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.
2010/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2010
Well 2010 is finally coming to a close, and sitting down to write about the year's travel highlights always brings back a lot of fond memories from the past year. Often times the trips start to run together in my head, but after looking through my pictures and going through my mental notes from the past year, I've narrowed it down to the following ten:
Number 10: Last Visit to Kabukiza
The closing of Kabukiza hit me as sort of bittersweet. I didn't think Kabuki was my thing since experiencing it for the first time a few years ago, but as soon as we heard that the theater would be torn down, we ordered tickets and headed down for one of the farewell shows. This time I really enjoyed the performances and found a new love for the art form. A new theater will be built around 2013, but the destruction of such an iconic building still feels like a loss.
Number 9: Onbashira
Onbashira is a festival held every six years in Nagano Prefecture, where people ride giant logs down a mountain slope. It's pretty much as dangerous as it sounds, and people occasionally die from injuries during the festival. This year I attended the festival (although I didn't attempt to ride the logs myself), and while it was neat to see such a rare and incredible sounding event, I think it would have rated higher on this list if it didn't involve so much waiting compared to the few seconds of action.
Number 8: Hiking on Mount Fuji
I visited Mount Fuji many times this year as we were improving the Fujigoko and Mount Fuji sections of the site, and did some short hikes up to some of the secondary peaks around the mountain. Hoeizan was just an hours hike from the Fujinomiya 5th Station and had a spectacular view over the clouds. The gravel strewn decent was perfect for a fun Sunabashiri (sand run) where you can take giant leaps down the slope covering in seconds what takes an hour to climb up.
Number 7: Setouchi Art Festival
The Setouchi Art Festival was an art festival held on seven islands in the Seto Inland Sea during the summer and early fall of this year. The idea takes its lead from Naoshima Island, one of the participant islands of the festival, who has turned itself into a contemporary art island by opening museums and art projects which have brought in tourism and revitalized the island. I'm a big fan of Naoshima, so the idea of turning the entire region into a giant open air museum sounds great. The entire experience was pretty amazing, with entire houses turned into art, and various pieces found around the small towns and fields of the islands. The next festival will be held in about three years, but in the meantime some of the art has become permanent fixtures on the islands.
Number 6: Koyo in Nikko
This year I tended to be early on most of my Koyo report trips, however Nikko was one spot that I got to see evolve through the entire season. There are lots of good autumn colors around the Okunikko (Inner Nikko) area, but this year I think I found the perfect spot along a little visited side road surrounded by maples and with no one else around. Not bad considering the popular attractions had literally busloads of visitors jockeying for position on that same day.
Number 5: Ishibashi Art House
On a visit to Naoshima this year I revisited the Art House Project to check out some of the projects I hadn't seen yet. One of the ones that was new to me was Ishibashi, a restored salt merchant's residence that houses some incredible artwork, particularly the painting of a waterfall displayed in the residence's storehouse. Definitely don't overlook this art house especially since it's a little further away from the other houses.
Number 4: Running down the Tottori Sand Dunes
Tottori Prefecture only has a few attractions, the most famous of which are probably the large sand dunes found on its coast along the Sea of Japan. The largest is several stories high and has a pretty steep slope, making for some awesome sunabashiri (sand run). I was looking forward to this the entire trip and it was worth the wait.
Number 3: Takamatsu Waterfront at Sunset
There's just something about Takamatsu that I love. It has great restaurants, Ritsurin Koen, and every time I've been there the weather has been perfect. This last visit we were treated to some spectacular sunsets while on an after dinner stroll along the waterfront.
Number 2: Seirensho
Seirensho is an abandoned 19th century copper refinery on Inujima Island that was converted into a modern art gallery which incorporates the artwork into the refinery ruins. I particularly enjoyed the tunnel of mirrors which cleverly messes with your sense of direction (although in unexpected ways), and exploring the refinery ruins. The island can be a little difficult to access, but I found it well worth the effort.
Number 1: Zao Snow Monsters
Finally, my number one highlight of 2010 are the Snow Monsters at Zao Onsen. The Snow Monsters are a local phenomena that happen when the snow conditions are just right so that it sticks to the trees coating them with a thick layer of snow. There are forests of thousands of them along the ski slopes and at the top of the mountain, and I spent over an hour exploring them. The monsters really appear to be alive and the snow creates limbs that sway and move in the wind. Check them out if you are in Yamagata around mid February. The monsters are illuminated in the evenings on weekends in January, during the New Year's Holidays, and from February to March.