In amongst the lush greenery of the Arakawa River stands a foreign-looking redbrick building: the Nikka Whisky Distillery.
Here, whisky stills over 100 years old imported from Scotland are used to make whisky. Groups of visitors numbering less than 10 are free to enter and see the whisky-making process without having to make a reservation.
In the guest hall, visitors can try whisky (or apple juice) tasting for themselves. There is even a restaurant where visitors can enjoy a delicious meal of jingisukan: juicy lamb and fresh vegetables grilled on a skillet.
This is a must-visit for visitors to the Arakawa Onsen area!
Click here for our Sendai City Guide
Toyama City, located west of Tokyo on the main island of Honshu near the Sea of Japan, lies on a plain formed by meltwater flowing through the Jintsu River, Jyoganji River, and others descending from the surrounding snow-capped peaks. In addition to its agriculture, Toyama has historically hosted many industries thanks to the convenience of shipping across the Sea of Japan, and an abundance of water power from the nearby rivers. Toyama Bay is also well known for its fishing areas teeming with local varieties of yellowtail, squid, shrimp, and crab.
A 70 meter observation tower has been built atop Toyama's city hall. You might be able to get a nice view from the upper floors of city halls or prefectural headquarters in other parts of Japan, but Toyama's separate tower, with access free of charge both to city residents and visitors, is a rare treat.
Upon getting off the elevator, I was treated to a sweeping 360 degree view of Toyama City and the stunningly clear blue skies surrounding it.
The most popular sight from the observation tower is the Tateyama mountain range to the southeast. The 3000 meter expanse will soon be covered with snow, turning the entire range completely white.
The famous "Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route" is a journey by cable car, ropeway, bus, and more, traversing Mt. Tateyama and eventually emerging in Nagano Prefecture. It runs every year from April through November, meaning it will soon conclude for the winter. When the route reopens next spring, buses will once again run between the massive walls of snow that no doubt will accumulate in the months to come.
I hope you have a chance to experience the delicious seafood of Toyama Bay and the spectacle of Tateyama's Alpine Route. Toyama City is a great destination!
I went to Hakuba Ski Resort in Nagano Prefecture on 20 and 21 November. It started snowing heavily from the day before my departure, and the slopes officially opened on 21 November!
So, of course skiers and snowboarders immediately went out to take advantage of the freshly fallen snow.
Talking with some locals, it seems like everyone was surprised to get this much snow in November! Looking out from the gondola, everywhere around me was a winter wonderland.
I stayed at the Hakuba Tokyu Hotel. It had a great view of the snow-covered mountain!
Ready to hit the slopes? Check out our "Exciting Ski Resorts in Japan 2008 - 2009 season"
Tsukiji Fish Market in the center of Tokyo is one of the most famous fish markets in the world. There are 88 central wholesale markets across Japan in 56 cities: markets for fruits and vegetables, 54 for fish, 19 for flowers and 10 for meat.
I went to Tsukiji with some friends visiting from Australia. We had to wake up 4:30 a.m. and leave home around 5:15 a.m. Tsukiji market opens at 4:00 a.m. every morning, but the best time to go is between 5:00 a.m. and 6:15 a.m., for the market's main event. We went by car. For those looking to arrive early in the morning, here are some reccommended hotels near Tsukiji within walking distance of the market.
*Shinbashi/Ginza Hotels (about a 10 minute walk to Tsukiji)
JAPANiCAN Recommended Hotels!
1. Courtyard by Marriott Tokyo Ginza Hotel
5 minutes on foot to Tsukiji Fish Market. 5 minutes on foot to Ginza subway Station.
2. Dai-ichi Hotel Tokyo
10 minutes on foot to Tsukiji Fish Market. 2 minutes on foot to Shimbashi Station.
Don't miss the famous early morning tuna auction at Tsukiji! The auction area is deep in the inner market of Tsukiji, making it a bit difficult to get to, but is well worth the effort. You can get a market map at the information stand next to the main gate. Go straight ahead from there, taking care to avoid the special tricycle carts darting through the aisles carrying the latest haul.
