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Monday, 5 May 2014

Land of the Rising Sun : Japan (Nagoya and Gifu Prefecture)

Land of the Rising Sun - It all started when I traveled to Japan in August 2013 for the Japan Young Leaders Training Program (TPYL) under the Japan Government Technical Cooperation Scheme program organised by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Chubu International Center and funded by the Government of Japan for 3-weeks, from 31 August – 19 September 2013. There's absolutely no way in which I can put the past 3-weeks journey into words that can even describe the scope of how amazing and fruitful my trip to Japan was.  I’ll start off by saying that Japan did meet my expectations and I was fascinated with the Japanese culture (people, architecture, customs, food, almost everything!).  
  • People are extraordinarily friendly and helpful, almost zero crime rate in Japan, and I felt extremely safe there.
  • The country is very beautiful, with rich history and traditions, and displays a very diverse sets of lifestyles, from family farming to modern technologies.
  • Japan is extremely clean and well-organized (neat). 
  • There are many stories about the Japanese toilets. They are heated and have water jets coming from two different sides, so you can choose a front or rear wash. I personally enjoyed the washing! :)
The following is a brief summary of my 3-weeks journey in Japan.

We took JAL (Japan Airlines) from Kuala Lumpur - Tokyo (Narita) - Nagoya (Chubu). After arriving in Tokyo, we got on a local JAL flight to Nagoya. We flew right over Yokohama and Mt. Fuji. 
They said that once you can see clearly Mt. Fuji in Japan you are very much welcome in there!
Nagoya – Nagoya Castle - Osu Kannon Temple - Toyota Museum of Industry & Technology - Nagoya City Science Museum - JR Nagoya Station – Sakae Shopping District - Nagoya TV Tower - Oasis 21 

Kyoto - Toji Temple - Kyoto Tower - Nijo Castle - Nishiki Market 

Gifu – Colourful Town – Nagaragawa Commorant Fishing Museum followed by Commorant Fishing Viewing + Dinner

Ogaki & Gujo Hachiman 

Hida Takayama (Little Kyoto of the North) – Hida Takayama Museum of History and Art – Takayama Traditional District

Nagoya is Japan’s fourth-largest city, synonymous to the leading Japanese auto-manufacturer Toyota. Its position along the pacific coast between Tokyo and Osaka has helped Nagoya become one of Japan's major ports and an economic powerhouse.

Places of interest in Nagoya:
(i) Nagoya Castle – built back in the 1200's, but was destroyed during the World War II.  On the roof of the castle tower, with a height equivalent to an 18-story building, there is a "Gold Shachihoko statue" symbolizing the prestige of the Tokugawas. "Shachi" is an imaginary animal with a fish-like body and a tiger-shaped head.
Nagoya Castle - a beautiful example of the Japanese architecture 

 Nagoya - also known as "City of Technologies" in Japan
(ii) Osu Kannon Temple - Located just South of Sakae and Fushimi. It is a great place to stroll and take in the mix of old and new. Osu Kannon Temple is Nagoya's oldest and people come over to pray for passing exams, smooth work, or not get restructured right now. Beside this temple, is the entrance to the covered shopping streets that comprise the Osu Shopping Arcade, Nagoya's answer to Akihabara! The surrounding area is home to a vibrant fusion of old-style arcades selling everything including electrical items, snacks and toys etc. 

The famous Osu Kannon Temple in Nagoya
Osu Kannon Temple 
The main deity of the temple is Kannon-sama, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy
This shopping arcade sell electronics (duty-free shops included), Cosplay, anime and idol goods, clothes and souvenirs

 Shiyakusho subway-station in Nagoya
(iii) Toyota Museum of Industry & TechnologyToyota, now world famous for its cars, started life as a textile firm and this fascinating museum, housed in an old red-brick textile factory, displays textile looms and a history of automobile design in its two pavilions. Over-all, the Toyota visit was really enjoyable, particularly seeing the school children on a field trip, writing notes, trying to grasp and enjoy all the information at the same time.
Toyota started as a textile firm
Toyota Museum of Industry & Technology

Robot playing a trumpet

(iv) Nagoya City Science Museum - Houses one of Japan's largest planetariums and has interesting sections on modern technology, life sciences and general science with a variety of hands-on exhibits for children. 

