tottori prefecture.

Sakaiminato was Mizuki Shigeru’s hometown. Mizuki Shigeru [水木 しげる] was the mangaka who wrote and drew Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro [ゲゲゲの鬼太郎], and he was also a great connoisseur of Japanese mythology, especially yokai. And the town has just… embraced that, with glee. And stamps!

The magic started when I reached Yonago [米子市] Station – both the platform and the train in the Sakai line [境港線] were already all dolled-up for the trip.

The station Sakaiminato-eki [境港駅] also greets you with a huge yokai mural and amazing streetlights in the shape of Medama-oyaji, Kitaro’s father who looks like an eyeball.

As you come out of the station, you are greeted by a bronze statue of Mizuki Shigeru. And as you follow the road and turn the corner you directly go into Mizuki Shigeru Road… but I am getting ahead of myself. Right next to the station there is a a mall-like building that holds, among other things, the tourist information office, where I got a copy of the yokai booklet to carry out the Yokai Stamp Rally [妖怪スタンプラリー]. The booklet was 120 ¥, of course I could not let it go – there were 35 stamps to collect.

As you come out of the station, you are greeted by a bronze statue of Mizuki Shigeru writing among his characters Mizuki Shigeru-sensei Shippitsu-chū no Zō [水木しげる先生執筆中の像], and the Kitaro postbox [鬼太郎ポスト].

And as you follow the road and turn the corner you directly go into Mizuki Shigeru Road. However, when have you read me going into something directly without getting distracted? First I had to see the Yokai World Summit, Sekai Yōkai Kaigi [世界妖怪会議].

Finally I got down to Mizuki Shigeru Road [水木しげるロード] – which features dozens of small yokai statues all along. Shops line to the sides, and a bunch of them have the stamps that you ink on your booklet – and it was hard to get to them, it was so crowded! I walked the right side until the end, then I decided to come back to check into the hotel, which was close to the station, and drop the luggage (looking back I could have just dropped the luggage there, but I was eager to get started). My hotel was gorgeous! It was the most expensive hotel in the whole tip, but it was amazing! Outside it was just a brick building. Inside it was full of wood and tatami, and so was the room. There was an onsen on the upper floor.

I was a bit sad that I only had a night there, because I would have really stayed in that room for hours just lounging around. But there were things to see! So I went out again, and walked the left side of the Mizuki Shigeru Road. Here are some of the many yokai and Gegege no Kitaro characters that I encountered (and stamped) along the road (also, some food, because this was 3pm and I had only had a coffee and a cracker at around 8am).

Of course I also had to visit Yokai Jinja [妖怪神社] on the way (the amount of time and times I had to wait till I was able to take a picture of this without anybody was ridiculous (≧▽≦)).

At the end of the road I had seen the Mizuki Shigeru museum, Mizuki Shigeru Kinen-kan [水木しげる記念館] and I knew that it was open (on a Monday!) till late (in Japan!) so I decided to go there first before I had finished the stamp rally (this is relevant for dates). The Museum features comics, a replica of Mizuki’s office, some items of his mythology-artefact collection, and then replicas of different yokai, a haunted house and so on. For my own future reference, the big (moving, trying to be creepy but only managing to be awfully cute) replicas are: Nurikabe, Shirouneri, Otoroshi, Azukihakari, Betobetosan, Suiko, Akaname, Miagenyudou.

After the museum I somehow ended up at Ominato Jinja [大港神社].

I backtracked to find a couple of stamps that I had missed, including the very last one, at the Sakaiminato Ekimae Police Box, Sakaiminato Ekimae Kōban [境港駅前交番]. With that one I had all my stamps, but it was just around 6pm so the tourist office was already closed.

That did not mean I ran out of things to do! I went to the port to look at the sunset.

Then to look at the fountain Kappa no Izumi [河童の泉], which had been being cleaned every time I had walked by.

Afterwards I walked back to the hotel to enjoy a long bath at the onsen, and I walked out again to see the town by night, because of course it was completely taken by the wannabe creepy atmosphere – at least that was what I thought at first. Then as I was walking down the road, all the lights stated flickering and then they went out with a thunderclap and I jumped! They got me good!

