Urban Fishing in Japan

Fishing is a very popular hobby in Japan. Many people find this activity relaxing and re-charging. But as in any sport, there are certain elements of the sport that make it difficult for some people to engage in. For one, many people cannot find the time to drive to the country side and enjoy a quiet moment by the lake. Another thing is that the activity is sensitive to weather conditions. One would seldom want to get soaked in the rain or saw open an ice hole in the lake just to catch a fish. So the Japanese, creative as they are, decided to bring the fishing to the want-to-be fisherman. This is called urban fishing.

Urban fishing is usually done in fish pens within the city. A good place to go in Tokyo is the Ichigaya Fishing Centre. Here, there are two pools, one for women and children, and the other, for the  “bigger catch” of the men. Fishing costs for men is ¥690, ¥590 for women and ¥420 for children for every hour of fishing, with an additional charge of ¥100 for rental of a fishing rod, and ¥80 for bait.

People fish for carp but the kids have a mini pool where they can catch goldfish.

Fishing at the Ichigaya Fishing Centre

 

What makes fishing in these pens different? You have to return your catch! When someone catches a fish, it is weighed and recorded and then placed in a “rest pool” before it is thrown back into the main pen later in the day. Points or rewards are given per kilogram caught. The most common prize is to get free fishing session when you catch 7 kilograms of fish.

Fishing is a way for the Japanese to relax without having to travel long distances.

For those who want to bring home their catch, the best place to go is the “catch your own” restaurant. Here, customers are led to tables that are beside the fishing pens. You are to lower your bait or use a net to catch your dinner. Once you have reeled in your catch, the restaurant staff weighs your fish and prepares it the way you want them to. If you have a craving for sashimi, it is expected that your catch will be returned to your table, still moving! At least, you are assured that what is being served you is really fresh.

Fishing pens like Ichigaya are not meant to replace the experience one gets while fishing in nature. But this activity has become popular as a stress releaser for many Japanese, young and old alike.

Photos by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert and Tokyo Times

Climbing Mt. Fuji

One of the ultimate goals of a traveler in Japan is to climb the country’s most popular and revered mountain, Mt. Fuji. With its beautifully symmetrical cone, Mt. Fuji has been a Japanese icon for many years. It is located on Honshu Island, and is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 meters or 12,389 ft. It lies about 100 kilometers south-west of Tokyo, and can be seen from there on a clear day.

The beautiful Mt. Fuji is Japan’s most famous icon and has become a goal for many people to climb.

 

Climbing the mountain is limited to July through August. Despite its steep slopes, Mt. Fuji can be climbed up quite easily even by beginners. Signboards and mountain huts provide direction and places to rest. But it is necessary to try to become acquainted with the features of Mt. Fuji well in advance, and make thorough plans before climbing up the mountain. One must take note that even in the summer, the temperature is at least 20 degrees colder than ground level and the air is thin. In the afternoon, the weather becomes quite unstable with quite a high possibility of thunder.

Mt. Fuji 5th Station and Toyokan Mountain hut.

Climbers can drive up to the 5th Lake Kawaguchi–Yoshida-guchi course is the most popular course and takes about 6 hours to reach the summit from the 5th mountain huts along the way. You depart from the 5th become rocky slopes. Mountain huts are found at the Seventh Station and Eighth Station (2,700 m to 3,000 m). After passing the torii gate at the 9th station, which has an altitude of 1,400 to 2,400 meters. The Station. This course is recommended for beginners because there are many Station and climb gentle slopes which later Station the climb will be basically up bare rocks. Going up further, you will be welcomed by a white torii gate, and after climbing up more stairs, you will find yourself at the summit. The Kuzushi-jinja Shrine is found at the top where one can have a stamp impressed as a token of having reached the summit. There will also be mountain huts or rest areas at the mountain top and a place where one can mail postcards. The descent will be through a different route and would normally take 3 hours and 15 minutes. The mountain huts are well equipped with supplies but in case of an emergency, it is necessary that you bring a supply of water, light snacks and a change of clothes. It is also advised to put on trekking shoes and a hat to prevent sunburn. A walking stick or a trekking pole would also prove useful. There is cellular signal in the mountain so communication is not cut off during the climb.

