Susuki, or pampas grass is a well-known symbol of fall in Japan, but I took these susuki photos in Nara around New Years.
In the past, tourists in Japan faced the difficult choice of getting herded around on a package tour or wandering around without a guide having no idea what they’re looking at half the time. Personally, I’ve always preferred to travel on my own, but when I ended up going somewhere without a Japanese friend, I always felt like I was missing out on a lot of good information and context.
I recently received promotional copies of White Rabbit Press’s Tokyo Realtime Tours of Akihabara and Kabuki-cho, and after listening to them, I have to say that they are an ideal solution for people who want a personally-oriented guide as they travel around Japan. You’re completely free to go wherever you want and spend as much time as you need, but it’s like having your own private tour with an expert guide who can fill you in on everything you ever wanted to know about what you’re seeing.
The tours are very professionally done, with full color maps, and studio-quality audio. In the Akihabara tour, you’re guided around by Patrick Galbraith, a researcher at the prestigious University of Tokyo who has spent years studying and writing about Japan’s otaku subculture. He really takes you deep into Akihabara, and if you follow the tour you’re bound to find tons of places that you wouldn’t on your own.
For example, he takes you into Radio Town, the maze of tiny shops near the station, a place where I rarely see tourists and explains about its history and some of the interesting shops in it. You learn all kinds of things that take you beyond the stereotypical view of otaku and Japan that are presented in so many books and articles about Japan. You also get taken to a maid cafe, a figure shop, and other interesting only-in-Akihabara attractions.I can pretty much guarantee that no matter how much you think you know about Japan and Akihabara you’ll learn a lot of new, interesting stuff from this tour.
There’s also a real-time tour of Kabuki-cho. It takes you around to various sex shops, love hotel areas, and the famous Golden Gai, a warren of tiny bars. Here again, you really get the inside scoop on one of Japan’s most interesting districts, learning about its history, culture, and what makes the people there tick.
I have to say that I slightly preferred the Akihabara tour, but I think it’s because it’s a lot easier to go into the shops. In the Kabuki-cho tour, you’re sometimes left standing outside a sex club or yakuza headquarters listening to an explanation of what goes on inside. Still, it is an excellent guide to the area, and takes you to a lot of interesting places that most people would never find on their own.
You can download the audio file and a map for $12, or pay $18 and get a full-color photobook and fold-out map as well. There is also a special offer where you buy the physical version of both tours together, you pay just $27 for both. Some people might say that’s almost as much as a guidebook, but when you compare them to the cost of a guide or think about how much more you’re going to enjoy your visit than if you had a little two-paragraph write up in a guidebook, I’d say it’s a pretty good investment.
If you’re interested in the tours, visit: http://www.tokyorealtime.com/
In the interests of full-disclosure, I was offered free copies of the tours, but am not taking any money and was free to say whatever I wanted about them.
If Nokogiri-yama was in Kyoto, it would almost certainly be an A-list tourist attraction. It has a huge daibutsu (great Buddha statue) that is twice as big as the more famous versions in Kamakura and Nara, and also an incredible image of the Kannon Bosatsu carved into the side of a cliff. There are also about 1,500 rakan butsuzo on the mountain, and it offers wonderful views of Tokyo Bay.
Unfortunately, though, Nokogiri-yama is out in Chiba in the middle of nowhere on the Boso Peninsula, and it takes about 2 1/2 hours to get there from Tokyo. I visited Nokogiri-yama back in December, and it was one of the most impressive places I’ve seen in Japan in years.
This is the Hyakusatsu Kannon, a monument to soldiers killed in World War II. It was completed in 1963. It’s 2-dimensional, but somehow the way the cliffs tower over you and the lines created by the layers in the rock make it incredibly powerful. You really have to see it with your own eyes to appreciate it..
Mt. Fuji from across Tokyo Bay. The area is incredibly scenic, and it’s worth having a wander along the seashore or a walk through the fields before or after you’ve seen the mountain.
There are about 1,500 images of Rakan, the disciples of Buddha, on the mountain. Some of them are in pretty bad shape, but there are some that are really beautiful.
View from the top.
Getting there: From Tokyo Station, take the Sobu Line to Chiba. Make sure to get on an express train or it will take forever. At Chiba, change to the Uchibo Line. Get off at Hamakanaya or Hota Station. The fare is 1,890 yen and the trip takes about two hours and ten minutes. The trains are infrequent, so plan ahead.
If you want to take the cable car, get off at Hamakanaya. The cable car is 500 yen one way and 900 yen return. If it is windy, the cable car often closes down early.
Most people who are not using the cable car get off at Hoka, see the Great Buddha, climb up the mountain to where the Rakan are, see the Hyakusatsu Kannon, and climb down to Hamakanaya.
Admission to the Great Buddha and Hyakusatsu Kannon costs 600 yen, bringing the grand total for the day to over 4,000 yen without the cable car. Yes, it’s really expensive and difficult to get to, but you’ll be glad you went.
Nihonji Temple homepage: http://www.nihonji.jp/index.html (Japanese)
Map of the mountain: http://www.nihonji.jp/keidai/index.html (Japanese)
Nokogiri Video at Must Love Japan: http://www.mustlovejapan.com/subject/nokogiri_yama/
Butt Hair Station – Photo By Monami, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.
A few weeks ago I did a post featuring strange photos I’d found around the Internet. While I was researching the reason for a sign that said “Butt Hairs: 48 yen each or 5 for 198 yen” I found a Wikipedia entry on strange place names in Japan. Here are some of the more interesting ones:
Sulfuric Acid Town (Ryuusan-machi, Sanyo Onada, Yamaguchi Prefecture)
Nose hair Bridge (Hanage-bashi, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture)
Disappointment Island (Gakkari-jima, Miyako, Iwate Prefecture)
Hiccup River (Shakkuri-gawa, Nabari, Mie Prefecture)
Toy Town (Omocha-machi, Mibumachi, Tochigi Prefecture)
Cement Town (Semento-machi, Sanyo-Onoda, Yamaguchi Prefecture/Tsukumi, Oita Prefecture)
Reading (Yomikaki, Nagiso-machi, Nagano Prefecture)
Bullet Train (Shinkansen, Kannami-cho, Shizuoka Prefecture)
Daycare Worker Town (Hobo-cho, Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture)
Forbidden Field (Kinya, Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture)
Pleasure/Hedonism (Kairaku, Ichikikushikino, Kagoshima Prefecture)
Impossible/Unbearable River (Yarikirenai, Yuni, Hokkaido Prefecture)
Entrance to a Woman’s Body (Nyotai-iriguchi, Komagane, Nagano Prefecture)
These places have kanji with funny meanings, but they are pronounced differently:
Affair Town (Fukecho, Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture) [The actual pronunciation of affair is uwaki]
Morning Erection (Asadatsu, Makamecho, Seiyoshi, Ehime Prefecture) [ The actual pronunciation of morning erection is asadachi]
Butt Hair (Shikke, Gifu, Gifu Prefecture) [The actual pronunciation of butt hair is shirige]
These places have kanji with different meanings, but they sound like something else when they are spoken:
Damn! It’s you. (Omaeda, Fukaya, Saitama Prefecture)
That sucks! (Mukatsuku, Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture)
Rural (Inaka, Uwajima, Aichi Prefecture)
Extremely Rural (Doinaka, Kanzaki, Saga Prefecture)
Penis Island (Chinko-jima, Toyako, Hokkaido Prefecture)
Crotch Hair (Matage, Matsuzaka, Mie Prefecture)
Vagina Park (Manko Koen, Naha, Okinawa Prefecture)