The tuna auctions are always crowded with auctioneers, sellers, buyers and tourists, many from foreign countries. The tuna auction is held six days a week excluding Sundays and National Holidays.
Tourists can watch the tuna auctions from the visitors area, which opened on 1 April 2008. With the hundreds of fishermen, auctioneers and dealers hurrying about their jobs, Tsukiji Market is a unique and exciting destination, but it is a place of work first and a tourist attraction second. With that in mind, please observe the following when visiting the morning auction:
Stay only in the designated observation area.
Use of a camera flash is strictly prohibited as it will disturb the auction process.
Worker appraises tuna laid out on the floor
Frozen tuna loaded onto a special cart
There are actually two distinct areas in the Tsukiji market. The joh-nai, or inner market, where the many fishermen and restaurant professionals work, holds the daily auction. The joh-gai, or outer market, has small retail shops and some sushi restaurants. This area is intended for the public, and you can walk the streets without worrying about speeding fish trolleys.
Of course, with all that prime tuna around, there are several famous sushi restaurants in the fish market area, where you can get some of the freshest sushi possible! The most famous sushi restaurant is Daiwa Sushi, often mentioned guide books. Because of that it always has a long long line. You might have to wait over 30 minutes to get a spot at the counter. Daiwa Sushi opens at 5:00 a.m., so you can grab a quick sushi breakfast before watching the tuna auction.
My personal favorite restaurant is "Umai Sushi-kan," a chain with fresh, quality fish at every restaurant. Umai Sushi-kan is located two rows across from Daiwa Sushi. It is usually not so crowded, so you can eat sushi without waiting a long time. Most restaurants open from early morning to lunch time.
The Akiu Vegeta Club is a country restaurant that has been serving organic, healthy vegetables to its customers for the last 20 years. The Satoke family who run the restaurant are actually farmers by profession, and they spend their days cultivating delicious vegetables in the large family fields.
Two of the restaurant's courses that I would particularly like to recommend are the Furosato-zen (JPY 2,000) and the Yamanosachi Ozen (JPY 3,000). The Furosato-zen comes with a seasonal rice dish, a range of seven vegetable dishes, as well as a handmade vegetable cake and coffee. The Yamanosachi Ozen is the same but comes with an eighth vegetable dish.
The wonderful thing about this restaurant is that the menu changes with the changing of the seasons. When I want to relax and enjoy seasonal flavors, this is where I bring my family.
The World Heritage Site of Koya Town on Mt. Koya (Japanese: Koya-san), a sacred site of Shingon Buddhism (Japanese Esoteric Buddhism), was founded by a priest named Kukai about 1,200 years ago. The town of Koya is a religious settlement located on the summit (about 1,000 meters above sea level) of Mt. Koya, which is located to the south of Osaka. It is composed of more than one hundred Buddhist temples, huge and beautiful halls and towers, and a Buddhist college, and is home to 5,000 residents including 1,000 Buddhist monks.
The winters here can be harsh, but the snow-covered halls and towers can also look quite peaceful and beautiful. The Buddhists of Mt. Koya recommend the 'Danjo-garan' area as the most attractive area in which to admire the snowscape. In those sacred precincts, visitors can see a large pagoda named the 'Konpon-daito', a temple with an elegant roof called the 'Miedo', and the main hall or 'Kondo', all lightly covered with snow.
(Photo, top: The western area of the 'Danjo-garan'. The snow-covered temples are sure to be at their best from the last 10 days of December to early March.
You can also enjoy the splendid trees covered with silver frost around the huge, ancient graveyard called 'Okuno-in'. Cedar trees hundreds of years old tower over the 2 km path leading to Kukai's mausoleum, which is known as the 'Gobyo', and there are more than 200,000 grave stone monuments situated between the tall cedars. The calm stones sit frozen. It is an unusual world. Kukai, at the age of 62, entered eternal meditation here in order to work for the liberation of all beings. From that time and through all future ages, Kukai is believed to be leading us to liberation. The strength of his will can be felt in this white, silent world.