To finish the day, I got free soba at the hotel for dinner! As I mentioned, I would have stayed in that hotel for days on end!

Walked distance: 13641 steps, 9.76 km in one afternoon/evening. It was bloody amazing and I had a blast!

22nd July 2019: Tokyo Shinagawa → Higashimaya Kyoto {Japan, summer 2019}

My Shinawaga hotel was very close to Sengakuji [泉岳寺], the temple that honours the forty-seven ronin so I paid them a visit before I moved on.

The reason why I was in Shinagawa was being close to the station as I was heading off to Kyoto. I took a shinkansen around 9 am and was in Kyoto just before 11, maybe. From Kyoto station I walked to Nishi-Hongwan-ji [西本願寺], which was about 10 /15 minutes away. It had been on my list since I went to Higashi-Hongwan-ji last year, but I had to go get some rest afterwards because I had a migraine.

As I was heading back towards the station I came across a building that really grabbed my attention. A little research yielded to finding out that it is a temple: Dendou-In [伝道院], which apparently belongs to Nishi-Hongwan-ji and is a research building. It was designed by a famous architect called Tadata Ito in 1912 in a style called “Evangelical”, and built shortly after. It’s not open to the public though, but it sure as hell is interesting.

After that I took the underground to my hotel. It was raining like crazy when I got there, and to make things more difficult, my bloody credit card decided to stop working. This made me slightly late to my 13:00 appointment at Studio Esperanto Oiran Taiken [studio-esperanto 花魁體驗]. Things were a little different this time. First of all, because I was just in time for appointment, I was directly ushered to the make-up room. Fortunately I had quite a clear idea of what I wanted, so it sort of worked in the end. The make-up artist was nice but she was a bit intimidated, and the photographer was difficult to communicate with, which hampered the experience a little. In the end, however, I got really cool pictures out of the experience, so I am not going to complain.

By the time I got out, there was a deluge outside. I was in the hotel, which was close to the photography studio, for a little, and after checking the maps that they had given me at reception, I realised that I was much closer to the Gion area than I – and Google Maps – had actually thought. There was one big park / shrine complex I could walk. At least part of it is called Maruyama Koen [円山公園] and it has a cool pond. I walked from the north entrance to the western exit, which belongs to Yasaka Jinja [八坂神社], the Yasaka Jinja Minami-romon [八坂神社 南楼門], the Tower Gate. I passed Gyokkō Inari Yashiro [玉光稲荷社] on the way.

I walked off to Gion, [祇園] which was almost empty due to the storm. Whenever I get to Gion in the evening, I always check whether there is a long queue at Gion Corner, which is a theatre that performs “traditional arts”:

  • Tea Ceremony [茶道]
  • Flower Arrangement / Ikebana [華道]
  • Koto [箏]
  • Gagaku [雅楽] Court Music and dance
  • Kyogen Theatre [狂言] (comic play)
  • Kyo-mai [京舞] (maiko dance)
  • Bunraku [文楽] Puppet Theatre (puppet theatre)

I was lucky this time, as the rain had scared most tourists away, so I could come in. It was a fun thing to do once, especially with “foreigner discount” it becoming half-price, but the audience kept talking and moving around the floor to take pictures and videos. Thai and Chinese people are loud (and a few of them rather disrespectful)! But all in all, I’m happy I got it out of my system, particularly the Kyo-mai dance.

After that, as it was not raining any more, I strolled down an almost-empty Gion.

Then I walked off towards an area that I had never been able to find before – Gion Shirakawa [祇園白川] and Tatsumi Bashi [祇園 巽橋]. Fortunately this time I had checked for the Tatsumi Bridge location fist, so it was not even that hard! I just had to know where to look for it! (≧▽≦).

I decided to take the way back through the park, so I could see all of Yasaka Jinja [八坂神社] lit up, which was very pretty.

As the hotel was also next to Heian Jingu [平安神宮], but as it was not lit up, I did not walk in.

