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Home - Travel - Essentials
Travel Highlights 2011

Scott's Japan Travel Journal
by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com

This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.

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2011/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2011
by scott

Obviously Japan spent quite a bit of time in the news this year, the majority of which was under the shadow of the March earthquake and subsequent disasters. But as the end of 2011 approaches, we'd like to take a moment to look back at some of the good memories from this past year and finish up with our traditional end of year post where we highlight our favorite experiences, attractions, and sights of the year. As always, it was a hard list to narrow down.

Number 10: Kobe Beef and Katsuo no Tataki

We start off with a tie between Kobe Beef and Katsuo no Tataki, two of my favorite Japanese delicacies. This year I got to try each in the region where they are most famous (and delicious!).

Most people are familiar with Kobe beef, one of Japan's most premium brands of wagyu. Though expensive, the meat is flavorful, tender, and literally melts in your mouth. Luckily we spent some time in Kobe this year and had a chance to do some on site research at a local teppanyaki restaurant. My mouth still waters when I think about that delicious tenderloin.

Kobe Beef Teppanyaki

Katsuo no Tataki, on the other hand, is a seafood dish consisting of katsuo (bonito or skipjack tuna in English) which has been lightly seared around the edges, sliced, and garnished with green onions, ginger, garlic, and a citrus soy sauce. Though served at izakaya around the country, the best katsuo hails from Kochi on Japan's southwest Shikoku Island, and is harvested in autumn when the tuna have fattened up for the winter.

Katsuo no Tataki

Number 9: Onsen

I really like onsen (hot springs), which is good because visiting them is an integral part of our job. I think the office record is something like 9 different hot springs in one day. This year we visited quite a few, including some really rustic ones that were little more than pools of hot water. Among my favorites were Oyadaninoyu along the Hakusan Super Rindo, the baths at Yorozuya Ryokan in Yudanaka Onsen, and Iwanoyu Ryokan in Seni Onsen (Nagano Prefecture).

Oyadaninoyu hot spring along the Hakusan Super Rindo

Number 8: Norikura Dake

This autumn we headed over to Nagano Prefecture to do some hiking around Norikura Dake in the Northern Japan Alps. While the mountain top was quite beautiful, my favorite part of the trip was the Sanbondaki, a collection of three waterfalls at the end of a small trail through the Norikura Kogen area at the base of the mountain. Each waterfall is beautiful in its own right, but standing in the middle of the forest at the point where they all flow together into one stream was simply breathtaking. Pictures absolutely don't do it justice.

Norikura Sanbondaki.

Number 7: Toji Flea Market

I'm a big fan of flea markets, so I was thrilled when we unexpectedly found ourselves in Kyoto on the same day as the Toji Flea Market. Held on the 21st of each month at Toji Temple, the flea market is billed as one of Japan's largest, with over a thousand stalls selling all kinds of antiques, clothes, kimono, food, toys, tools, art, and plants. It was incredibly fun, and the prices were pretty good, with plenty of bargains to be had if you had the stamina to check out every stall. We were there for three hours and probably covered less than half of the grounds.

Toji Flea Market

Number 6: Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market is one of my absolute favorite places to visit when I'm in Kyoto. This year I made several trips there to explore the market, check out the different seasonal vegetables and seafood, and sample all kinds of Kyoto specialties that are sold along 400 meter long street. I recommend checking out the Daiyasu oyster grill and Uchida pickles shop at the western end of the market, and the Aritsugu Knife Store towards the eastern end.

Nishiki Market

Number 5: Kitakami

Some of the best cherry blossoms that I saw this year were on a late season trip up north to Kitakami in Iwate Prefecture. We lucked out on our timing and found ourselves there during their annual cherry blossom festival. The cherry blossoms were beautiful, but the highlight for me were the Oni Kenbai (demon sword) dancers who performed their traditional regional dances under the cherry trees.

Oni Kenbai Dancers in Kitakami

Number 4: Mount Hakusan

We also do a fair bit of hiking around Japan and climb a few mountains every year. My favorite this year was Mount Hakusan in Ishikawa Prefecture. It has a beautiful hike to the top, with lots of changing scenery along the way, and a huge mountain hut (more like a hotel than a hut) near the summit. It's not that easy to get to though, and is probably more enjoyable to tackle over two days if you don't have a car.

Looking out from Mount Hakusan

Number 3: Shiretoko National Park

I'm a pretty outdoorsy type of guy, so I was looking forward to visiting Shiretoko in north western Hokkaido and going on a bear watching cruise. But I had no idea that we'd see so many bears while we were there. In less than two days we saw around 16 bears! We saw most of them from the safety of the tour boat, but we also had a closer encounter while in driving around in the car.

Mother and baby bears in Shiretoko

Number 2: Ogasawara Islands

Though technically part of Tokyo, the Ogasawara Islands are some of the most remote places in Japan and can only be reached by a 26 hour long ferry ride. But once you're there the islands are a paradise with all kinds of beautiful, one of a kind nature spots to explore. My favorite was exploring the half sunken ship wreck off of Sakaiura Beach on Chichijima Island. The ship sank in such shallow water than you can easily snorkel out to the wreckage.

Snorkeling in the Ogasawara Islands

Number 1: Tohoku

I think it's fitting to end this list with the entire Tohoku Region. It's a part of Japan that I have really enjoyed visiting in the past, and I was surprised to realize that a Tohoku attraction has consistently held the top spot in my travel highlights posts (see Travel Highlights 2009 and Travel Highlights 2010). The area has so much to offer travellers, and I hope that people don't shy away from visiting in the future.

