2011 Taiwan Trip: Taipei Back to Tokyo

April 4, 2011 was our last day in Taipei ending our week long trip to Taiwan. On this day our flight was in the afternoon so we still had the morning to explore a little bit of Taipei before we left.

Takeoff from Taipei's Songshan Airport on a cloudy day with the Taipei 101 building sticking out in the background.


2011 Taiwan Trip: Taipei - Martyrs Shrine, Grand Hotel and Maokong

On April 3, 2011, during the last full day of our Taiwan trip in 2011, we explored a bit more of Taipei. We went to visit the Martyrs' Shrine had a buffet lunch at the Grand Hotel and went to Maokong.

Changing of the guard at the Martyrs' Shrine.


2011 Taiwan Trip: Presidential Building (總統府) and Tamsui (淡水)

During our Taiwan trip in 2011, on April 2, 2011, we explored a bit more of Taipei after getting out of the Taipei area for the previous 2 days to visit Taichung and Kaohsiung.

We were lucky that our trip coincided with the official open house of the Presidential Office Building of the Republic of China (Taiwan) that only happens once per month and on that month it happened to fall on April 2 so the first thing we did that day was visit the Presidential Office Building.

The Presidential Office Building from a distance.


2011 Taiwan Trip: Taiwan by High Speed Rail - Taichung (台中) and Kaohsiung (高雄)

On March 31, 2013 and April 1, 2013, on our week long Taiwan trip, we went to Taichung (台中) and Kaohsiung (高雄) respectively.

One of the major reasons was to try out Taiwan's high speed rail line which opened in 2007 and to see how it compared to Japan's Shinkansen. Unfortunately, at the time, Taiwan High Speed Rail did not offer a rail pass for tourists like Japan and other European countries, but luckily the ticket prices were not so expensive, compared to say, that of Japan's.

Also we wanted to see how other cities in Taiwan looked like outside of its capital of Taipei. Since our hotel booked for the week was in Taipei, we had to pick some destinations which would work for a day trip. From the guidebooks it seemed like Taichung and Kaohsiung would be interesting places to visit...

The high speed trains of Taiwan with the distinctive orange stripe. What is interesting is that the only other places that uses Japanese Shinkansen trains for high speed rail are Taiwan and China, with Taiwan using the newer model while China uses the slightly older one. The trains that Taiwan uses are actually a derivative of the trains that run on the Tokaido Shinkansen line in Japan.


2011 Taiwan Trip: Taipei - National Palace Museum, Official Residences and Markets

On our second day in Taipei on March 30, 2011, visiting museum and museum-like attractions took up the bulk of our day.

The main museum that we visited on that day, the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院) from the outside, designed as a fusion of 1960s architecture combined with traditional Chinese architecture.


2011 Taiwan Trip: Taipei - Presidents and Towers

March 29, 2011 was the second full day of our week long trip to Taiwan. It was my first trip to Taiwan and my mom's first trip to Taiwan in 20 years. On this day we mostly spent the time exploring Taipei.

My mom had heard that Taipei had been "completely rebuilt" after the devastating 1999 earthquake and wanted to see how "modern" Taipei had become since the last time she had visited ages ago.

The symbol of Taipei, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.


2011 Taiwan Trip: Flight from Tokyo Haneda to Taipei

On March 28, 2011, as a continuation of the almost one month long trip that I took with my mom when she visited me in Japan while I was studying there, we flew to Taiwan for a 1 week trip.

I booked the hotel and flight package from Rakuten Travel and it was surprisingly cheap. The 7 nights, 8 days package including the airfare cost 140,000 yen (US$1400) for 2 people. That is like 70,000 yen (US$700) per person for 7 nights in a hotel and the airfare!

The airline in the package was All Nippon Airways and the flight was from Tokyo Haneda airport to Taipei Songshan instead of the much farther Tokyo Narita airport. Because international flights from Tokyo Haneda airport are usually targeted to business travellers, the flight tickets are usually much more expensive, thereby making this hotel and flight package even more of a deal!

Historically, Tokyo Haneda airport was designated for domestic flights while Tokyo Narita airport was designated for international flights. At the time, they changed the laws to allow for short distance international flights to Asia at Tokyo Haneda airport so an international terminal was newly built.

The brand new international terminal at Tokyo Haneda airport.


The JR East Railway Museum in Omiya in March 2011

During the week at the end of March when me and my mom were visiting the Tokyo and Yokohama area, on March 25, 2011, we took a day trip to the northern suburbs of Tokyo, to Omiya in Saitama Prefecture to visit the JR East Railway Museum.

