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

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2013/12/31 - Sean's Travel Highlights 2013

Another eventful year at japan-guide. Here are the picks for my favorite visits this year:

Number 10: Kaniya Ryokan

During this year's inaugural We Love Japan Tour, the japan-guide team stayed at Kaniya Ryokan in Itoigawa for one night, and was treated to a sumptuous dinner of chanko nabe (broth with meat and vegetables usually consumed by sumo wrestlers) and crabs. The sweet and juicy crabs were absolutely delicious and it was fun communicating with the young men from the sumo clubs of local schools, to whom the ryokan was dormitory.

Crab for dinner

Number 9: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Last month, I made my first visit to Kitano Tenmangu, whose maple tree garden (Momiji-an) is open to public every autumn from around early November to mid December. Views of the maple trees were great even though they weren't yet at their best, but I was particularly touched by the sight of this huge zelkova tree. It drew a small crowd around it, commenting on its beauty.

Beautiful zelkova tree

Number 8: Akiyoshido Cave

The visit to Japan's longest and largest limestone cave was great: a nice cool walk underground, separated from the world outside. It was refreshing to see the terraces of limestone pools and underground waterfalls in the cave. Just above the cave was the Akiyoshidai Plateau with a karst topography dotted with limestone pinnacles - an equally interesting sight rarely seen in Japan.

Akiyoshido

Number 7: Ouchijuku

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Ouchijuku, a former post town along the trade route which connected Aizu with Nikko during the Edo Period. The nostalgic thatched roof houses lined up neatly in two rows, providing the scene for a postcard worthy picture. Visitors strolled along the wide thoroughfare and patronized the shop-houses, adding welcomed conviviality to the atmosphere. The local specialty negi soba (buckwheat noodles are ate with a leek branch as the utensil) was delicious too.

Ouchijuku

Number 6: Tokamachi Snow Festival

The Tokamachi Snow Festival created a lasting impression: the usually serene environment of the rural city was stirred by a jovial festival mood that filled the air, but yet retained a flavor of rusticity full of local charm. It was a joy to explore Tokamachi and see the many snow sculptures that had been created, and to be a part of the fun that everybody was experiencing in the cold winter.

Snow sculpture of characters from the One-Piece animation series

Number 5: Rokkonsai Festival

The Rokkonsai brings together the most popular festivals in the Tohoku Region, and prefectures in the region take turns to host it. This year was Fukushima Prefecture's turn and the festival was filled with excitement, colors, music and smiling faces. I appreciated the opportunity to experience six festivals at one location - it was like being pleasantly surprised six times in a day!

Buoyant atmosphere

Number 4: Icho Namiki

One of my favorite views this past autumn was that at the Icho Namiki (Ginkgo Avenue). The smart-looking rows of yellow ginkgo tree were delightful to watch. Sunlight filtered through the thick crowns of the trees, casting shadows that mingled with the fallen ginkgo leaves, adding a dash of romance to the picturesque avenue.

Icho Namiki

Number 3: Fuji Shibazakura Festival

This picture was a hit with our readers, but I wouldn't even dare take credit for it, because the scenery at the Fuji Shibazakura Festival was so enchanting that anybody would have taken a good picture there on that day. The weather was co-operative, enabling unobstructed views of Mount Fuji and the adorable pink moss that filled the festival venue.

Mount Fuji and shibazakura

Number 2: Manza Onsen

Early this year the japan-guide team headed to Manza Onsen for our New Year get-together, and it was great! I particularly enjoyed the outdoor baths in the snow where the therapeutic waters kept me warm while I enjoyed the winter landscape - utterly comfortable. It was fun having snowball fights with the lads too.

Outdoor bath in the snow

Number 1: Sumo Stable

The visit to Kasuganobeya Sumo Stable was an experience to remember for a lifetime. It was a humbling experience to witness first-hand the hard work and dedication that sumo wrestlers put in daily. Knowledge about the strictly regimented lives of the sumo wrestlers makes one reflect on whether his own life lacks discipline. By the way, their thighs were huge.

