We arrived in Japan on Thursday, July 17 to discover just how hot it gets in Japan in the summer. The temperature was over 30C and a few days later it got as high as 37C. Fortunately, Sean had some good plans in place to help us deal with the heat. After our first night with Sean, Makiko, and Julian, we rose to catch a train to a large annual beer fest featuring hundred’s of craft beers.
Inside a large stadium, there were displays and ample supply of beers for sampling in a glass given at the entrance. It didn’t take long to forget which beers were our favourites although we did go back to some more than a few times. Several Japanese people came up to engage us in conversation despite the language problems. I guess beer helps break down such barriers no matter where you are.
Sean, Makiko and Julian have moved to a different location since we visited in 2012. There home is now in the city of Wakayama. It is a short walk to Julian’s new school and a short drive to Makiko’s University. Sean has a longer commute now. On Sunday, we spent the afternoon playing tennis with Julian at his school grounds. He’s been taking tennis lessons and is quite good. We also went to his tennis club on Sunday afternoon and played doubles. It was quite hot in both locations.
On Monday, we took a train trip with Julian and Sean to a beautiful beach in a coastal town called Shirahama. The beach has the most amazing white sand and it was great to cool off in the water throughout the day. Shirahama also has a lot of other attractions so we took in a few of these as well.
We stayed two nights in Shirahama which gave us time to take in some of the other sights. Energy Land is a very cool place for both kids and adults. It has a lot of “optical illusions”, fitness challenges, etc. Having Julian along made it even more fun. He’s a great little traveler and he has such a great sense of humour.
Across the street from the hotel was an Onsen (or Sento). These names refer to public baths with a hot springs. I took advantage of this each morning to limber up the muscles and take part in a piece of Japanese culture. These baths date back several hundreds of years before people had their own private baths at home. However, the tradition continues.
Upon entering the bath, the women’s section is denoted by red cloth over the door to the right whereas the men’s section has blue cloth over the door. Inside, there is a changing room with lockers. A further room behind a sliding door has a row of showers with small stools on which to sit, small basins, soap, etc.
Once you have soaped yourself up and rinsed off, you enter a hot springs to soak. Each morning when I went, the place was quite busy and it seems quite a social experience. The hot springs were actually on the second floor of the building and the glass windows opened up to a view of the beach. If I lived in the area, I would definitely buy a membership.
Sand Cliffs and Pirate Caves
A short drive brought us to two tourist attractions. The Senjojiki sand cliffs have been eroded over thousands of years and reminded me a bit of Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia with the waves crashing onto the shore.
Sandanbeki Dokutsu (Sandanbeki Cave) is located inside the Sandanbeki Cliff, a limestone rock with 50m high cliff faces protruding into the sea near Sandan town. The cave inside the rock, a karst cave enlarged by the work of the waves, was once the hideout of pirates. It was once the secret base of the Kumanosuigun pirates, who hid their ships inside the cave.
The cave is located at sea level, but it is entered from the plateau above. A 36m high elevator brings visitors down into the cave, which is actually a kind of pirate theme park. While the museum is more or less a presentation of legends and Medieval weaponry, the cave itself and the closeness of the sea makes the visit a unique experience.
Engetsu Island is an interesting rock formation at Shirahama. The rock formation is made of sandstone which makes it vulnerable to erosion. When we were there, work crews were doing some shoring up of the centre to keep it from falling apart.
Julian has been such fun while we travel. Unfortunately, Makiko had to work until the weekend. We’ve eaten most meals at home but have also enjoyed some fantastic dining in some very unique Japanese restaurants.
Conveyer Belt Sushi Restaurant
These restaurants offer a huge selection of sushi dishes that go past your booth on a conveyer belt. You can also order food by pushing buttons and these dishes come to your table on a different conveyer belt. When finished, you toss your plates down a shoot where they are counted. Each dish is basically Y110 so the total bill is the number of dishes times Y110.
Cook Your Own
There are several restaurants where you can cook a variety of dishes on your own right at your table. We ate in one in Kyoto where it was like a fondue and the one in the pictures below has a hot plate built into your table.
Sushi, of course is the popular food in Japan but like all cosmopolitan cities, there are lots of other foods as well. Italian is also popular. The display below is something you see outside of many restaurants. These ‘rubber’ molds of various dishes actually look quite appetizing.
There are many, many castles in Japan and we visited a few in 2012. However, there is also one in Wakayama just a short walk from Sean and Makiko’s. This particular castle dates back to the fifteen hundreds. It is situated on a large tract of land right in the middle of the city with a moat and plenty of trees.
On Friday we traveled to Kyoto. It is one of the busiest tourist areas in Japan so there is some English spoken but still not that much. Makiko’s parents also drove to Kyoto to spend time with us. We always have such a fun time when we meet up as we did in 2012 and when they visited us in Hawkestone a few years ago.
We spent Friday evening together and on Saturday we went to the Sushimi Inari Shrine.
Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto Shrine famous for its thousands of vermilion tori gates which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.
There are numerous torii gates which mark the approach and entrance to the shrine. At this Shrine they are made of wood and painted bright orange and black. These days, individuals or companies can purchase them and get recognition on them. The larger ones cost Y1,300,000 (approx. $13,000).
Sean has been an excellent tour guide and we just keep seeing more and more of Japanese culture. We went to a huge summer festival where we saw the most amazing fire works display. Tens of thousands of people attended so there was a major traffic jam getting back home. The many people who rode bikes had the best idea.
We also went to an aquarium in Osaka – apparently the largest in the world. It was indeed huge and it is hard to believe there are so many different fish all over the world as well as a lot of very strange animals.
Just outside the Aquarium we rode the giant ferris wheel. There are a few such ferris wheels in Japan but this has to be one of the tallest. It gave us a great view over the city as we took one of the glass bottom cars.