Korankei Stop

In the Spring, the Japanese enjoy seeing the first cherry blossoms bloom. In the Winter, they look forward to the first snow and now that Autumn is here Nagoyans celebrate it like many others by watching the leaves change color.  Every city has their favorite spot, and in Nagoya that spot is Korankei. Located near Toyota City, the home of Toyota Motor Corporation, traveling here by car is straightforward and doesn’t take more than an hour from Nagoya by the highway.  The community in this town has embraced these visitors by setting up beautiful shops and stands, as well as offering parking (for a small fee).  The town is extremely pleasing to the senses. From the colors of the shrines, temples, and buildings to the smell of the fresh country air, everything is organized to welcome thousands without sacrificing the small Japanese town atmosphere.

A short walk from the parking lot takes you over the first of many bridges, which is not necessary to cross if you want to enjoy the festival game stands or snacks that litter the boardwalk.  The most famous of the bridges is red and most visitors choose to take pictures of it or of it, while also capturing the beautiful leaves change colors and the river that runs all around.  From there, you can reach the center of Korankei’s festivities where they hold activities, sell delicious local foods, namely deer, and boar.  From here, you can continue north to a large building resembling a temple, enter the village museum, or go further into nature and the suspension bridge, that bounces as you walk.  Wherever you choose to go, the beautiful colors of the rainbow accompany you for a wonderful time.

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Golden Week to Tokushima

Golden week is a time where the people of Japan can take a piece of their lives beyond the daily routine of a repetitive and scripted life. The seeds of creativity were planted on the New Year’s holidays and at last, they are free to bloom on Golden Week. And bloom they did, on our 7-hour drive from Nagoya to Tokushima, you could see cars slow down to embrace the view of the beautiful ocean on top of the world’s tallest suspension bridge. They politely shifted to the left and drove well below the speed limit on the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge as if we were at the Fuji Safari Park enjoying the view of animals. I’ve never seen such a take on driving before! Traffic was backed up but people were enjoying themselves in a polite and very Japanese manner of queuing.

The trip that was supposed to take 4 hours ended up taking 7 instead, but we weren’t even upset. The sunniest and hottest day of the year provided us with much to see around Kansai’s mountainous and sea backdrops and Shikoku’s vast and natural backdrop was the icing on the cake. We didn’t see many whirlpools because of our late arrival, but we got to enjoy a view of the bridge from below, and riverside downtown before the event started.

We got to enjoy food from the famous local “limes” to Tokushima Ramen. Of course, I also ate at the typical chain restaurants ranging from McDonald’s to Sushiro as well. Driving along the rivers was a lot of fun and climbing to the top of Bizan Park by Ropeway was also a blast. Visiting the old castle site allowed us to see many cranes and koi fish.  There were plenty of “Itasha” cars around and on display on the red carpets inside the shopping arcades as well.

 

Last Legs are nuclear

The final part of my journey over the holidays was to a place of splendor…for military enthusiasts. We would make our way outside of Tokyo, beyond the skyscrapers and the bustle and hustle of the big city to a port town known as Yokosuka.  Not a very far drive, and historically famous for being the biggest, closest naval base to Tokyo, Yokosuka is now a city of scenic ocean views, shopping centers and big, big boats.

After World War 2, all the warships in Japan were confiscated, and mostly scrapped, and well replaced with American destroyers, carriers, submarines and cruisers. The new constitution made Japan a protectorate of America militarily, and even to this very day houses the worlds most advanced ships on Earth. If you come on the right days. You’ll see every ship America and Japan has to offer, even ones fueled by nuclear reactors. That day you ask is the New Years holiday, and that was this weekend.

The boat tour was around 1000 yen and departs every hour or so, the park is rather large and has a shopping center, military gift shop and the Mikasa park.

There was one Japanese boat still around. A prewar ship from the beginning of the 20th Century. She is the Mikasa, but unfortunately, we did not have time to tour her.

By gtr06 Posted in Japan

Kiso Valley in Nagano

Between Nagano, Nagoya, and Gifu lays a volcano responsible for over 50 deaths in 2014.  It was a tragic event, and some may say Mt. Ontake’s eruption a precursor to Mt. Fuji’s future eruption. However, only several dozen kilometers away, lays a cultural Easter basket of homes belonging to an era bygone.

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I had a chance to make my way up to this rice paddy dominated area, to take in the beautiful river, mountains and even waterfalls. Kiso Valley is famous for it’s long hiking trail, which runs through all that nature and a beautiful town. Tsumago and Magome are town’s very closely linked by trails, while Narai, the richer and bigger town, is further North closer to Nagano.

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Lined along the trail are sweet shops which serve a variety of ice cream in regular flavors and green tea flavors. Snacks and drinks are also available, but my favorite shop, felt like an old cafe from the 80’s with a small arcade table with the game Invaders built in.