Kasuganobeya

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List of Posts:
2014/05/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakodate
2014/05/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsumae
2014/04/23 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fujigoko
2014/04/17 - Cherry Blossom Report: Takato
2014/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fujigoko
2014/04/11 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2014/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hikone
2014/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsuyama
2014/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2014/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2014/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/03/06 - Shopping around Northern Osaka
2014/01/23 - Nikko in Winter

2013/12/31 - Sean's Travel Highlights 2013
2013/12/06 - Kamakura Report
2013/11/26 - Tokyo Report
2013/11/22 - Kyoto Report
2013/11/21 - Miyajima Report
2013/11/19 - Korankei Report
2013/11/18 - Kyoto Report
2013/11/11 - Sakurayama Report
2013/11/08 - Karuizawa Report
2013/10/29 - Nikko Report
2013/10/18 - Nasu Report
2013/10/17 - Nikko Report
2013/10/14 - Mount Fuji Report
2013/10/10 - Oze Report
2013/09/27 - Alpine Route Report
2013/09/13 - Nakanojo Biennale 2013
2013/08/07 - Exploring Tokyo 2: Around the Tokyo Imperial Palace
2013/05/20 - Tottori Sand Museum 2013
2013/05/07 - Fuji Shibazakura Festival
2013/05/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2013/05/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kakunodate
2013/04/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kitakami
2013/04/23 - Northern Kanto Flower Report
2013/04/17 - Cherry Blossom Report: Takayama
2013/04/12 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsumoto
2013/04/11 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2013/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2013/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Gunma
2013/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2013/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/03/31 - Visiting Shodoshima for the Setouchi Triennale 2013
2013/03/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/03/27 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2013/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagoya
2013/03/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2013/03/21 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2013/03/12 - Tokyo Early Cherry Blossom Report
2013/02/17 - Tokamachi Snow Festival
2013/02/16 - Zao Snow Monster Report
2013/02/15 - Yokote Kamakura Festival
2013/01/10 - Winter Visit to Manza Onsen
2013/01/02 - Tokyo New Year Report

2012/12/31 - Sean's Travel Highlights 2012
2012/12/11 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2012/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/21 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Takaosan
2012/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/15 - Autumn Color Report: Shosenkyo
2012/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Yamadera
2012/11/06 - Autumn Color Report: Naruko
2012/11/05 - Autumn Color Report: Hiraizumi
2012/11/01 - Autumn Color Report: Kuju
2012/10/26 - Autumn Color Report: Minakami
2012/10/24 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2012/10/16 - Autumn Color Report: Norikura
2012/10/12 - Autumn Color Report: Oze
2012/10/09 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2012/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Route 292
2012/09/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kurodake
2012/09/27 - Autumn Color Report: Kogen Onsen
2012/09/26 - Autumn Color Report: Asahidake
2012/09/17 - Exploring Tokyo: Gate Bridge
2012/08/20 - Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial 2012
2012/06/27 - Hiking at Mount Azuma
2012/06/18 - Legoland Discovery Center opens in Odaiba
2012/06/18 - Hydrangea Flowers in Kamakura
2012/06/04 - Tokyo Skytree
2012/05/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sapporo
2012/05/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakodate
2012/05/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2012/04/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2012/04/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kakunodate
2012/04/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kitakami
2012/04/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hiraizumi
2012/04/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sendai
2012/04/24 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukushima
2012/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2012/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/11 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hiroshima
2012/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2012/04/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2012/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2012/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kagoshima
2012/03/22 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2012/03/08 - Plum Blossom Report from Kairakuen, Mito
2012/03/07 - Trip to Iwaki, Fukushima
2012/02/21 - Plum Blossom Report from Tokyo
2012/01/30 - Skiing in Inawashiro, Fukushima
2012/01/27 - Kusatsu Hot Springs