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Last November (autumn season), Gaya Travel received an invitation to join a familiarisation trip to Japan organised by Hokuriku-Shinetsu Ministry of Tourism & Transportation, coordinated by Relation Japan Inc. The trip gave me the experience in covering Tokyo, Saitama, Gunma, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui and Osaka prefectures, which are part of the total 47 prefectures found throughout the country. Travelling to northern (Hokuriku-Shinetsu) part of Japan is convenient and effortless when taking the newly introduced bullet train service.

Japan is listed as one of the top emerging destinations for Malaysians by Skyscanner with Sapporo, Tokyo and Osaka high on the list. You may refer our previous trip to Japan in GTN 9.6 & 10.1 issues.

Japan at Glance

  1. Nihon is the Japanese name for Japan
  2. Besides being known as the Land of Rising Sun, Japan (Jipang) also meant as Land of the Gold
  3. 127 million is the number of population in Japan
  4. Most tourist attractions have English signs and information
  5. 3 biggest cities in Japan are Tokyo (capital), Osaka and Nagoya
  6. Japan uses A&B Electrical Plug Type
My Travel Essentials

  1. Sony Alpha 7s Mark II courtesy of Sony Malaysia
  2. Universal Plug
  3. Smartphone application: Gurunavi, Jorudani, Navitime

My Japan trip began when I took the Narita Express (N’EX) from Terminal 2 to Shinagawa station located within the Tokyo Metropolis at the cost of ¥2900 one way. Being the capital city of Japan, Tokyo is filled with skyscrapers, excellent public transportation system and retail offerings, making it also a haven for shopaholics. Tokyo Tower, the city’s icon claimed as the first broadcasting tower, was built in 1958 at the height of 330 metres. The population in Tokyo city is estimated at around 9 million, making public transportation crucial. I can say that the trains run on schedule 99.9% of the time and are frequent. This is my first time ever being in a capital city with no massive traffic congestion and many locals use the bicycle to get to work after getting off from the train station.

 

WHAT TO EXPERIENCE IN THE PREFECTURES: 

TOKYO

1. Asakusa
Image via www.tokyocheapo.com

Asakusa (Image via www.tokyocheapo.com)

Recommended for: learning about Japanese society and culture

Asakusa is located in the district of Taito and its main attraction is Sensoji, a Buddhist temple built in the 7th century. Interestingly, Buddhism is not the main religion in Japan. Shinto is the dominant religion (followed by 86% of the population), and followed by Buddhism (76%), indicating that the Japanese in general believe in two religions at the same time. In Asakusa, travellers can witness the Shinto and Buddhist temples side by side. These temples are located along the Nakamise, a shopping street that replete with stalls peddling traditional, local snacks and souvenirs. Asakusa has been known for centuries, especially during the Edo Period, as an entertainment precinct. Another attraction situated only a few minutes’ walk away from Asakusa is the second icon of Tokyo, the Tokyo Skytree.

2. Nakano Broadway
Image via www.metropolisjapan.com

Nakano Broadway (Image via www.metropolisjapan.com)

Recommended for: Anime & manga collectors

Japan is also known for anime and manga. For those who hunt for these collectibles, Nakano Broadway is the best place to start. This is where travellers can find not just anime and manga related shops, but also souvenirs, video games and even good watches. Nakano Broadway mostly attracts young adults in their 20s and 30s who spend several hours reading manga or even playing games. I noticed that most of the manga here are in Japanese but you may ask the seller if they have the English version. 

*Nakano Broadway is also famous for its cosplay culture

Entrance fee: Free entrance. Generally open from 1200 to 2000 hours.
Website: www.nbw.jp

Also read: How To Do Tokyo, Japan in Six Days!

SAITAMA PREFECTURE

1. Omiya Bonsai Art Museum 
Omiya Bonsai Art Museum (Image via www.omiyabonsai.jp)

Omiya Bonsai Art Museum (Image via www.omiyabonsai.jp)

Recommended for: learning about unique Japanese traditional art

Bonsai, which literally means ‘planting in trays or pots’, is another traditional art that represents Japan. This collection of bonsais was previously located in Tokyo for many years until a strong earthquake hit the city back in 1923, forcing it to be moved to Omiya. The collection is later exhibited to the public beginning March 2010. Almost 40 to 50 bonsai masterpieces found in this museum represent different seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter). The museum also outlines the specific details on the bonsais and their species, the bonsai pots they are grown in called bonki, their roots, leaves, and even the way to observe the bonsai from different angles. Due to its artistic value and age (some even reached hundreds of years), making them priceless, or at least reach up to millions of Japanese yen. Photo taking is only allowed in the garden but not in the gallery, unfortunately.