Then I bought some conbini food and I went to the hotel to have dinner and a bath – the hotel had a hot spring public bath (and it was empty! Just for me!). I was lucky enough to get one of the traditional rooms, and the sand-puffs-like thingies were super-comfortable… until I had to stand up. It was so comfy I could barely stand up! And then I went off to sleep like at 10pm cause I was beat (∪。∪)。。。zzz.

Walked distance: 18517 steps / 13.2 km

19th August 2018: Uji, layovers and finally Ise {Japan, summer 2018}

Uji [宇治] is Kyoto’s li’l brother that nobody has ever heard about and which has a bit of a disproportionate ego. Today I set off to visit this small town, where I had not slept because it was crazy expensive. Armed with an online itinerary I got there and asked for a map at the tourist office – my surprise? One of the main attractions, the Genji Monogatari museum was closed. Because reasons I guess. Hindsight: I should have slept in Kyoto again and left luggage at Kyoto station as I would have to travel through it again.

My general impression of Uji is that it wants to climb the tourist ladder but at the same time, it does not want to carter to the actual tourists. Attractions were in general expensive and a tiny bit unwelcoming, while at the same time the people were nice in a bit of a condescending way. The demeanour of the tourist lady “what are you here to see?” was strange, and the fact that the Genji Monogatari museum, which is the reason why the town is even in the map, being closed, even more so.

My first stop in Uji was Byodo-in [平等院], a beautiful temple complex built around a small lake. Coming into the actual building to watch the paintings had an extra charge so I did not do that. Instead I snooped around the whole complex, museum, and sub-temples.

I continued my walking route skipping the tea house, because even if Uji is known for tea, it was too hot for hot tea. I got to the river, Ujigawa [宇治川], and crossed one of the bridges, the Kisen Kisenbashi [喜撰橋] to get to a small river island called Tachibanajima [橘島].

Another thing that is apparently typical in Uji is ukai [鵜飼] or cormorant fishing, which means fishermen use trained cormorants to fish. It was apparently too early in the morning for the cormorant to be out working.

I crossed then another of the rivers, the Asagiribashi [朝霧橋] to get back to main land, where I stopped by Uji Jinja [宇治神社].

Then Ujigami Jinja [宇治上神社], which is basically another building of Uji Jinja but it got separated because the Haiden is a historical monument.

I finished my walk around Uji at yet another bridge, Uji-bashi [宇治橋], famously mentioned in Genji Monogatari. Do you see a pattern here and why I’m so weirded out about closed museum?

After Uji the plan was getting to Ise mid-afternoon, but my Shinkansen was late, which lead to a two-hour layover in Nagoya [名古屋].

That meant that I arrived in Ise [伊勢] in the Mie Prefecture, around 6 pm. I had two options there – walk 45 minutes to the hotel, or wait 45 minutes for a train that would take ten minutes to get at the hotel station, and then walk for 15 minutes. I chose to walk.

Thus I came across Tsukiyominomiya [月夜見宮] just as the sun started to set. I started to notice here the ‘naked’ torii, which are typical of Ise – it means that they are not painted or made of stone, they are plain wood, usually sakaki, a sacred tree in Shinto.

And Suhara Taisha [須原大社] a bit later (though the two look… creepily similar, don’t they?)

By the time I got to the hotel I was exhausted and hungry, and maybe a bit eeried out because I had had to cross a mostly deserted area over the river as it got dark. Sheesh, was I happy when I started seeing neon again. Bonus point, the hotel had an onsen, which was great for my back (and it was near a combini, so food was also had). The hotel was such a huge complex that they needed to hand out maps so you found your way between the different areas – onsen, reception, restaurant, room!

21st July 2017: Beppu – Hell day~ (in a good way) {Japan, summer 2017}

Beppu is, as I said before, known for having a lot of volcanic vents. It has decided to exploit this as a tourist resource. Beppu is still trying to open up to foreigners. It’s trying, at least partially. So cheers to the nice people.

The main attraction are the Jigoku [地獄] or hells, which are, depending on who you ask, seven, eight or nine. I visited eight of them. They are spectacular hot springs and vents which are too hot for bathing but really interesting to look at. The whole pack is called Beppu Jigoku Meguri [別府地獄めぐり]

I got myself a map, bought a ticket pack and a bus pass, and set off to the bus. Most of the jigoku are located in the Kannawa [鉄輪] District, but two of them are pretty far away, in Shibaseki [柴石] (2 km is far in the boiling summer, if the weather had been nicer, I would have walked back and forth).