 

Photos taken from  Steve Tilford and Tokyo Travel Pal

Miyajima-Tsutsumigaura Beach

Off the coast of Hiroshima in Japan, Miyajima Island can be found.  It is considered as one of the treasures of the country due to its rich history. The island has always been considered a sacred place and this can be traced back to 806 AD when a monk named Kobo Daishi climbed Mt. Misen and has established it as a place for the Shingon sect of Buddhism. As years passed, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines have been built and have risen to turn this island into a place of serenity.

The Floating Torii Gate

Fun fact: The island’s real name is Itsukushima and Miyajima is just a popular nickname meaning “Shrine Island”.

Miyajima is not only popular for its shrines and temples but it is also known for its beautiful beach, the Tsutsumigaura Beach. Located inside the Tsutsumigaura Nature Park, the beach is its main attraction. With a 700 meter long shoreline bordered by pine trees, white sand, mild and calm waves, and shallow water, the beach is perfect for families who would want to take time, relax, and enjoy a day. The facility is packed with various amenities such as multi-purpose cabins, exercise areas such as tennis courts and an athletic field, campsites where people can gather around, barbeque areas where people can grill some food and beach houses where people can stay in.

Traveling going to this beach can be long and tiring but for sure it will be worth the wait once you get there. First of all, you must get to Miyajima by ferry. From the Miyajima Pier, you can get there by car, by public transportation, or by simply taking a long walk. Having your own vehicle or taking a cab from the pier will only take you more or less 10 minutes from the pier. On the other hand, it will take an estimate of around forty minutes to walk going to the beach from the pier. For visitors with private vehicles, there is no need to worry where to park since there is enough space for at least 800 cars. Whether you are on a budget, you have enough money, or you want to splurge on everything, Tsutsumigaura Beach is the place for you and your loved ones.

Tsutsumigaura Beach

Tsutsumigaura Beach is a great place to visit whether whatever season it is. Whether you want to relax in peace or engage in various fun-filled activities, the versatility of the beach will satisfy all of your needs.

Images by My Travel Photos and Japan travel

 

Japan Garden Tours

One of the best ways to experience the culture of Japan is to visit one of the many gardens in the country. Japanese gardens are known for their clean, peaceful, and tranquil feel. Japanese gardens are areas where the gods are said to manifest themselves. These serene places are perfect areas to meditate and commune with nature.

Japan has many gardens that are popular to tourists. Some travel agencies offer garden tours which last anywhere from one to twenty one days. The more gardens you visit, the more in depth you become in your encounter with their culture. Kyoto, known as the country’s cultural seat, has some of the most beautiful gardens.

Tours are available in spring, summer and fall, with the latter being a favorite because of the drama the autumn colors bring. Tours are composed of both public and private gardens and have included many different styles of gardens, including stroll gardens, landscape gardens, and pond and island gardens.

The Katsura Imperial is a villa with associated gardens and outbuildings in the western suburbs of Kyoto. It is one of Japan’s most important large-scale cultural treasures. It showcases not only beautiful gardens but also impressive architecture that speaks so much of culture.

Katsura Garden

The Ritsurin Garden or the chestnut grove garden is one of the most famous and most beautiful historical gardens in Japan. It is situated in the city of Takamatsu. The garden contains a tea house, folk art and craft exhibits. A tour through this garden generally takes one to two hours. Various bridges, footpaths and small hills abound which offer a beautiful view of the garden and the surrounding scenery. There is also a view of Mt. Shiun from the garden. The garden covers 750,000 square meters and features the Kikugetsu-tei (Moon Scooping Pavilion), a teahouse that was built in the early years of the Edo period (around 1640). There is also the Hakomatsum or carefully cultivated black pine trees which branches, twigs, and needles are elaborately trimmed into geometrical shapes and figures.

The many ponds and streams are full of koi and the visitors of the Tea House by the pond may sit and feed the fish from breadsticks purchased at the Tea House.

RItsurin Garden

Garden tours can be done by tourists on their own, thanks to Japan’s excellent railway system. Organized tours are also available and suggested for first time visitors.

Photos from wikimedia.org

 

Health Benefits of the Japanese Hot Tub

Soaking in a hot tub can be a good way to describe Japanese relaxation. This could be because this is often experienced as a finale to a many activities. Hot tubs are seen in ski resorts, golf courses, spas, sport clubs and even private homes. There is much more to this than getting oneself cleaned. It is apparently, the ultimate relaxation package in one small space.