Now normally visiting a railway museum would seem like a dull experience for people who are not railway fans but this museum seemed designed to cater to everyone of every demographic.

One of the reasons is that railways are to Japan how cars are to America. Railways are embedded in the ordinary life in Japan and also in the cultural psyche. If one lives in a large city in Japan, he would most likely take the train to go to work or to go shopping and if he was to do any domestic traveling, he would probably also take the train to get there.

In fact, one of the high speed Shinkansen rail lines in Kyushu was opened on March 12, 2011, one day after the 3/11 earthquake/tsunami disaster, and as a result, all the opening ceremonies were closed and an excellent heartwarming commercial produced to advertise for the Kyushu Shinkansen was not aired on TV. (Its popularity exploded on the Internet and it ended up winning international awards for advertising)

The entrance of the railway museum, because of the ongoing power shortage caused when all nuclear reactors were ordered to be taken offline following the nuclear disaster, the opening hours were cut short to 10 am to 4 pm.


Tokyo and Yokohama During the 3/11 Disaster

I visited Tokyo and Yokohama from the March 23 to March 27, 2011 when my mother came to visit me in Japan during the spring of 2011. This is a continuation of our trip that started in Osaka on March 10, 2011, one day before the biggest disaster to hit Japan in recent memory occurred. After visiting the Kansai region, we went to Okinawa and then flew back to Fukuoka, stopping at Nagasaki for a day before spending a couple of days in Hiroshima. Afterwards we took a night bus (never again) to Tokyo on March 23, 2011.

At this time, it was my first time back in Tokyo after I had left in 2006 when I was as an exchange student at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

Because the Tokyo area was moderately affected by the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster (the 3/11 disaster), many foreigners living in Tokyo at the time were hysterically leaving for home via their embassies or for "safer" areas like the Kansai area or even places like Hong Kong because paranoia over radiation concerns. Instead because we had already booked and planned everything, we decided that it was safe to visit and it was indeed safe during our time there. In addition, there were less crowds!

The only odd thing that happened was that due to all the nuclear reactors being in shutdown mode as a precautionary measure, there were fears of a power shortage so in order to conserve energy, the train operators decided not to turn on any of the lights inside the trains during the overground sections. It felt weird to be riding the JR Yamanote Line in the dark with only sunlight coming through the windows.

The Nakamise-dori in front of the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.


Kansai Trip During the 2011 3/11 Disaster

More than two years have passed since the devastating earthquake and tsunami disaster (3/11 Disaster) that hit the Tohoku area in northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011 and during that time, I was an international student studying in graduate school in Hiroshima on the opposite side of where the disaster hit in Japan. While going through my files, I discovered some photos I had not yet posted and those were the ones taken while I was traveling in the Kansai region during that time.

In the beginning of 2011, my mom made travel plans to visit me during the Japanese university academic calendar spring vacation (from February to the end of March) and we started off by visiting the Kansai (Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto) region.

So what was it like to be in Japan during the 3/11 Disaster in the Kansai region in western Japan? Surprisingly normal.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社) that we visited in Kyoto on March 12, 2011.


Road Trip to Yamaguchi Prefecture (山口県)

In the summer of 2012 on August 15, my friend from Jamaica and I were discussing about places to do a one day road trip since he had just acquired a car and Japanese driver's license. (I had a Japanese driver's license but no car)

Originally we wanted to drive across the Seto Ohashi Bridge (瀬戸大橋) from Okayama (岡山) to the island of Shikoku (四国) but we wanted to see the scenery of the Inland Sea from the bridge and since the weather was not cooperating with us on the day we wanted to go (it was cloudy), we choose to instead drive to neighbouring Yamaguchi Prefecture (山口県) from where we lived in Higashi-Hiroshima (東広島) in Hiroshima Prefecture (広島県).

It was hard to find tourist attractions worth visiting in Yamaguchi Prefecture, but after looking at some travel magazines at the local Tsutaya, a book and video rental store, we decided to visit Hagi city (萩) and then Yamaguchi city (山口市).

Yamaguchi city, the capital of Yamaguchi Prefecture, also known as "Kyoto of the West" in the tourism propaganda.


Biking in Kyoto in January

On the 5th and last day of my trip to the Kansai area during the school winter vacations in 2012, on January 4, 2012, I decided to explore the "local areas of Kyoto" by renting a bicycle and biking around Kyoto.

