04 February 2017

Top 5 Travel Roundup

Last August, when I started in on my second year living in Japan, I made it a priority to travel as much as possible and to as many new places as I can over the next twelve months. I pulled out the school calendar, which runs from April to March, and highlighted all the three-day weekends and testing weeks and long holidays and matched them up with the places I want to go. I have done pretty well, traveling somewhere new at least once and sometimes twice a month.

It has been a great experience so far. I've learned a lot about Japan, met people all over the country, leveled up my Japanese language ability, and learned about myself as well. The only downside is... I've taken so many great photos, I haven't been able to keep up with my flickr page or this blog. After compiling the most recent post about Iwate, I kind of ran out of steam, especially amidst the tiredness that comes from shoveling heavy snow out of my parking space every day after work.

So... while I catch up with photo editing, and work on rebuilding my energy, here are my Top 5 (ish) photos from my recent trips since October. With any luck, I'll have more to say about each trip in the near future.

1. Tokyo Yokohama Kamakura, November 3 - 6, 2016

At the beginning of November, I took advantage of a public holiday on a Thursday to make a four-day-weekend. I met up with a friend and colleague from the US in Tokyo, and we went on a photo tour of the area between Ueno and Tokyo Stations. Then we spent a day in Kamakura, and finally I met up with another friend in Yokohama, saw the Ramen Museum and Red Brick Warehouse area.
Ameyokocho. A market alley near Ueno Station that was formerly the site of the black market.
Kamakura. The Great Buddha at Kotokuin Temple.
Yokohama. Ramen at the Ramen Museum, which is actually a ramen food court.
Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. Hand-held fireworks show.
Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. Originally built by the government during the Meiji era, now renovated as cafes, shops and cultural spaces. 
2. Sendai Matsushima Yamadera, November 11-12 2016

The following weekend, the Joto JET crew spent the weekend in Sendai. We went to the Umino-Mori Aquarium, and then out to Matsushima to see the autumn light-up event. On Sunday, we split up and I headed with my neighbor to Yamadera temple in neighboring Yamagata Prefecture. 

Sendai. Tiny squids at Umino-Mori Aquarium
Joto JETs waiting for the aquarium show at Umino-Mori 
Matsushima. Entsuin Temple
Matsushima. Entsuin Autumn Light Up
Yamadera. Autumn foliage on the mountain
Yamadera. The name literally means "mountain temple."
3. Okinawa, December 24 - 31, 2016

For the winter holidays, I thought about going to Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand... but I couldn't bring myself to spend over $1000 on airfare and trains alone, not to mention all the other travel expenses. Instead, I got a flight from Sendai to Naha, and in the process discovered just how surprisingly comfortable and convenient highway buses and domestic flights can be in Japan.

I stayed in Naha for a few days before renting a car and driving south to Nanjo, and then north to Motobu to visit Ocean Expo Park which includes Churaumi Aquarium, the Tropical Dream botanical gardens, open air museums and more. I stopped by the Nakajinjo Gusuku (fortress) ruins before heading back to Naha for a few more days.

I saw so much great stuff in one week... it's very hard to pick just a few pictures here. 

Naha. Shuri Castle Seiden
Nanjo. Chinen Cape Park
Nanjo. Sefa Utaki sacred site
Itoman. 2016 Peaceful Illuminations at Itoman Winery
Motobu. Churaumi Aquarium
Nakajin. Nakajinjo Gusuku (Fortress) Site
4. Zao Onsen, Yamagata, 28 - 29

I had to squeeze in a trip for January, and I really wanted to see the Juhyo (ice-covered trees, aka Snow Monsters) that famously form on only a few peaks in northern Japan. Zao Onsen has Juhyo, and also, as the name implies, onsen - natural hot spring baths.

Zao Onsen. Shimoyu public bath, with some amazing snow on the roof.
Zao Onsen. Steaming-hot sulfur stream flowing through town.
Zao Onsen. The shrine gate for Sukawaonsen Shrine in blue hour
Zao Onsen Ski Resort. Juhyo aka Snow Monsters. It was so cold and ice-foggy at the top, I actually didn't get too many decent pictures of the snow monsters.
Zao Onsen. A water wheel next to one of the public baths, a fancy ryokan on the right, and the gate to Sukawaonsen Shrine on the left.