I visited the Onishibozu Jigoku [鬼石坊主地獄] (Hell of the Demon-monk) which is a boiling mud puddle and a strong sulphur smell. I did not manage to get any bubble exploding, but the idea is that the bubbling mud looks like a monk’s shaved head.

Second I headed walked into the Umi Jigoku [海地獄] (Sea Hell), which is a turquoise pond of boiling water with a small shrine. It also has a smaller reddish pond to one of the sides.

After this I took a break to have a made-in-hot-spring-water pudding and have something to drink, just because I could. It was delicious.

And there was Onsen Jinja [温泉神社] (Hot Spring Shrine) to snoop around, too!

Third, I dropped by the Yama Jigoku [山地獄] (Mountain Hell), which comes off from the mountain slope and complements that it is not the most spectacular one with having a small petting zoo, where I somehow ended up feeding a capybara. Don’t ask me XD (This hell is independent, so you have to pay extra to come into it).

Fourth, I went to the Kamado Jigoku [かまど地獄] (Cooking Pot Hell) which has a big oni cook to greet you.

Fifth, I found the Oniyama Jigoku [鬼山地獄] (Devil Mountain Hell) which for some reason breeds crocodiles, and what the hell, that was scary for a second. Even if they were behind bards, the crocs would follow you under the water and snip at your shadow and some of them were enormous! Creepy! The hot-spring itself was not that impressive but basically because it was steaming too much to see any of it.

Sixth, I went to the Shiraike Jigoku [白池地獄] (White Pond Hell) where there was nobody to take my ticket. A nice old couple explained that I was to cut it myself and put it in a jar over there. We were talking a little and they asked where I was from. Then they continued on their way and I stayed petting a random cat who decided I was to scratch it right then and there. In this jigokku they also have a small aquarium with several tank of freshwater fish, among them “man-eating piranhas”…

I took the bus then to Shibaseki where the other two remaining hells were. Had the weather been more agreeable I would have walked, but I had the bus pass anyway and it was very hot. As I stepped out of the bus I came across the same couple from before. they explained that they had visited Spain before when they were younger and told me that they were from Osaka. We parted ways to go into the Chinoike Jigoku [血の池地獄] (Blood Pond Hell) which is a boiling red pond. Here I decided to take a foot bath as the area was empty and I was tired.

The final hell was Tatsumaki Jigoku [龍巻地獄] (Spout hell), a geyser you have to wait for, as it has its own timing. Here the old couple brought me a lemonade because they were adorable. And after the geyser it was over, or so I thought.

I had decided to give the aquarium a miss, because I was very tired but when I was taking pictures of the “castle” from afar I decided… I could not miss the chance, so I took the bus again towards Kifune-jo [貴船城] (which is quite new but pretty enough). Unfortunately the bus stopped right at the foot of the hill, so I had to go up and climb all the slope. I arrived just in time to pray to a snake which is supposed to bring happiness to whomever pats it.

After the castle I headed back downtown and took the train to backtrack to Kokura / Kitakyuushu [小倉 / 北九州]. While it is true that I had passed Kokura on my way from Fukuoka to Beppu, the idea was always to spend the minimum time on a train per day, but I wanted to combine Kokura with Okayama and make the following day a “castle day”.

Once in Kokura I checked in and went to see Kokura-jo [小倉城] by night.

20th July 2017: Dazaifu – not ready for thorough tourism {Japan, summer 2017}

Dazaifu [大宰府] was the neuralgic centre of the island of Kyushu between the 7th and the 12th century. Today is sort to Fukuoka what Nikko is to Tokyo. Nowadays it is mostly known for its temples and shrines. It has a central core close to the station where you get around quite easily and a few things off the way which… are an adventure to get to.

I started the day visiting Dazaifu Tenmangu [大宰府天満宮], which was crawling with tourists to the point that it was hard to walk at times. It is a big shrine with a huge bridge over a pond in the shape of 心.

