Old Town Kawagoe

Long time no blog post! I got a cold last week, and I’m still hanging in there on the job, so I haven’t had a ton of energy. But today I’m back at it with a little something about Japan! You know, the usual.

Kawagoe

Old town Kawagoe.

Kawagoe is a satellite of Tokyo that stands on its own pretty well. Its nickname is Koedo (小江戸/Little Edo), after the old name for Tokyo, and it’s locally famous for having preserved a few streets from the Edo Period (1603-1868), along with a historic bell tower and the ruins of Kawagoe Castle.

If you’re going to be in Tokyo for more than a few days, I actually do recommend spending an afternoon in Kawagoe. It isn’t far and, if you’re interested in a nostalgic trip into the not-so-distant past and like sweet potato, the Candy Street (菓子屋横丁/Kashiya Yokochou) alone is worth the trip. Kawagoe is famous for sweet potato, so on the Candy Street you can find everything from sweet potato ice cream to sweet potato candy to sweet potato beer. And it’s all tastier than my western readers might think!

I admit, I look at Kawagoe through the lens of personal nostalgia (it’s my Japanese hometown), but I genuinely think it’s a great city to visit. A little quirky, a little historical, and very unique.

Access: From Ikebukuro Station, hop on the Tobu-Tojo Line going to Kawagoe-Shi, Shinrin Koen, or Ogawamachi (same train, different terminal stations). A semi-express will get you to Kawagoe Station in about 30 minutes.

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Photo Post: Miyajima

It’s Wednesday, which means… it’s time for a photo post? Yeah, we can go with that. The subject: Miyajima!

Miyajima (宮島), actually called Itsukushima (厳島), is a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, specifically Hiroshima Bay. The island is famous for Itsukushima Shrine, which is why it’s referred to as Miyajima (shrine island). Itsukushima Shrine is a World Heritage Site, as well as one of the Three Views of Japan, and it really is very beautiful. I’ve been twice, so I hope you enjoy some pictures from my two visits!

Itsukushima

Coming up on Itsukushima, from the ferry.

Itsukushima Torii

The famous “floating torii”. Unfortunately, both times I went the tide was out.

Itsukushima Shrine

Inside the shrine.

Itsukushima Pagoda

A pagoda from inside the shrine.

Itsukushima Town

The town on the island. There’s only one and it’s very small.

Itsukushima Island

The town and shrine from up one of the hills.

Miyajima is a lovely place and, if you go to Hiroshima (which you should!), please take an afternoon to check it out. Maybe you’ll have better luck than I have and get to see the torii float and everything!

Access: Take the JR Sanyo Line from JR Hiroshima Station to Miyajimaguchi Station. Walk to the ferry pier and then take the ferry to the island. The train ride is about 25 minutes and the ferry is 10.

Photo Post: The Oregon Coast

Last summer, just a few weeks after I came back from Japan, my friends and I spent a weekend at the Oregon coast. We rented a beach house near Tillamook and used that as our base camp while we went to a few places in the area. I don’t have a lot to say, but I do have pictures to share! And I can tell you how to get to Tillamook from Salem (and I suppose Portland, too, for practicality’s sake), to make this somewhat informative, as well.

Sand Dunes

Sand dunes! The sand was really hot, but we ran all the way to the top anyway.

Dune Trees

Trees at the top of the dunes.

The Sea

The sea!

Crab Races

Crab Races?

Oregon Coast

The coast at the edge of the world.

Sea Lions

Sea lions! There are a lot of them at the coast.

Access: You have to drive and it’s kind of far.

From Salem: Get on OR-22 W. After about 4 miles, turn onto US-101 N/Oregon Coast Highway. After about 25 miles, turn right to stay on the Oregon Coast Highway. About 14 more miles and you’ll hit Tillamook. Travel time: roughly two hours.

From Portland: Get on US-26 W/NW Sunset Highway via the ramp to the Oregon Zoo. After about 20 miles, turn onto OR-6 W. Follow OR-6 W for about 50 miles and you’ll hit Tillamook. Travel time: roughly an hour and a half.

Yokohama’s Chinatown

Yokohama is a great city. Only a short train ride from Tokyo, in Kanagawa Prefecture, it offers no shortage of things to do and see. It’s also a city where you’re much more likely to run into westerners, thanks to the US naval base at Yokosuka, but I’m going to talk a little bit about a different sort of foreign influence: Chinatown.

Yokohama Chinatown

Approaching one of the gates.

Yokohama has what’s probably the most famous Chinatown in Japan. In fact, every year in Matsuyama venders from Yokohama come and set up a Chinese market for a few days. Much like American Chinatowns, the actual number of Chinese residents has been decreasing, as people move out of what was essentially an ethnic ghetto, but you’ll still find plenty of shops and restaurants. There are also brightly colored Chinese Buddhist temples that you can visit, if you’re looking for something a little more cultural than just shopping and food.

Chinatown Temple

A temple in Chinatown.