Japanese hot tubs are relatively small deep soaking tubs with still hot water. The still water differentiates the hot tub from the western bathtubs. Soaking in still hot water or the Onsen bath began as a ritualistic activity in some cultures like the Greeks, Romans and the Japanese. Many believed that this quiet activity cleanses more than body grime. Soaking in the hot tub was considered an act of comforting the body and nourishing the soul.

Soaking in an onsen bath after skiing is a good way to relax after a strenuous activity

Hydrotherapy is one method of promoting relaxation for the body and mind. The calming effect of water on the body has never been truly explained but always experienced.

Different water temperatures can produce various healing effects on affected portions of our body. Hot tubs are used with the understanding that the body absorbs and retains heat. This promotes relaxation to tense muscles and stiff joints. Slowly, the heat absorbed becomes a healing tool by the body to mend sore parts. Circulation is increased when heat is applied so hot soaks increase blood flow to the extremities. Heart rate is also increased with heat that’s why it is imperative for one to check with his doctor if heat therapy is good for him. Stiff joints like those suffered by people with arthritis are greatly relaxed by soaking. The buoyancy of water makes movement much easier and the relaxed muscles around the joints make movement less painful. It is surprising how quickly relief can be obtained from a hot soak

 

Kowakien Yunessun, a hot springs spa resort and water amusement park in Hakone

Aside from beneficial effects on the human body, soaking in a Japanese hot tub also promotes relaxation of the mind. The mere process of getting into a hot tub (very slowly getting in) initiates a more gentle, slow acclimatization to the environment. This allows you to breathe deeply, slowly, and in the process, clear your mind of all the worries of the day.

Aromatherapy can be used simultaneously with the hot soak. It has been found that this form of holistic medicine stimulates the bather’s physiological, emotional and psychological capacities. The oil vapors used stimulate a body’s nervous, endocrine and immune systems, giving the body a chance to heal itself.

Photos from Daily Mail and John Lander

Best Places to Hike in Japan

Japan is endowed with so many mountains, making hiking a popular activity for young and old alike. Through this activity, one can see and experience first hand the changes that happen to the scenery and activities through the seasons. Scenery is one of the major reasons why many people hike.

Hiking is an activity popular to both the young and old

From the beautiful cherry blossoms in the spring to the snow covered mountains in the winter, hiking brings people somehow closer to nature. A great part of Japan’s landmass is made up of mountains, Mt. Fuji being the most popular of all. Mt. Fuji has been the object of mountain worship, model for many paintings, and goal for many climbers. Many people climb Mt. Fuji to watch the sunrise called Goraiko from the top. The mountain is officially open for climbing during July and August via several routes. These being summer months, the mountain is usually free of snow, with the weather mild and public transportation many. For those who are beginner climbers, it is strongly suggested that you schedule your Mt. Fuji hike on these official climbing months.

Another mountain that boasts of a variety of hiking courses, historic temples and a breathtaking view from the summit is Mt. Takao. Just an hour trip travelling west from Tokyo, Mt. Takao offers a unique blend of Japanese culture and beautiful nature. At the mountain is a statue of a ‘tengu,’ a long-nosed mythical figure, associated with the ancient Japanese practice of mountain worship to acquire magical and spiritual powers. Six well-maintained hiking courses starting from the foot of Mt. Takao and leading up to the 600-meter-high mountaintop allow visitors to learn about the nature of the mountain.

One can ride halfway up the mountain by cable car or lift, so that the remaining climb to the top is not so difficult. This takes about one-and-a-half hours. In summer a beer garden with a magnificent view is open at the half-way point. The Mt. Takao Natural Zoo and Botanical Garden, where you will be greeted by monkeys that roam freely throughout the area is also found near the cable car terminal.

Hiking Trail No.1 Mt. Takao

For those who are interested in religious pilgrimage, there are 88 Buddhist temples that form part of a 40 day hike around Shikoku Island. There is also the spiritual Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, a set of World Heritage listed trails around Wakayama prefecture. The quiet beauty of these places will surely revive your spirit and clear your mind off the hassles of the mundane world.