I had been to Kyoto many times in the past and I always thought that it was the perfect city to explore by bicycle because it is mostly flat and the city streets are laid out in a grid-like pattern meaning that it would be hard to get lost unlike in other cities of Japan like Tokyo for example.

It started out with perfect weather, but as I would experience in later visits to Kyoto during the same month, the weather in Kyoto in January is really unpredictable...

My primary interest in biking in Kyoto was to explore the urban areas and local neighbourhoods and only by bike can you explore less touristy areas like this one. The Toji Temple (東寺) area south of Kyoto station.


The City of Uji (宇治) and Fushimi (伏見) in Kyoto Prefecture

On the 4th day of my trip to Kansai during the winter school vacations in 2012, on January 3, 2012, I went to the city of Uji (宇治) and Fushimi (伏見) which is just south of the city of Kyoto.

Kyoto is one of my favourite cities to visit in Japan because a lot of the nice traditional city atmosphere of "old Japan" still remains, unlike most other cities in Japan. Because I had basically visited most of the attractions in Kyoto at least once, I wanted to find another area near Kyoto that I had not been to before. After looking at some tourist guides, the city of Uji and Fushimi looked like an interesting place to visit.

In Uji, the main attraction is the Byodoin Temple (平等院) which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto".


Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum in Takarazuka (宝塚), Nishinomiya (西宮) and Ashiya (芦屋)

On the 3rd day of my trip to Kansai in 2012, I went to the area of Kansai between Osaka and Kobe. I visited the cities of Takarazuka, Nishinomiya and Ashiya. Previously I had gone to Kobe and Koya-san on December 31, 2011 and January 1, 2012 respectively.

There were a couple of reasons why I choose to visit these un-touristy areas. (1) Due to my interest in railway plus property urban planning and development, I wanted to see what the areas along the Hankyu Railway lines looked like since Hankyu Railway was considered a pioneer of this urban development model in Japan. (2) Since the Hankyu lines went through Takarazuka, I could also make a visit to the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum on the way. (3) Because of the New Years, Hankyu was selling its 1 day unlimited pass as the "New Year Ticket" for only 1000 yen (US$10) compared to the normal price of 1200 yen (US$12).

The Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum in Takarazuka.


2012 New Year's Trip to Koya-san/Mount Koya (高野山)

On January 1, 2012, during my winter trip to Kansai, I went to Koya-san/Mount Koya (高野山). One of the reasons I choose to go to Koya-san on New Years is because nothing is open on New Years Day in Japan and going to a commerce-free mountainous temple town seemed to be a good idea and it would be interesting to soak up the atmosphere of a temple town.

Koya-san is the centre of Shingon Buddhism which was introduced in 805 by the monk Kukai (空海) (Kobo Daishi, 弘法大師) and Koya-san was first settled in 819. Koya-san is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name of the "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range".

The main gate of Koya-san, the traditional entrance to Koya-san before the advent of modern transportation means.


Kobe: New Towns, Arima Onsen (有馬温泉) and Mt. Rokko (六甲山)

On December 31, 2011, I visited Kobe, Japan (神戸) again as part of a trip to the Kansai (関西) area because luckily I had a Japanese classmate who was going back to his hometown in the Kansai area for the New Years Holidays and I could share a ride in his car for the 4 hour journey from the campus of Hiroshima University to the Kobe suburban town of Kakogawa (加古川).

I actually arrived in Kobe the previous day at around mid-afternoon and I stayed at a hotel north of the main Sannomiya (三宮) railway station called the Hotel Area One. In all my travels around Japan, it was one of the worst stays I ever had in a hotel. The hotel was located right behind a shrine and in preparation for the new year, the shrine was open for some sort of festival the entire night and because buildings in Japan generally have poor noise insulation, from the room, the noise was so loud that I could hardly sleep!

Generally in my opinion, there are not a good range of easily accessible hotels in Kobe, it is often better to stay in a hotel in Osaka and just take the 30 minute train ride to Kobe as there is a large selection of affordable and cheap hotels in Osaka.

One of the reasons for visiting Kobe (again) was to see the areas of Kobe that I had never seen before this was mainly the Kobe new town suburbs, Arima Onsen (有馬温泉) and Mt. Rokko (六甲山).

One of the interesting things I saw by chance in Kobe, the Gigantor (鉄人28号, Tetsujin 28-gō) statue.


The Many Visits to Miyajima

Miyajima is famous for being one of Japan's three best views and is also the home of the iconic floating torii that is usually featured in the travel books and pamphlets on Japan.