We took a few trips to the disaster zone a few months after the earthquake to check out the tsunami damage and see how of the region's tourist sites fared. The terrible destruction that we saw was both awesome and awe inspiring in the sense that it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Though I had seen the pictures and videos, I was caught unprepared and didn't fully grasp the scale of the devastation until I was standing in the middle of it all. Yet, it was inspiring to see the people work together through the chaos to clean up and rebuild, and to hear the outpouring of international aid and goodwill that came in afterward. So even though this isn't really a positive highlight, it was an experience that made and impression on me that I don't think I'll ever forget.

The following are some of the photos we took when visiting the disaster areas:

Tohoku Daishinsai

Tohoku Daishinsai

Tohoku Daishinsai

Tohoku Daishinsai

Tohoku Daishinsai

Tohoku Daishinsai

Tohoku Daishinsai

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List of Posts:
2014/05/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2014/04/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kakunodate
2014/04/19 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsushima
2014/04/16 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sendai
2014/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukushima
2014/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Gunma
2014/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2014/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2014/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kamakura
2014/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2014/03/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/03/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2014/03/27 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2014/03/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/03/07 - Abeno Harukas
2014/02/13 - Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival

2013/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2013
2013/12/11 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2013/12/10 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2013/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2013/11/29 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2013/11/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kanazawa
2013/11/27 - Autumn Color Report: Osaka
2013/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2013/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2013/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Fujigoko
2013/11/06 - Autumn Color Report: Fujigoko
2013/10/30 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2013/10/29 - Autumn Color Report: Yamadera
2013/10/28 - Autumn Color Report: Urabandai
2013/10/22 - Autumn Color Report: Gunma
2013/10/12 - Autumn Color Report: Hakkodasan
2013/06/01 - Tohoku Rokkonsai 2013
2013/05/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakodate
2013/05/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsumae
2013/04/23 - Northern Kanto Flower Report
2013/04/18 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sendai
2013/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Mount Fuji
2013/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakone
2013/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2013/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Mount Fuji
2013/03/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2013/03/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Gunma
2013/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kamakura
2013/03/24 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/03/23 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kagoshima
2013/03/22 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2013/03/21 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2013/03/20 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/02/25 - Tokyo Plum Blossom Report
2013/02/06 - Asahikawa Winter Festival 2013
2013/02/05 - Sapporo Snow Festival 2013

2012/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2012
2012/12/07 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2012/12/05 - Autumn Color Report: Kamakura
2012/12/02 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/29 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/27 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2012/11/27 - Nabana no Sato Winter Illumination 2012
2012/11/15 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Fuji
2012/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2012/11/09 - Autumn Color Report: Sakurayama
2012/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2012/11/05 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Fuji
2012/10/31 - Autumn Color Report: Lake Towada
2012/10/30 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2012/10/22 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2012/10/16 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2012/10/11 - Autumn Color Report: Hachimantai
2012/10/10 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2012/07/30 - Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial 2012
2012/05/07 - New Tokyo Buildings
2012/04/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Mount Fuji
2012/04/13 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2012/04/12 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yokohama
2012/04/12 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kamakura
2012/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2012/04/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2012/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2012/02/06 - Sapporo Snow Festival
2012/02/05 - Otaru Snow Light Path Festival
2012/02/04 - Sapporo Snow Festival - Preliminary Report
2012/01/23 - Chinese New Year in Yokohama Chinatown

2011/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2011
2011/12/08 - Autumn Color Report: Kamakura
2011/12/05 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2011/11/30 - Tokyo Motor Show 2011
2011/11/29 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2011/11/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2011/11/27 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2011/11/22 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2011/11/15 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2011/11/12 - Autumn Color Report: Unzen
2011/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kurobe Gorge
2011/10/27 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2011/10/07 - Autumn Color Report: Nasu
2011/10/04 - Ceatec Japan 2011
2011/09/27 - Autumn Color Report: Norikura
2011/09/22 - New Kanagawa Museums
2011/05/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kakunodate
2011/05/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2011/04/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kitakami
2011/04/22 - Cherry Blossom Report: Aizu
2011/04/21 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sendai
2011/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2011/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2011/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Iwakuni
2011/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hiroshima
2011/04/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/03/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kochi

2010/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2010
2010/11/30 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2010/11/24 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2010/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Nara
2010/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Koyasan
2010/11/15 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/09 - Autumn Color Report: Fujigoko
2010/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Daisen
2010/10/27 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2010/10/14 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2010/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2010/09/29 - Autumn Color Report: Oze
2010/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fujigoko
2010/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2010/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Himeji
2010/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nara
2010/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2010/03/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2010/03/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2010/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2010/03/23 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo

2009/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2009
2009/12/08 - Tokyo
2009/12/02 - Kamakura
2009/11/27 - Tokyo
2009/11/18 - Tokyo
2009/11/16 - Mount Takao (Takaosan)
2009/10/28 - Mount Fuji
2009/10/21 - Tokyo Motor Show 2009
2009/10/19 - Nikko (2)
2009/10/05 - Nikko
2009/08/07 - Tohoku Sandai Matsuri: Sendai Tanabata
2009/08/06 - Tohoku Sandai Matsuri: Nebuta Matsuri
2009/08/04 - Tohoku Sandai Matsuri: Kanto Matsuri

2009/04/13 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagano
2009/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kamakura
2009/04/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/03/31 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/03/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hiroshima
2009/03/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Miyajima
2009/03/27 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kagoshima
2009/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagasaki
2009/03/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kagoshima
2009/03/24 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2009/03/23 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka

2008/10/29 - Lake Towada
2008/10/21 - Nishizawa Valley
2008/10/03 - Tateyama Alpen Route

2007/09/18 - Kodo One Earth Tour
2007/09/04 - Kusatsu
2007/09/01 - Zi-Pang Concert
2007/08/23 - First Day on the Job

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