(v) JR Nagoya Station – The Nagoya Station (also known as meieki) was my favoutite spot in this Japan trip. This place has everything, as it is locally known is Nagoya's one stop Railway station, shopping destination and business centre! The station ranks among the world's largest in terms of floor area. The Station also offers many amenities and opportunities for shopping at JR Nagoya Takashimaya Departmental Store and is a popular meeting spot in Nagoya. JICA Chubu International Centre is only about 5-minute walk towards north of meieki and many of my favourite Nagoya sushi-bar, electronic mega-stores and departmental stores are in and around the station.

But it is not well known as a center of fashion :(

Nagoya doesn’t lack for tall buildings too!

Nagoya doesn’t lack for tall buildings too!

In love with Japanese Packaging
In love with Japanese Packaging
Conveyor Belt Sushi-Bar inside Nagoya Station
(vi) Sakae District - Between and around the Nagoya TV Tower and Oasis 21 Complex is the Sakae district which offers good departmental store shopping, restaurants and night-life.
Sakae is the place to go shopping in Nagoya, the place to meet friends, taste the best of Nagoya cuisine or to spend some leisurely time in the centre of Nagoya.
Nagoya TV Tower and Oasis 21
Sakae District

(vii) Electronics  - BIG CAMERA (one of the biggest electrical appliances discount shop in Tokai area) and LABI  are the two most popular electronic malls for its best bargain in town. The 5-stories mega-stores  sell everything, ranging from electronics, to cameras to our all time favourite GUNDAM. 

Gundam Madness

After a few days exploring Nagoya, I moved on to Kyoto on a-day trip basis via Shinkansen. 
Shinkansen or bullet trains are the fastest and the most popular mode of transport. Nagoya and Kyoto are major stations on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen. Running at a speed of upto 300 km/h, the Shinkansen is known for its punctuality, comfort (relatively silent cars with spacious, always forward facing seats), safety (no fatal accidents in its history) and efficiency.

Myself at Kyoto Station

Fastest way to Kyoto / Tokyo from Nagoya is by taking the bullet train, the Shinkansen

Today, September 7, 2013 though was Kyoto, but first:  Breakfast!
Since the menu and shop was all in Japanese, I went in to a cafe nearby Toji Temple to get some egg, toast and of course the daily coffee!  

Big Breakfast near Toji Temple, Kyoto
Upon arrival, I headed to Toji Temple, one of Kyoto's five temples listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The temple's most prominent attraction is its five-story pagoda, standing 57 meters high and being the tallest of Japan's pagodas. The temple is about 500 meters southwest of Kyoto Station, making it a quick and easy journey by foot. Later on, I headed off on a local bus for Nijo Castle. This castle was built in the 1600’s and was where the Chief Shogun lived. Once again, beautiful grounds, incredible palace and castle, and cool moat and castle walls. Later in the afternoon, I then moved onto Nishiki Market, a major shopping area in central Kyoto. This is a Japanese version of shopping malls. This covered market streets offer mostly small items, such as food/snacks, souvenirs, clothes, and shoes.

Toji Temple, a five-storied pagoda
Nijo Castle where the Chief Shogun lived
Castle Walls of Nijo Castle

Gifu, around 30km north of Nagoya city, and accessible by either the Meitetsu or JR Line from Nagoya station is worth visiting for its twin attractions of cormorant fishing (Ukai) on the Nagara River and Gifu castle (Gifujo), perched on top of Kinka-zan, which affords great views of the surrounding area even as far as the Hida mountains and Mt. Hakusan. The cormorant fishing takes place at night from May 11 - October 15 and visitors can book a place on the long, canopied boats hung with paper lanterns to watch the birds in action as they catch, but can't swallow, the local Ayu (Sweet fish).
Gifu Castle

 For more than 250 years, the Tokugawa Shogun ruled Japan
Views of Hida mountains and Nagaragawa River from Gifu Castle
Nagaragawa Ukai - Cormorant Fishing on Nagara River
Nagaragawa Ukai - Cormorant Fishing on Nagara River
Nagaragawa Ukai - Cormorant Fishing on Nagara River
The "Colourful Town" in Gifu
 It took couple of hours from Gifu City to Hida Takayama. The road goes through deep canyons and rugged mountains and long tunnels. 