Afterwards I got myself a bottle of water and climbed up to Tenkai Inari Jinja [天開稲荷神社] which would have been really, really awesome and creepy if I had been alone, but alas, there were a bunch of other tourists along. It was quite of a climb up so the number was fewer, which made it less crowded though.

After climbing down I wandered around and passed a tiny shrine on the bank of Aizome River [藍染川] the place of a rebirth of a woman named Umetsubo. There is also a small shrine and a “historical site.”

After this I reached Kōmyōzen-ji [光明禅寺], a Zen temple with a great garden, but no pictures were allowed, and you could not really walk through the gardens. However, it was much, much emptier and nicer.

It was now when I decided to head out to the Kanzeon-ji [観世音寺]…

… and Kaidan-in [戒壇院], along with the so called Bonsho Bell.

In order to get here the map sent me through rather bad roads, and it got scary for a second when a car was coming. Furthermore, the signposts were all messed up, making it hard to follow them and the map. But in the end I made it and even if I did not enter the museum, I felt accomplished.

On the other side of the road you could climb up to Hiyoshi Jinja [日吉神社], a tiny and quiet shrine on top of a hill that I really liked – I thought the kami would be bored so I dropped them a prayer too.

After all this I still had a few things left, but I was very tired and there was a storm brewing, so I backtracked to Fukuoka, where I had slept, gathered my luggage and was ready to take a train to my next destination when I unexpectedly met with a VAMPS fan friend, the same one D****e and I ran into at Kumamoto castle! Small world! We had ramen – Hataka ramen, of course – together and then I took the train towards my next destination, on the other side of Kyushu: Beppu.

Beppu [別府] is a small town on the side of a volcano known for its hot springs because it’s on the slope of a volcano named Tsurumi-dake [鶴見岳]. It has almost 3000 volcanic spring vents and it is a bloody amazing place!

I checked into the hotel and almost immediately walked out because the hotel was right next to Beppu Tower [別府タワー]. However I got distracted by Matogahama Koen [的ケ浜公園] and the beach and the breakwaters.

Finally I climbed up to the tower and looked around the city. I was a little disappointed because I was expecting to see some of the vents or at least a spark coming for the volcano, but it did not happen.

Afterwards I walked down to the hotel and spent an hour in the public bath that they had, which was really, really good for relaxing. And then I collapsed in bed and got some sleep because there was a big day the following day!

(I have to say here that I have decided to omit here most of the ‘blergh’ part of this trip in order to keep only the nice memories, thus the upcoming posts are a bit edited. So I’m not telling you about the unfriendly people I met in the way and that made me feel a bit sad. Just the friendly ones because they rock! )

22nd & 23rd June 2013: Odawara and Hakone {Japan, summer 2013}

One of the few perks about a tectonically-active area is the volcanic landscapes, and Hakone has plenty of those. We headed off to Odawara [小田原] early on Saturday morning to visit the local Castle, Odawara-jō [小田原城].

Then we headed off to Ashi no Ko [芦ノ湖], Ashi Lake, which formed in the caldera of a supervolcano after a huge eruption millions of years ago. We crossed the Hakone Sekisyo [箱根関所], the Hakone Checkpoint, which back in time prevented undesired people from moving around – which meant anyone who was not friends with the shogun.

We made it to the city of Hakone [箱根] later in the day. There, we visited Hakone Jinja [箱根神社], which has a torii set within the lake itself. This torii is called the Torii of Peace, Heiwa no torii [平和の鳥居]

Then there was onsen – Japanese hot springs. No pictures of that XP.

The following morning we went up one of the mountains, to an area called Ōwakudani [大涌谷] via murderous device called the Hakone Ropeway [箱根ロープウェイ] to watch the sulphur mines, the volcanic gases eruptions and to eat the famous black eggs, kurotamago [黒卵], which are normal eggs cooked in naturally-boiling sulphurous water puddles.

Finally, we crossed the Ashi no Ko in a “pirate ship” before heading back to Tokyo [東京] to karaoke the last hours of the weekend away. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to see the supermoon.