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We were fortunate enough to be able to drive through all the areas including the waterfall. There was no shortage of parking, but the hot weather made walking through certain parts rougher. The waterfall areas were much cooler, and allowed us to enjoy beautiful photography shots with a cool breeze.

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Many of the towns in the area are sleepy, but had enough car traffic to warrant an Aeon supermarket in one of them. Although smaller, it was pretty much an Aeon in essence. The most beautiful scenery came from the setting sun, which illuminated everything in an euphoric glow.

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Video rental culture in Japan

CFTRnHhUsAEIBZ-Remember the nostalgia of heading to Blockbuster or a rental store with your friends and looking for that new game or movie release? How you could fight over the one movie you oh so wanted? Well it’s a culture that’s still alive and kicking in Japan. And this week I rented my very first blu-ray, how many people can say that in this digital age of download? Well, millions in fact!

Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services, have completely displaced media rental culture in first world countries and many others, so why does a first world country like Japan still thrive on with rentals? And why did I have to wait almost 15 minutes to return a video in downtown Nagoya? Well here’s a little back story. Downloading and streaming movies online, have a bit of a stigma in Japan. People in Japan trust their big corporations and businesses and are even thankful for their practices. They believe it’s the life stream of a capitalist economy that can keep people’s lives comfortable.  The distrust here against the big and rich is small compared to countries overseas. Therefore, corporations and politicians vouching for the big businesses and even their strange and backwards rules and regulations that they want to enforce is quite common here. A law was passed recently to make download or upload of copyrighted material illegal with heavy fines and jail time as punishment.

The movie industry in Japan has done a lot to scare people away from downloading films with loud campaigns that can be seen on TV or at the movie theaters. It’s so loud that even legal downloading on the Playstation Network, XBOX Live, and iTunes has been lagging behind other countries. Strangely enough, they place blank cds and dvds in front of the rental checkout counter to passively encourage you to make copies of your rental for backup or re-watching.  Making copies has been an ingrained culture in Japan, since their invention of the VCR. Japan gave us the VCR, to record and copy, and at one time frightened Hollywood, that it would cut into their profits, which actually has done the opposite and help it grow into what it is today.

The same does not apply for video games though. Video games are protected in another way.  In the US and Canada, lending your friend a video game is something common. You own the commodity you purchased, you’re free to do with it as you please. But in Japan, it’s technically against the law to lend video games to a friend. You can resell them, but not lend them. The same applies in stores. You can buy video games but you can not rent them. Some places have received the rights to rent out games from certain publishers, but even so they’re very small in numbers. People still go to the arcade and buy used games, but almost never rent.

So, as you can see renting culture for movies, and just movies is strong. Would it be strong for games if they were on the list? I believe they would be, I mean who wouldn’t want to try a game before buying it. Downloading a demo would be nice, considering Japan has one of the fastest internet speeds in the world. But people still turn to rent videos, and buying video games. The best part about renting in Japan is that it is fairly cheap with coupons. I got my blu-ray version of Interstellar for 216 yen. Which is just about $2.

The process of filling out an application for was easy and quick as well. Returning the video, isn’t as simple as it was overseas. You have to hand it to them and they have to scan to see if it is late. If it is late you have to pay on the spot. No dash and dine. It’s funny what small changes in laws can do to a country, and it also explains the digital divide between Japan and the West.

Kei Works and Fukui

I put my car and my new equipment to the test on my first road trip with my new Suzuki Kei Works. We took off near high noon, and only stopped to eat some Lunch at a Service Area stop which had a variety of rare Japanese snacks not usually found outside these tolled highways.  On the way, greenery and mountains flooded our eyes with spectacular views of a rural Japan waiting to be discovered.  If Nagoya was a metropolis, then Fukui and the road there was the anti-Metropolis.

 

In Fukui City, laid a castle in ruins, with government buildings built inside to provide a mix between new and old, similar to new trees growing out of a dead forest.  We made our way through traffic passing by busy malls, to find a rural castle named Maruoka.   There was a lake full of Koi at this castle, as there also was at the previous one, and steps up were lined with stories of people who had lost loved ones.  From children who died too young, to elderly lovers brought apart by death.  The castle itself glittered in the setting sun, and with this message from the sky, we went to our final spot, Tojinbo.

At Tojinbo, we got to see one of the most spectacular sunsets along a rocky ridge of ocean battered rocks.  Toursit from afar came to admire it, lovers came to be embraced by it, but we all shared the warmth of the setting sun.  As our time in Fukui winded to an end, we had dinner at a traditional Soba place.  Fukui is famous for a variety of Soba, therefore variety set courses littered restaurants around this prefecture.  After our meal, We went to gaze upon the night stars in this rural setting of darkness away from the bustling lights of the big city.

Mars shone a bright red, while Jupiter showed it’s diamond glow along with the rest of the stars rarely seen.  The path back was littered with lights, and we were guided by plants and stars towards the highway, where we journeyed back to the big city with no regrets and happiness in our hearts.