Most people, of course, go to Chinatown for the food. You can find all sorts of Chinese cuisine, such as manju (steamed buns) and ramen, most of which has been slightly Japanized, but is nonetheless very tasty. The food ranges from very inexpensive, just a step above fast food, to fancy restaurants that are less than ideal for the budget traveler. I can guarantee you’ll find something, though, even if you’re trying to keep costs low.

Chinatown Gate

One of the gates.

If you’re in Tokyo and have enough time to venture out a little farther, definitely take a day trip to Yokohama and check out Chinatown. It isn’t a big time or monetary commitment and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

Chinatown Temple Lanters

Lantern decorations at the temple.

Access: Take the JR Negishi Line from Yokohama Station to Ishikawacho Station. From there it’s just a short walk.

A Famous Pub

Eagle and Child

The menu at The Eagle and Child, with a bottle of Dandelion & Burdock.

Something from my spring UK adventure today! When I visited my friend Lauren in Oxford, we had lunch at The Eagle and Child. It’s a small pub on St Giles’ Street, which belongs to St John’s College. More significantly, it’s famous for being a meeting place for the Inklings’ Group: a writer’s group that included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. They met regularly in a private room at the back. And I can happily say that the food is good! My steak sandwich and chips were very satisfying. It was also where I had my first encounter with Dandelion & Burdock, which is a very old-fashioned soda that I have to say I wasn’t very keen on. It wasn’t bad, but I definitely wouldn’t make a habit of it.

If you find yourself in Oxford, I definitely recommend checking out The Eagle and Child! Tasty food with a touch of history. An excellent combination.

Address: 49 St Giles’, Oxford, OX1 3LU

Shiroyama Park

Shiroyama Park

The moat around Shiroyama Park in downtown Matsuyama.

Shiroyama Park (城山公園) is a sizable park in downtown Matsuyama. Shiroyama means “castle mountain”, which is accurate in this case because Matsuyama Castle is on a tall hill in the middle, though you can’t reach the castle from the park itself. The castle deserves its own post, so I’ll talk about it another day, but I only have one decent park picture. Standalone post it is!

My favorite thing about Shiroyama Park is actually the moat that encircles it. To be honest, the interior isn’t very beautiful (wide expanses of somewhat sparse grass broken up by small clumps of trees), but the moat, with its lanterns and decorative cranes, is fantastic. It’s a refreshing break in the otherwise standard concrete-twentieth-century look of the rest of downtown. And, with the path you can see in the picture, it’s also a really nice place to take a walk! It’s a great stop if you’re in Matsuyama and want a break from a day of shopping or busy sightseeing.

Access: Starting at Matsuyama Shi-Eki, walk away from the shopping arcade Gintengai, following the streetcar tracks. You’ll come up to a large intersection and the park will be right across from you. You could take the streetcar, but it would only be one stop and that’s a bit silly when it’s not even a 10-minute walk.

Halloween at Tokyo Disneyland

I’m going to preface this post by saying that my Tokyo Disney Halloween experience was in 2008. However, they do roughly the same thing every year, so if you go to Tokyo Disneyland in October you will get to enjoy some version of this.

Tokyo Disney Halloween

Welcome!

First, some Tokyo Disney facts! Tokyo Disney Resort isn’t actually in Tokyo at all. It’s in a town called Urayasu, in Chiba. The park opened in April 1983, was the first Disney park outside of the United States, and is modeled on Disneyland in California. It has eight areas: Fantasyland, Adventureland, Westernland, Tomorrowland, the World Bazaar (basically Main Street, U.S.A. under a glass roof), Mickey’s Toontown, and Critter Country.

Tokyo Disney Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion has a Nightmare Before Christmas theme in October.

Every year, for the entire month of October, the park is made over in a Halloween theme. Probably the most famous change is the Haunted Mansion, which is turned into The Nightmare Before Christmas. While I do prefer the traditional ride, it’s actually really fun. Something different to mix it up. If you don’t speak Japanese you won’t get the full experience of the dialogue because there’s almost no English, but that’s the case throughout the park. I kind of dig hearing all the familiar songs in another language, myself.

Tokyo Disney Cinderella's Castle

Cinderella’s Castle, decked out for Halloween.

Most rides stay the same, but the park is filled with jack-o-lanterns, orange and black banners, ghosts, and other Halloween decorations. The parades and shows are Halloween-themed, of course, and there’s usually some kind of activity (like a scavenger hunt) that will win you a treat or prize if you complete it. Kitschy-cute with just a touch of being a Japanese interpretation of a holiday they don’t really celebrate.

Tokyo Disney Halloween Decoration

Some of the jack-o-lantern decorations, outside the Haunted Mansion.

Tokyo Disneyland is a lot of fun, no matter when you go, but there’s something special about going near a holiday, when the park has been transformed. It really sets it apart from the experience you’d have at any other park.

Cost: Varies. A one-day pass will cost ¥5,200 for adults (18+), ¥4,590 for juniors (12-17), and ¥3,570 for children (4-11). Children 3 and under are admitted free.

Hours: Seven days a week, usually 8:30-22:00.

Access: Take the Keiyo Line from Tokyo Station to Maihama Station (about 15 minutes). The resort is right there.