by Sean, staff writer of japan-guide.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.