I have now been to Miyajima too many times. Four times in fact, first in 2004 on my first visit to Japan, and then two times in 2010, one time for a school field trip and one time when I went with a visiting friend, and then one time in 2011 for a travel survey. That's quite a lot of times going to a place whose sole tourist attraction is basically the floating torii and shrine!

In this post, I will show pictures taken during my 2010 and 2011 visits.

The famous floating torii.


Kure (呉) - Imperial Japan's Naval Past

On February 19, 2011, I visited Kure, Japan (呉) as part of a travel survey I was paid to do by a consulting company. Because the local government wanted to increase the number of foreign tourists visiting the area, they hired a consulting company to look at and to asess the tourism facilities, mainly the transport facilities. As a result, the consulting company contacted our university and asked a couple of foreign students from a couple of different countries to take part in a survey of the transport facilities around Kure.

Basically I was paid to follow a set travel route and to take pictures and note down any difficulties in using the transport system to get to the tourist spots.

Kure is about 31 minutes by train southeast of Hiroshima and is famous for its naval past in Imperial Japan.

The Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force Kure Museum with the giant submarine in the entrance.


Nagasaki - The Birthplace of Champon

After arriving in Fukuoka from the trip to Okinawa on March 17, 2011, we stayed in Fukuoka for one night before taking a bus from Fukuoka to Nagasaki on March 18, 2011.

This was the second time I had been to Nagasaki. I first visited Nagasaki while I was an undergraduate short term exchange student back in 2006. I posted about that visit here and here in 2006. (Note: it is interesting to see what I wrote back then as a someone who was new to Japan compared to now where I feel like an old Japan hand)

Nagasaki, in recent history, is infamous for being the second place ever to be bombed with an atomic bomb. The first place was Hiroshima, also in western Japan. However, long before the atomic bombing, in the pre-modernization era feudal era, Nagasaki was one of the first and only places where foreign influences entered Japan. Especially Chinese and other European influences.

One of the modern symbols of Nagasaki. At the Peace Park. I personally think it looks really weird.


Okinawa Island: The Land of American Military Bases in Japan

Previously, I posted about the first 2 days of my trip to Okinawa in 2011. This post covers the last 2 days of my trip on March 16 and 17 in 2011.

We went to Ryukyu Mura, the Chatan/Mihama area and Okinawa City.


Okinawa - Naha: The Most Foreign Looking Place in Japan

From March 14-17, 2011, when my mother visited me in Japan, we visited Okinawa, sometimes known as "Japan's Hawaii". Having been to Hawaii a long time ago, I was interested to see how Okinawa compares to Hawaii.

This post covers the first 2 days of the trip (March 14-15) when we flew from Kobe, Japan to the Okinawa prefectural capital of Naha.

The shopping street aimed strictly at tourists in Naha, Kokusai-dori (国際通り). The most interesting thing is that almost everything in Okinawa, unlike on mainland Japan, was aimed at tourists. More precisely, Japanese domestic tourists, for whom, Okinawa feels like visiting a foreign country, yet everyone knows how to speak standard Japanese.


Toyama Study Trip - City Revitalization Through Light Rail Transit

On Dec. 10-11, 2010, I joined a study trip to Toyama, Japan with other foreign students of our laboratory to see an implementation of the "Compact City Development Using Public Transport" that Japan's Ministry of Land, Transport, Infrastructure and Tourism had been promoting as a means of revitalizing hollowed out (due to suburbanization and excessive reliance of private vehicles) cities in local areas.

In the case of Toyama. Japan's first implementation of light rail transit (LRT) was used as a catalyst for urban redevelopment.


Kanazawa (金沢)

I went to Kanazawa two times, once on Dec. 10, 2010 on a school field trip to see the "compact eco-city" of Toyama and once again approximately two years later on Jan. 5, 2012 while on a trip to visit the Historic Village of Shirakawa-go. Therefore this post this is a compilation of the two trips.

Because of it's remote location, on the two times which I visited Kanazawa, I used the city as a stepping stone or transfer point to visit other cities (like Toyama or Shirakawa-go) because the cost of transportation was too expensive to justify a dedicated visit.

One of the main attractions of Kanazawa was because it was the second largest city (after Kyoto) which escaped bombing raids and destruction during the Second World War and hence you can still feel a lot of "traditional Japan" that is long gone in most of the country.

One of the historic Chaya districts in the city where geisha perform in teahouses.