Entrance fee: 300 yen per entry and open from 0900 to 1630 hours.
Website: www.bonsai-art-museum.jp

2. Kawagoe Festival Museum
Kawagoe Festival Museum (Image via www.travelinboots.com)

Kawagoe Festival Museum (Image via www.travelinboots.com)

Recommended for: learning about Japanese historical festival

Kawagoe Festival is a yearly festival that commemorate the Edo Tenka Matsuri festival (celebration of the bountiful rice harvest) since the seventeenth century, lasting two days. To celebrate the festival, many beautifully designed and decorated floats are hand-carried by groups of men to the centre of Koedo-Kawagoe’s landmark (Karazukuri zone). This intersection meeting point is the climax of the event, usually happen during the night (Hikkawase). They compete among each other by performing the hayashi (a traditional Japanese orchestra) and receiving cheers from the crowd. The Kawagoe Festival Museum gives a great explanation not only on the history but also on the construction of the floats, making this place a must-visit in Saitama prefecture. A documentary is also presented to the audience in the hall where the biggest float ever built is displayed. Close to the museum is the symbol of Kawagoe for over 350 years, the Toki no Kane (the time bell tower).

Entrance fee: 300 yen per entry and open from 0930 to 1830 hours
Website: www.kawagoematsuri.jp

GUNMA PREFECTURE

1. Ikaho Onsen
Ikaho Onsen (Image via www.japan-guide.com)

Ikaho Onsen (Image via www.japan-guide.com)

Recommended for: relaxing and learning about Japanese leisure culture

Onsen generally means hot spring, and soaking into a pool containing hot spring water is a favourite Japanese past time in autumn and winter. Ikaho Onsen is well known since 1,500 years ago due to volcanic activity and its strategic position that offers the spectacular vantage view overlooking the mountains and a temple. The hot spring offers many facilities located along the 365 stairs to the top of the hot spring such ryokan (traditional inns), restaurants and spas, among others. The 365 stone steps are the symbol of Ikaho Onsen representing the number of days in a year. This town is also popular for its Ikaho Hawaiian Festival held early August every year to commemorate Japan’s closeness to the Hawaiian kingdom in 1970.

Entrance fee: Free entrance for public onsen only.
Website: www.ikaho-kankou.com

2. Haruna-san ropeway
Haruna-San Ropeway (Image via www.static.panoramio.com)

Haruna-San Ropeway (Image via www.static.panoramio.com)

Recommended for: scenery appreciation and photography

Just a few minutes’ ride from Ikaho Onsen, I visited Harunasan Ropeway. Operated by Tanigawadake Ropeway Company, this gondola lift can occupy 15 passengers at one time and lift them up until 1,369 metres high up the Haruna Mountain. With just another 5 to 10 minutes of walking, I reached to the top of the mountain (1,391 metres) where I found a small temple. There is also a hiking trail if travellers intend to hike up to the mountain. There is a huge lake surrounding the mountain – which can be seen from the top – that is popular for ice-skating during winter, attracting as many as 130,000 visitors. Plus, Haruna mountain is well-known especially to those who watch the movie or manga series called Initial D (the legendary street racer in the 1990s who learned how to skilfully manoeuvre Haruna mountain’s sharp hairpin bends using a beaten up Nissan 180 model).

Ticket Fee: 840 yen return ticket. Open from 0900 to 1700 hours.

3. Doll painting Usabutokokeshi
Doll Painting Usabutokokeshi (Image via www.tofufox.blogspot.com)

Doll Painting Usabutokokeshi (Image via www.tofufox.blogspot.com)

Recommended for: learning about Japanese aesthetics

Kokeshi is a top producing doll that originally made by Usaburo-san. Consequently, this wooden doll gives a symbol not only for Gunma prefecture but also for Japan since this product is exported to 18 countries. Here, travellers can learn the art of making a Kokeshi, the story of its invention and evolution, and even paint the dolls that come in many shapes, sizes and styles. The company also works closely with Lucas Film for the new Star Wars The Force Awakened in producing Star Wars characters made out of wood. Over the past 60 years, this company annually generates ¥260 million (around USD2.2 million or RM9.5 million) in income by simply making dolls that are highly in demand and challenging to fulfil.

Entrance Fee: Free entrance for factory and museum tour. Open from 0830 to 1650 hours.
Website: www.usaburo.com

Gaya Travel Magazine extends our heartfelt gratitude to Hokuriku-Shinetsu Ministry of Tourism & Transportation and Relation Japan Inc. for inviting us to join this amazing trip.

Continue to: Hokuriku-Shinetsu Region Beyond Expectations! (Part II)

This article is included in Gaya Travel Magazine Issue 11.1. Read the magazine for free HERE.

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