by Raina, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015 was a massive travelling year for me, as I went to all the major regions in Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Despite having covered 33 out of the 47 prefectures this year, I have not been to all the prefectures in Japan with two still remaining. Being on the road so often also meant that I improved my "living out of a backpack" game and have a small bag with my travel essentials ready to go. I had a great year travelling across the country, learning and experiencing new things, revisiting old haunts and below are my top ten highlights of the year.
Number 10: Cherry blossoms in Hakodate
Hokkaido is one of the places to see cherry blossoms after the season has long passed on the main island of Japan. I was fortunate to be in Hakodate at the peak of the season and the view from Fort Goryokaku was simply stunning. It became one of my favourite cherry blossom viewing spots for this year.
Number 9: Ise Shima in Mie Prefecture
I spent a couple of days in Ise Shima visiting a number of tourist spots in the area. No trip to the area is complete without going to the Ise Shrines, the most sacred shrines in the Shinto religion. Hinjitsukan, a villa constructed in the Meiji Period to accomodate royalty and important guests visiting the Ise Shrines, impressed me with its design. Ago Bay at the tip of the Shima Peninsula was yet another delight as I went on a sightseeing cruise of the bay, and got to see a beautiful sunset from my ocean view accomodation.
Number 8: Art festivals in Nakanojo and Echigo Tsumari
I had the opportunity to cover two art festivals this year, the Echigo Tsumari Triennale and the Nakanojo Biennale. Both were outdoors and spread over a large area. Public transport was available at both festivals, but I was glad to have driven instead. There were lots of amusing and inspiring art works at the festivals, utilising the available facilities as well as incorporating the landscape into the artwork. I definitely recommend going the next time they are on again.
Number 7: Autumn colors in Kankakei and along Route 292
Autumn color reporting usually involves more hiking compared to cherry blossom reporting. Going to higher elevations are also common as the colours tend to develop earlier there. While the alpine route was just as amazing as it was last year, this year, the Kankakei Gorge and the Route 292 report trips were my favourites. Despite the weather not being very cooperative on my trip along Route 292, I got to drive through some awesome fog and was treated to dramatic views of the area. Kankakei Gorge lived up to its reputation of being one of Japan's three most beautiful gorge and I left determined to go back to Shodoshima Island to see the rest of it.
Number 6: Cat cafes in Tokyo
Number 5: Tokyo Motor Show
The last time I went to an auto show was back in 2008, so it was great to be able to go to this year's Tokyo Motor Show. I got to see concept cars and new releases, tested the driver's seat of a few cars. The motor show is an event not to be missed if you are into automobiles, and entry is relatively inexpensive at 1400 yen.
Number 4: Beaches
This summer, I spent some time visiting the beaches near Tokyo, specifically in the Izu Peninsula, the Shonan Coast in Kanagawa Prefecture and the Miura Peninsula which is south of Yokohama. Beaches tend not to be very high on the list of tourist must-go places but are very popular with the locals come summer. One of the trips was a three day cycling trip in the Izu Peninsula, which I enjoyed immensely. It was really a train trip with cycling portions, so I did not cycle the entire way, but I still got a crazy sunburn cycling to the various beaches under the hot summer sun.
Number 3: Tokushima
Tokushima Prefecture was one of the prefectures I had never been to, and had the chance to go just before the end of the year. I visited the Iya Valley and its mountainous interior. A couple of highlights were walking across the Kazurabashi vine bridge, and staying in a 300 year old farmhouse (kominka). I had a day of excellent weather and a day of heavy rain, but the low clouds and fog just added to the atmosphere of the valley, making it seem all the more hidden and secluded.
Number 2: Kerama Islands in Okinawa
Any trip to Okinawa always gets a thumbs up from me. This trip was about visiting the Kerama Islands, specifically Zamami and Tokashiki islands and the weather could not be better the entire time we were there. We went snorkelling in beautiful azure waters, went up to several observation points to take in the views, and went to a couple of uninhabited islands for more snorkelling. We also dined at Ashibiuna, one of the best Okinawan restaurants (in my books) in Naha. The traditional residence (kominka) with a beautiful garden turned into a restaurant served up delectable food, and the entire experience felt like a reward after a day out in the sun.
Number 1: Knife making at Takefu Knife Village
This trip to Takefu in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, was the first trip I took at the beginning of this year. We had lunch at a local soba shop with a blacksmith and found out later that the soba was cut with a soba-kiri he made. It was cold and there was lots of snow, but it was nice and warm in the forge. I had the opportunity to meet blacksmiths and knife sharpeners, hammer together and sharpen my very own kitchen knife. Making a knife from metal to sharp clearly requires years of practice and I had the blacksmiths laughing at my attempts to control the machines while I could only marvel at their adeptness. Definitely a great way to start the year, and hopefully 2016 will bring more adventures and travels!