4th Anniversary Driver

Getting a car is no way easy in Japan, and without the right help, things can and will get very expensive.  Coming to my rescue was my good friend in Ibaraki, who works in the  import/export automotive trade and possesses the power to buy from auctions around Japan. My friend began digging around the USS-R, a famous auctioning company for a car that fit my profile. Considering how complicated owning a regular can be in Japan, requiring you to apply for a parking spot, having it examined by police, and requiring it to be near where you live, I decided to buy a K-car.  A K-car is as compact as you can get, usually small, these days boxy designs that run off engine smaller than 1L and usually packing a turbocharger (pretty cool).  Everything else would cost less as well, including road tax, inspection, parts, parking and gasoline. securedownload (6) securedownload (5)After less than a month, we found a car that fit me well a Subaru Pleo, for under 200000 yen ($2000~), but it had high mileage, and the buyer cancelled the auction when all the was offered up to was 150000 yen.  It was a disappointment, but my friend was back on top of it and found a Suzuki Kei Works (Works being a top sports model version) and I fell in love with it.  He said it might be twice as expensive, but I set a cap of 300000 yen, and he some how managed to win it at just below that!  I was going to be a driver in Japan! However, this is when things begin to get complicated. securedownload (4) securedownload (3)

Before I can have a car transferred to my name I need the usual documents, including the most important, at Jitsuin (official stamp) that is recognized by the city.  After getting this stamp, you can get a piece of paper that confirms the stamp is legitimately yours, and is normally used to buy cars.   securedownload (1)The paper is cheap, about 300 yen, and the stamp is about 2000 yen at it’s cheapest and must have a name from your license or passport on it.  The stamp takes about a day to make, so prepare in advance!  And of course remember that having a Japanese driver’s license is a must.

After all was said and done, I did not have any paperwork from my friend yet, so picking up the car (which was still under his name) required my license, and my friend’s office’s confirmation at the USS-R, near the port.  The walk was long, but once you arrive, you have to find the office.  I got a bit lost and ended up surrounded by a lot of cars, including several American cars.  I finally found the office and after a small talk, I got to see the car!  This was one of the most exciting moments of my life in Japan.  The car, my car, waiting for me to take it, and carry it off to far off adventures around Japan.  I took a picture of everything before I drove off just for future reference and set up my dash cam.  However, there was no power! I went back in and they told me to find a battery cart and jump the car.  After a few moments, I was off.  The most difficult part was getting use to the high clutch, which was located a lot higher than my RX-7 back in Canada. It was an hours drive, but I got home and parked it near my apartment. Everything felt great.

One of the most difficult points of car ownership in Japan was parking so the day before I picked up my car I went through a bit of a stressful search. My apartment was undergoing repairs and parking was forbidden, many parking places don’t want anyone who can’t speak fluent Japanese renting spots, even if you have a friend who can speak fluent Japanese.  My friend who use to work in the apartment business began asking contacts and she was a bit unsuccessful in that search.  She ended up finding a spot one station from my home for about 12000 yen a month ($120).  A little steeper than what I wished, but an incredibly close and friendly place.  We worked out the contact and everything was peachy!securedownload (2)

The final two thing I was worried about was name transfer and insurance! We went to Sompo Japan and were able to acquire some good insurance for about 5000 yen a month after an hour of negotiating. The most difficult part was having the car transferred to my name before getting insurance.  We had to go to the local Kei offices near the harbor and fill out 3 complicated forms!  At some palces if you paid someone 1500 yen they would fill it out for you, but this place didn’t have such a thing.  The lady was nice enough to help us through all of it.  I was really thankful she was so nice.  My roommate filled two sheet, and I filled the other. We had to give back the old license plates, and run around from booth to booth passing papers around over the course of two hours.  It was really bureaucratic, but when I finally got my new plates, it was like seeing my car for the first time, this time she was really mine, all mine.  I was really lucky to have 3 good friends help me do everything, without them owning a car in Japan would have taken a lot longer and things would have been really stressful. For those thinking about doing everything themselves I wish them luck with the challenge and can assure them it’s all worth it.

Winter Vacation Recap Part III

A quick day trip to Enoshima, one of the more popular Islands near Tokyo.  Although, it is more of a peninsula because you can walk on over.  There are many types of seafood, natural beauty, classic architect, and of course the surrounding sea to illuminate the beauty of the green and brown island. In the distance, Mount Fuji rests, barely visible to the eye on a hazy day, but big enough to let its presence be known!

Celebrating the Cherry Blossoms

It has been a while since my last photography walk. The weather, wasn’t so fantastic, but even haze and clouds can present the best opportunity with the sun still shining through.  A prime place that many choose to overlook is Nagoya Castle.  It’s the most obvious location, but others believe a more rural setting would be better, which isn’t always true!