Photos from Japan Guide and akio designs

Fruit Picking in Japan

Fruit picking is a very popular activity in Japan, both among visitors and locals. It may be because this activity is basically available all year round, even during winter months. Fruit picking farms charge two ways: one is by time, between 800 and 3000 yen, (between 30 – 60 minutes) depending on the fruit being picked and by weight of the fruit picked.

Fruit picking in Nakagomi Orchard is a fun activity with family and friends

There are a number of fruits gardens across the country. One of the most visited gardens is the Yamanashi prefecture, which is easily accessible from Tokyo. The Wakayama Prefecture in Kansai is also well known for its fruit picking farms.

All year round, fruits are available for picking but the most popular time is during the summer and fall. Grapes are harvested from June until October. There are about 40 varieties of Grapes in Japan, and the best of its variety is “Kyoho”, the blackish-purple variety with large seeds. The flesh is very sweet and juicy. These grapes are exported to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore and other countries.

Japanese pears can be picked from September to October. Japanese pears are rounder in shape and similar to apples in size. These are usually left to ripen in their trees. “Nijusseiki” pears are are the most popular kind, and are exported overseas. This is the kind with yellow-green skin.

September to January is apple picking season. The very popular“Fuji”variety, is very juicy and sweet, and has a bright red skin. The flesh has a crispy texture and the flesh tastes like it has sugar syrup.

The“Sun-Fuji”variety is grown in areas with plenty of sunshine and is sweeter than the regular Fuji but with less beautiful skin. The most popular apple producers of Japan are found in Aomori, Nagano and Iwate Prefecture.

 

Sweet apples are ready to be picked

The very sweet and juicy mikan or Japanese mandarin is picked from September to February. These are seedless and easily peeled with your fingers. The “Unshu-mikan” is the most popular variety of mandarin orange in Japan because of its juicy and soft flesh. The most of the mandarin orchards are located in Wakayama, Ehime and Shizuoka Prefecture.

Peach picking season is from August to September. Since peaches are very delicate fruits and require special care compared to other fruits, entrance fees to these farms are more expensive. The “Hakuto”and “Hakuho” are considered the best varieties of peaches.

This activity is fairly easy to participate in. Organized tours that usually last a day can be booked through tour operator. For those who prefer to explore by themselves, most farms allow walk-in visitors but it is always wise to call in advance.

Photos from Nakagomi Orchard and Japan Guide

Discovering Japan on Bike

Exploring a country on a bicycle is a good way to discover many secrets that are not usually seen on common guided tours.  Riding up and down bike routes around Japan has been a means to see the other side of the country on a more personal way.  Many tourists who decide to go on a bike tour of Japan are amazed at how much they have seen, learned and experienced in a short amount of time.

Planning a bike tour would mean considering some basics first.  The first thing you must decide on is how much time do you have for this exciting activity?  Some people opt to just ride around the city on bike, instead of taking the usual group tour on bus.  Some have a few days to spare and decide to explore the countryside on bike.  However long you intend to spend on a bicycle, there are many bike tours offered in Japan that would definitely suit your timetable.  The next thing you have to consider is where to get your most important equipment:  your bike.  Bicycle rentals are available in many tourist destinations.  The rates are usually ¥100-300 per hour, ¥400-800 for half a day, and ¥1000-1200 for an entire day.  The most common rental bike is the mamachari or “mom’s bicycle”.  This is a simple bike, usually with a basket and/or a child’s seat.

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Typical everyday-use bicycle or mamachari

After getting your bike and deciding how long you will be gone, the next thing to do is to plan your route.  Typically, biking in the cities is more stressful because of the traffic and amount of people around.  Outside of the cities, the population is sparse, the view more serene and picturesque but biking infrastructure is still very good. Cycling around is also a great way to meet locals and explore their way of life.  You should not be worried about backing out once you started biking.  If you become saddle-sore, you can hop on a bus or a train (with your bike in tow) and get on your way faster.

For the more serious cyclists, organized bike tours are available.  One of the most popular tours is the Mt. Fuji and Five Lakes tour which lasts for 2 days.  Day 1 will mean cycling for 70 kilometers and Day 2 another 62 kilometers.  This is all with Mt. Fuji, Japan’s most revered mountain in view.

Cycle tour of Japan

Cycle tour of Japan

Images by Japan Guide and My Tokyo Guide