The Historic Village of Shirakawa-go (白川郷) - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The historic village of Shirakawa-go (白川郷) is one of the UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites and is featured prominently on one of the many promotional brochures for tourists coming to Japan.

I went on this trip almost one year ago on Jan. 6, 2012 and the original purpose was to share a ride with a Japanese classmate who was going back to his hometown in Hyogo Prefecture (near Kobe) so I could go to the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe) for sightseeing.

Since I had mostly visited most of the mainstream tourist attractions of Japan and I wanted to find some place "off the beaten track" to visit, I figured it would be convenient to combine my visit to the Kansai region with a trip to Shirakawa-go and Kanazawa.

The main attraction to Shirakawa-go are the traditional "gassho-zukuri" (合掌造り) farmhouses that were built hundreds of years ago in response to the snowy winters and the deep isolation from the rest of Japan.


Kyoto Arashiyama (嵐山)

The Arashiyama (嵐山) district is one of the most popular areas of Kyoto. It is located in the western end of Kyoto and looks spectacular in the spring when the cherry blossoms bloom or when the leaves change colour in the fall.

Unfortunately, during the 2 times that I visited Arashiyama, I missed both the optimum seasons to visit because of school commitments. The following is a complication of photos that I took during my visits in September 2010 and December 2011.

One of the main attractions in Arashiyama is this bamboo forest.


Bird's Eye Views from Tokyo-Hiroshima Flights

Due to 3 internships at 3 different times of the year and 1 field research in Tokyo, I have taken the flight from Tokyo Haneda to Hiroshima more times than any other route that I have previously flown. In total, I have this segment 8 times on both Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways including one time on one of the first Boeing 787s ever delivered.

There are various reasons why I choose to take the plane over taking the Shinkansen (high speed rail) and the main reason is cost. Shinkansen tickets are expensive (15,000 yen one way, $180~) and are never discounted while if you book airplane tickets more than 1 month in advance, the price can be as low as 11,000 yen, $133~.

The Shinkansen takes 4 hours from train station to train station and the flight takes 1.5 hours so if you add in access time, the time required is around the same.

The side benefit of taking the flight is that you get to see spectacular bird's eye views of Japan ^^

In this post, I complied the pictures I took from various flights that I had taken.


Kansai Airport Tour

There are approximately three things that first got me interested in Japan: Sony/consumer electronics [now completely irrelevant], Shinkansen (bullet train) and Kansai Airport.

I first learned about Kansai Airport in 1994 at the age of 11 when my dad told me about reading some magazine article on some "crazy" airport that was being built in Japan on an entirely man-made island. This got me really interested and I asked him to bring me the article so I could read it and the next day I received the article, ripped out of from the employee lounge's copy of Time magazine ^^

It would be until 2004 until I had the chance to visit the Renzo Piano-designed Kansai Airport for the first time. However this was a family trip using the Japan Rail Pass and we didn't have much time so I managed to convince the others to visit the airport at night since we didn't have to pay any extra fees as we had the rail pass.

Although I finally got the chance to visit the airport that I first got to know about in 1994, because we visited at night, I could not explore as much as I wanted, mainly I wanted to see the man-made island and the double-decker railway/road bridge.

Now upon gaining some (crappy) Japanese language ability as a result of my undergraduate student exchange and my current post-graduate studies, I found out that they offered tours of the airport so I scheduled a tour on my mini-trip to Kansai in Sept. 2010.

The Renzo Piano-designed international terminal building from the visitor's centre.


Osaka Urban Walks

This is a collection of pictures that I took while walking around in Osaka during my mini-Kansai trip in Sept. 2010.

For some reason after they selected the "Inukshuk" as the logo for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada, this symbol of the native Inuit peoples of Canada suddenly became one of the symbols of Canada?

Anyways I found in inside a subway station in Osaka, Japan. I think it has to do with the fact that intensive wood was used in the architectural design of this Keihan Railway station.


Kobe Walks: Chinatown, Waterfront

On Sept. 22, 2010, after I finished my morning visit to the Instant Ramen Museum, since I was already located west of Osaka, I decided to visit Kobe again (the cities of Kobe and Osaka are only 30 minutes or less by train away).

Kobe is one of my favorite cities in Japan because it has such a nice atmosphere. It is very compact (the model "compact city"?) yet does not feel overcrowded like Tokyo and the city is also blessed with many historical areas and buildings from the past due its interactions with the Western world during the modernization of Japan.

