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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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2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014

Once again it has been another busy year filled with new experience and challenges. And as 2014 comes to a close, we've reached that time where we take a look back at our travels and think about what were some of the best experiences from the past year.

Number 10: Outdoor Onsen

Onsen, or hot springs, are practically a national pastime in Japan, and it's no doubt that sitting out and relaxing in the hot water baths is something that is hard to beat. My favorite are the outdoor onsen (rotemburo) that offer beautiful views of nature from the water, and this year there were definitely a few stand outs in that category. Probably the best was a little public seaside bath in Obama Onsen, on the western coast of the Shimabara Peninsula, where you can enjoy sunset views while the waves gently lap over the side of the bath.

Seaside hot spring in Nagasaki

Number 9: Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival

At -7 degrees in the sun (and even colder at night) Sounkyo Onsen in Hokkaido was probably one of the coldest places I've ever been in Japan. Which is probably a good thing as they hold an annual Ice Waterfall Festival there where they build a three-story castle, complete with towers and a multi-level maze of caverns, almost entirely out of ice. It was pretty spectacular during the day, but perhaps even more so at night when they lit up the ice structures in a rainbow of colors. On a side note, I think we ended up bringing the cold back with us after the festival as parts of the Kanto Region ended up getting some of the most snow ever recorded on the evening that we returned home.

Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival

Number 8: Yoshinogari Historical Park

It's taken me 10 years, but this year I finally made it out to Saga to check out the Yoshinogari Historical Park, which is probably one of the best ancient archeological sites in the country. The sprawling park covers a huge Yayoi Period settlement that was excavated in the 80s and 90s, and includes some very interesting reconstructed walled villages and fortress-like enclosures. Usually it is difficult to picture what life was like in these ancient times, but it is really quite neat when you can go and see it with your own eyes.

Yoshinogari Historical Park

Number 7: Motsunabe

I'm with those that think that eating is a central part of traveling, and I'm lucky to be working with a group of like-minded people that are willing to put in a lot of time and effort to practice what we preach. This year we ended up doing a lot of work upgrading a number of the food pages on the site, which meant lots of research of the best kind. Of the millions of calories that were consumed for research purposes, the one thing that really stood out to me this year was Fukuoka style motsunabe (tripe stew), that I discovered when working on the Fukuoka Food Guide. I couldn't get enough of fatty, spicy stew and after one try I was hooked and ended up ordering it wherever else I could find it on the menu.

Motsunabe

Number 6: Okunikko in the fog

If you head up into Okunikko early enough in the morning you can sometimes catch the valley blanketed in fog, giving the area a hidden, mysterious feel that is especially thrilling when hiking around Senjogahara Marsh (just be wary of the bears, there were several sightings this year). This past autumn I had the chance to do some camping in the area and go to see the fog (together with the autumn colors) from a different perspective: while rowing along Lake Chuzenjiko. Definitely recommended.

Lake Chuzenjiko in fog

Number 5: Zazen and Takigyo

This year I had the opportunity to experience a few different religious practices including zazen zen meditation and takigyo waterfall meditation. Zazen, Buddhist seated meditation, seems to be increasingly popular with visitors to Japan and several temples offer sessions to travelers. I had the chance to participate in an early morning zazen meditation session at a small mountain temple on Mount Unzen and found it extremely relaxing and something that I probably could be doing more if I were to become more interested in my spiritual health.

On the other end of the spectrum, Takigyo is a Shugendo (mountain worship) practice where practitioners meditate while standing under a waterfall. Again, there are several temples in Japan where you can stay and participate in takigyo training, and while I didn't try this myself, I'd have to say that it was quite impressive to watch.

Takigyo waterfall meditation

Number 4: Robot Restaurant

Fighting robots, showgirls, lasers, gaudy decorations, and mirrored everything. That pretty much describes the Robot Restaurant. This year I finally had a chance to check out this polarizing attraction and found it to be a ridiculous, good time that would probably be equally at home in Las Vegas. I mean, it's not performing art, but if you are looking for an easy, entertaining and safe way to check out some of the nightlife around Kabukicho, then this might be it. Don't take it too seriously though, they sure don't.

Robot Restaurant

Number 3: Golfing around Japan

This year a lot of us in the office have taken up golfing so that we can start covering the beautiful courses found across the country. What better way to get out into nature, especially during the autumn and cherry blossom seasons when you can enjoy the leaves or blossoms on the course. We're still beginners of course and slowly building up our experience. One thing is for sure though, there is a lot of travel potential for Japan's golf courses.

Autumn Mount Myogi in Gunma Prefecture

Number 2: Mount Aso

After passing through the area on several occasions, this year I finally had the chance to explore Mount Aso in more depth. One of the world's largest calderas, the area is protected as a national park and has a variety of things to see and do including outdoor activities like hiking and horseback riding. At the center of the caldera is an active volcano surrounded by villages, but even more amazing to me was that caldera is so big that multiple towns fit inside!

Sunrise at Daikanbo
Kusasenri-ga-hama
The Aso Caldera at night

Number 1: Dining at a Yatai

If I'm not careful these travel highlights would be made up entirely of food entries! Lucky for us, we do a lot of eating while on the road and get to try all kinds of neat places. My favorites tend to be the street stands and back alley dives, so places like Shinjuku's Omoide Yokocho and Yurakucho's Gadoshita areas were also contenders for this spot. But my favorite this year was definitely the Yatai Food Stalls in Fukuoka. The atmosphere is really one of a kind, and there's no better place to try some of the city's famed Hakata Ramen.

Hakata ramen and beer at a yatai food stand
Yatai food stands on Nakasu Island

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List of Posts:
2016/05/13 - Goodbye and Farewell
2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015/12/09 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/11/27 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Osaka
2015/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2015/11/24 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Fuji
2015/11/11 - Autumn Color Report: Hakone
2015/11/06 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Fuji
2015/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2015/10/28 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2015/10/14 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2015/06/23 - Takumi no Waza - Master Craftsmanship of Japan
2015/06/21 - JCI Blending Together Tour
2015/04/30 - Wisterias at the Kawachi Fuji Garden
2015/04/16 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fujigoko
2015/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Himeji
2015/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2015/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2015/04/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2015/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Okayama
2015/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hiroshima
2015/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagoya
2015/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2015/03/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2015/01/08 - Exploring Tokyo's revitalized Nihonbashi District

2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014
2014/12/18 - Seasonal Illumination: Sagamiko Illumillion
2014/12/02 - Autumn Color Report: Kamakura
2014/11/27 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2014/11/14 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/12 - Autumn Color Report: Eiheiji
2014/11/11 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
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