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The walk home: Can there possibly be another final leg?

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

I caught the last train from Moriya to Mitsukaido on the Joso line at 1:10am. This was better than I had expected. Considering I boarded my first train of the day in Nara at 2pm, I had really done well in my travels. The problem is that I live in Ishige, five short stops north of Mitsukaido. I would have rather been stranded in Moriya for the night where I would have had no choice but to camp. Now I am stuck a mere 12 kilometers from my bed and shower. The choice is obvious. I can walk 12 km in less than 4 hours, the time before the trains start again, so walking it will be. The curry plate from 7-eleven isn’t treating my stomach very kindly. Probably not the best choice after going so long without food. This trip is all about starvation. My feet are well rested after my epic train ride. With a crack of the beer I’m off.

It turned out being a 2.5 hour, three beer (two tallboys and a shorty) trip. At the halfway point I was no longer fresh, I was dragging. But soon the white silhouette of the Ishige community center/castle could be seen standing out from the black night sky. No matter how long I walked it always appeared to stay the same distance away. But I made it.

From Seoul to my apartment, I traveled over land and sea approximately 1,060 miles (1,700 km), and saw a lot in these wonderful two weeks. It is always nice to return home.

Japanese travel: Kanto or Kansai?

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

I didn’t want to include some actually useful travel advice at the end of such a negative post. All that bagging on Tokyo did get me to this point:

For travelers thinking of coming to Japan I would suggest spending less time in the Kanto region (Tokyo). Most of Tokyo’s sites can be seen in a day or two, and the Kansai region (Osaka) to the west offers similar sites plus a whole lot more.

Osaka is big, crazy, and packed with just as much neon quirkiness as Tokyo. From Kansai you can see so much more in short day trips, or quick overnighters. The sites around Tokyo in Kanto are more limited.

I’ll break it down by comparing similar destinations in both regions. My top three Kanto spots are Nikko, Yokohama, and Kamakura, all of which have an interchangeable rival in Kansai.

1. While Nikko is my favorite place in Japan, getting there from Tokyo is quite a long trek. The feeling and beauty of Nara rivals Nikko and is only a 40 minute train ride from Osaka or Kyoto.

2. The open air, refreshing feeling of Yokohama can also be experienced in Kobe, 40 minutes from Osaka, where you can also stroll through an incredibly clean, overpriced Chinatown, and see the world’s longest suspension bridge.

3. As for Kamakura, its main attraction is a large bronze Buddha which is smaller than the Buddha in Nara.

Above all, the feeling in Kansai is so much more open. It felt more talkative generally and I was approached on nearly every train I got on, a rarity in my Tokyo/Kanto travels. Apart from the similar sites mentioned, Kansai offers Kyoto, easily 3-4 days worth of sites; Himeji, a beautifully maintained traditional castle; Shikoku, Japan’s smallest big island, separated from Honshu by the majestic inland sea; and Hiroshima, an easy overnight excursion to explore tragic history and the metropolis that’s risen from the ashes.

I’ve met so many travelers who base their travels in Kanto, and do side trips to Kansai, mainly Kyoto. You should do the reverse. Fly into Narita, spend a night in Tokyo at the beginning and end of the trip, but set up camp in the West. Centrally located Kansai has it all if Japan is your destination.

Weekend Dads of Kanto

Saturday, January 6th, 2007
The Tsukuba Express train line opened in late 2005, linking large areas of Chiba and Ibaraki prefectures with high speed Tokyo-bound rail service. Although I live in a tiny rural town surrounded by rice paddies, I can be in ... [Continue reading this entry]

The final leg: Train travel at it’s best

Saturday, January 6th, 2007
When you reserve your seat on the bullet train or an express route, you settle into your seat for the ride and that's where you'll be. You could luck out with some talkative neighbors, or enjoy the trip by ... [Continue reading this entry]

Blue skies in Nara

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Nara park is huge. You can easily spend an entire day here exploring the shrines, museums, and trail network that connects the sites through a combination of open and wooded spaces. ... [Continue reading this entry]

I hate Japanese Giant Flying Squirrels, don’t you?

Friday, January 5th, 2007
I left Osaka last night on the last train to Nara, about 40 minutes away, and arrived just after midnight. Nearly tempted by the 5,000yen hotel across from the station, I decided to make the 2 kilometer walk to ... [Continue reading this entry]

Youthful 18 ticket travel (seishun ju-hachi kippu)

Friday, January 5th, 2007
I'm traveling with a discount rail ticket called the seishun ju-hachi kippu, which translates to the "youthful 18 ticket." You don't have to be youthful to buy it as the name implies, but it ... [Continue reading this entry]

Osaka: Japanese life at a higher resonance

Thursday, January 4th, 2007
Osaka has a wild feel about it, a city with more verve than Tokyo. I spent only about five hours in town, enough to give me a brief flavor of Japan's second largest city that's ... [Continue reading this entry]

Himeji Castle

Thursday, January 4th, 2007
On a new travel footing I set out from Sakaide and headed straight for Himeji three hours away. This small to medium sized town is home to one of Japan's last remaining authentic wooden framed castles. It quickly ... [Continue reading this entry]

Saved in Shikoku

Thursday, January 4th, 2007
Yesterday my luck began to change for the better. I got a hold of Mayumi while in Okayama and she told me to get back to Sakaide right away. In the end I got to cross the huge ... [Continue reading this entry]