More rural areas in the mountains
Okasan - Otousan's house in Yamagata-shi, Gifu
Homestay experience with my host family - IInuma's family
Ogaki is a small, relaxing town only 30 minutes from Nagoya. This town is best known for its connection with wandering Edo-period Haiku master, Matsuo Basho and famous for its delicious-tasting water. Ogaki was the final destination in 1689 of Basho's epic journey to the northeast of Japan. (Source: A Haiku Journey: Bashos Narrow Road to a Far Province (Illustrated Japanese Classics) 

Mizu Manju, the summer sweets of Ogaki City
Zen Garden in Ogaki for soul restoring
HIDA TAKAYAMA (Little Kyoto)
Hida Takayama is an old town famous for its old street with preserved historical architecture from Edo period. Here is the only place where the whole town looks old. Everything is made of wood, and the restaurants serve delicious Hida beef.The town is well-preserved and less tourist. If you fancy something a little less well-known but still very much suited to Kyoto, why not check out Hida Takayama. The place is still one of the less touristy spot in Japan.

Festival floats used for a yearly parade at the exhibition hall
Takayama - Home of the Japanese Spirit
Beautifully preserved old town
Beautifully preserved old town
Beautifully preserved old town
Takayama is a beautiful city and has a lot of character
Takayama is a beautiful city and has a lot of character
Takayama is a beautiful city and has a lot of character

Beautiful mountains and rivers surround Gujo City. Gujo Hachiman is all about water! This place is also well-known for visitors who also want to visit UNESCO World Heritage Shirakawa Go Village. The famous plastic "food sample", usually seen outside virtually every restaurant in Japan (or even in Malaysia) are invented in Gujo Hachiman. Visitors from all over the country usually travel to Gujo City to enjoy the pure mineral water that flows from every tap in this town! What makes Gujo Hachiman unique? It is not only it’s beautiful scenery, but also the old town streets preserved in their original state that has changed so little over many years and a pristine river that runs through the town.

Discover the old town

Gujo Hachiman is best experienced on foot!
A typical suburban or countryside scenery in Japan. Houses are surrounded by rice fields

 A typical suburban or countryside scenery in Japan. Houses are surrounded by rice fields

 A typical suburban or countryside scenery in Japan. Houses are surrounded by rice fields
Ryokan Experience
Sogi Sui spring
Sogi Sui Spring
Crystal clear mountain water and vast sprawling greenery
 "Not far away, but a world apart..." Gujo Hachiman  

Ohh, I love 7-Eleven stores in Japan!  They have more than just food and drinks. They got everything you need from your daily essentials, stationeries to clothing! 

Things that you can buy from 7-Eleven Japan
Things that you can buy from 7-Eleven Japan
Japanese KitKats

Air Itinerary Details: 
Malaysia Airlines (MH): Penang – Kuala Lumpur  - Japan Airlines (JAL): Kuala Lumpur – Tokyo (Narita) – Nagoya (Chubu) / Nagoya (Chubu) – Tokyo (Narita) - Kuala Lumpur  - Penang

Chubu – Japan International Cooperation Agency ( JICA) Chubu International Center 
Ogaki – Ogaki Forum Hotel 
Takayama – Country Hotel Takayama 
Yamagata - Homestay at  IInuma's 

Overall, Japan’s great, although I prefer it more in Spring when Sakura blossoms. There is lots more of Japan to visit. Sayonara until next time! I'll be back. 

 "Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world "

**The photos were captured and edited with iPhone 5

Welcome to Small World! This blog allows me to share my travel experiences with others in a straightforward and far-reaching way. I often made great use of other peoples travel blogs and websites every time I plan for my travel trips as they often contained most updated information and invaluable resources from their past travel experiences. 
I really hope that you will find every piece of information contained within my blog 
handy and useful for your upcoming trip. 
Thank you very much for reading my post(s) and feel free to leave a comment. 

The writer is a passionate traveler who enjoys speaking to young keen travelers about the freedom to get cultured and to taste the fullness of life. Feel free to contact the writer: chengywong@gmail.com if you need any travel guidance or tips or if you have any burning questions with regards to your upcoming trip/ journey 
Be inspired but more importantly be inspiring - 

1 comment:

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