The Kansai region is unique in that the 3 major cities all have a distinct characteristic unlike the Kanto (Tokyo-Yokohama) metropolitan area where it is just uniform dense urban sprawl for as far as the eyes can see. Kobe is is quite clean and chic compared to the run-down and dirty Osaka, while Kyoto offers a glimpse of the idealized traditional "old Japan" of "samurai and ninja".

I have been to Kobe many times before, but I still like visiting Kobe whenever I am in the Kansai region because I like walking and wandering around to see what new and interesting thing I can bump into.

The view of the Kobe waterfront with the red coloured Kobe Port Tower in the background.


Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka (インスタントラーメン発明記念館)

On Sept. 22, 2010, I visited the Kansai region for a couple of days and one of the places that I always wanted to visit while I was an exchange student in Tokyo in 2005-06 but never had the chance to was the Instant Ramen Museum (インスタントラーメン発明記念館) built by the company that created instant ramen, Nissin Foods.

The instant ramen was invented by Momofuku Ando in Ikeda City in Osaka where this museum is located.

This is the original Instant Ramen Museum and has no entrance fee. In 2011, probably to cash in on tourists coming to the Tokyo area, a bigger and non-free museum (500 yen entrance fee), the Cup Noodles Museum (カップヌードルミュージアム), opened in Yokohama.

Outside of the museum is a statue of the inventor of the MSG laced, totally unhealthy instant ramen. I do admit that I am an instant ramen fan though!

Actually my favorite brand is "出前一丁" and interestingly I didn't know what those 4 words meant (it makes no sense in Chinese) until I learned of the Japanese reading. "出前" means "delivery" and "一丁" means one city block or one order.


Kurashiki (倉敷), Takamatsu (高松) and Okayama (岡山)

The following pictures are from a day trip that a friend and I went on January 9, 2011 to Kurashiki (倉敷), Takamatsu (高松) and Okayama (岡山). The reason for this trip was because I had 2 times remaining on the 5 day non-consecutive local train pass (stops at every stop) called the Seishin 18 Kippu (青春18きっぷ) and I had to use it before the pass expired. Due to being located in such an isolated area such as Hiroshima, the closest interesting day trip via local train were to these 3 cities.

After around 2 hours on the train we arrived in Kurashiki where the main attraction is the preserved canal area that retains the atmosphere of "old Japan".


Kintai Bridge (錦帯橋) and Iwakuni Castle (岩国城)

Like all tourist attractions in the Hiroshima area, by now, I have been to almost all tourist attractions at least 2 times. Therefore this post is a combination of two separate visits during 2011, one on March 5, 2011 for a paid travel survey and one on Nov. 28, 2011 as part of a school trip with my laboratory classmates.

The pictures with the blue sky are from March 2011 and the pictures with the grey sky are from November 2011.

I had actually been to Iwakuni three times now. The first time was in May of 2010 for the American military base's open house.

The main attraction of Iwakuni is the Kintai Bridge (錦帯橋) and is know as one of "Japan's famous three bridges" (日本三名橋). The other bridges being Megane Bridge (眼鏡橋) in Nagasaki and Nihonbashi (日本橋) in Tokyo.


Tokyo Haneda to Hiroshima 787 Flight

After doing internships in Tokyo from mid-February to April, it was time for me to once again head back to my university in Hiroshima to start the second last semester of my graduate program.

Although there aren't many "upsides" to studying in such a remote place as Higashi-Hiroshima (our school campus is not actually in Hiroshima city), I was lucky that All Nippon Airways (ANA) scheduled their brand new Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" airplanes for the Tokyo to Hiroshima route. If I am not mistaken, the only other two routes that ANA currently (April 2012) uses their 787s for are the routes from Tokyo to Okayama and Tokyo to Frankfurt, Germany.

Last summer, when I was doing an another internship in Tokyo, I took the plane back to Hiroshima and I was lucky enough that the plane used the "correct runway" so that in going eastbound, the plane flew right over Tokyo in a counter-clockwise direction and I could see the entire city from a bird's eye view. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera that time so I could not get any pictures. 

This time I brought out my camera just in case we used that "correct runway" and surely enough we did and the resulting photos are a result of ignoring all the warnings about not using any electronic devices during takeoff!

The Boeing 787 at the gate at Haneda Airport Terminal 2.

Haneda-Hiroshima 787 Flight