(Photo, right: The eastern sacred area of 'Okuno-in'. Everything is frozen solid. This is a world straight out of a sumi-e ink painting.)
It takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Nankai Namba Station in Osaka to Mt. Koya by limited express train on the Koya Line (including the subsequent cable-car ride) or about 1 hour and 40 minutes by express train. Buying a Nankai Railway Koyasan Free Servic ticket (1- or 2-day excursion ticket) to Mt. Koya is convenient and saves you money.
Koyasan Free Servic ticket (1- or 2-day excursion ticket)
-Discounted round-trip train fare
-Discounted bus fares at Mt. Koya
-Discounted entrance tickets
-Discount souvenir coupons
E.g. Adult fare from Nankai Namba Station in Osaka JPY 3,350 → JPY 2,780 (17% off)
Adult fare from Namba Station by Limited Express Koya JPY 4,870 → JPY 4,000 (17% off)
Where to buy Koyasan Free Servic tickets
Major Nankai Line station ticket counters
(E.g. Kansai-Airport Station, Namba Station, Shin-Imamiya Station, Tengachaya Station, Hashimoto Station)
JAPANiCAN.com's Top 3 Shukubo Temple Lodgings
1. Koyasan Onsen Fukuchiin Koyasan, Wakayama
Guestrooms are surrounded by a large garden that was designed by a famous landscape artist. The hot spring (onsen) bath is open 24 hours a day.
From JPY 7,875
2. Hongakuin Koyasan, Wakayama
Hogakuin is surrounded by five unique gardens, in the center of some woodlands.
The food here is especially famous.
From JPY 12,600
3. Henjoko-in Koyasan, Wakayama
This temple used to be the imperial chamber for Emperor Shirakawa. Here, visitors can see many items on display that have been designated as important national treasures. Visitors can also enjoy rooms facing a bright new garden, each with fusuma (Japanese-style sliding doors) covered with gold dust.
From JPY 8,925
This week, I'd like to tell you about a restaurant that has been a big hit in Sendai recently, called Obanzai Rakura. Obanzai is the name given to Kyoto-style home cooking, and this snug hideaway of a restaurant, with its atmospheric, soft lighting, really felt like a special place when I visited.
A seasonal obanzai set here costs JPY 3,500, and is filled with healthy and nutritious food. The food is not only a feast for the taste buds, but also for the eyes, as the meal is served in a number of elegant and colorful dishes. In the evening, customers can come and enjoy Japanese rice wine (sake) from across the country, as well as Japanese shochu liquor and a wide range of umeshu plum liqueurs.
This is a good place to come as a treat every once in a while for lunch, or on a date, or when you want to have a chat with your boss...
So, come try it out! This is a popular place, so you should probably make a reservation.
I went to Kakunodate last February to see the "Hiburi Kamakura" Festival.
Locals will light a bale of straw on fire and then twirl the burning package around in the air. Sounds fun, or a little wild? This festival is actually performed in order to divine and pray for a good harvest each year.
After watching others perform, I asked to try it myself. I was scared at first but I did it well! (But, that's not me in the photo!)
Kakunodate, Akita Prefecture is famous for its well-preserved Samurai District and beautiful cherry blossoms in spring. In winter, the striking contrast of pure snow and black-colored fence was very impressive.
The snow covered Hinokinai-gawa River in Kakunodate town. Quiet and beautiful.
Onsen Lodging in KakunodateTazawako Art Village Onsen Yupopo
I stayed here. It had a very nice onsen (large public bath). From JR Akita Shinkansen Kakunodate Station it took about 7 minutes by car. A free shuttle bus is available.
Kakunodate Onsen Kayokan
Kayokan offers various baths and seasonal local cuisine.