Category Archives: Seasonal

First Shrine Visit of the Year – Miyajidake Shrine

A bit late, but better than never, we made the first shrine visit of the year to Miyajidake Shrine. Going to visit a shrine in the first few days following New Year is a Japanese tradition.

Miyajidake is the shrine my boyfriends family usually visit. It’s on a hill near Miyajihama beach and you can see the sea when you climb the stairs to the shrine. Apparently the large straw decoration at this shrine is the largest in Japan. We came here to pray and ask for good luck for the year ahead. We bought some charms to give us good fortune this year and wrote some wishes on small wooden boards called “絵馬” a wooden plaque, pronounced “ema” (what a great name for it!) . We also paid ¥100 each for a “みくじ” (mikuji) or good luck fortune. It’s a little drawer with a lucky dip of fortunes inside, we both got a little luck, nooooooooo! Then my boyfriend tried again and got big luck woop! Not quite sure that’s how it works but anyway!

On the way up to the shrine
On the way up to the shrine

 

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People waiting to pray
People waiting to pray

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Wooden ema plaques

At the back of the temple are more little shrines, where you can pray for different specific things, like good health, love, wealth etc. This shrine also has a “古墳” (kofun) an ancient tomb. It’s like a burial mound, there are numerous large ones in Sakai in Osaka, where one of my friends used to live. I’ve never seen the inside of one before, they have made the entrance of this small kofun into another area to pray.

Fox shrine
Fox shrine

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Hopes for love in 2015
Inside the Kofun
Inside the Kofun

If you come here to this region, I’d recommend coming in summer, where as well as the temple you can go to the beach. It is very popular in summer and good for body boarding! Both the beach and shrine are not so far from JR Fukuma station, you could get a bus or taxi, it may not be that far to walk as well.

2015! New Year! Year of the Sheep!

I know it’s a little slow but Happy 2015 everybody!!! I hope everyone’s first couple of weeks have gone well! I’m actually feeling a hint of pride, as I’ve managed to keep blogging for 1 whole year! It’s been a bit inconsistent but still I did it! I’ve looked back to last years blog post about New Year to check my New Year Resolutions, and they are basically the same as the ones I made this year oh no!

But of course there are things I let slide last year, we all do it, it happens! Actually my first and main New Years Resolution for 2015 is to be kinder to myself and others, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself for letting my New Years Resolutions slide last year. Also it’s good to make New Years Resolutions but not if keeping them is going to really stress  you out. I found myself a lot last year getting stressed very easily and feeling frantic, and also that I spent a lot of time just waiting for things to happen. This year I want to relax, worry less about tiny things and if I am waiting for whatever reason, use that time productively to get something done!

My others are similar to last year,

– speak Japanese.

– pass N2 level Japanese (which means study more!!)

– work out 3 times a week, if I can’t do that just find more drive to want to work out, so it doesn’t feel like a chore, make it more enjoyable for myself somehow!

– try harder at everything!

– watch less TV, use that time productively or if I really feel like I want to relax, read a book or watch something more interesting and thought provoking!

– be awesome! Don’t make excuses for myself, do my best and do it well!

I wanted to finish with something interesting so here are links to two websites.

The first is a list of questions that allows you to reflect on last year, and also asks you questions about what you truly want to get out of this year! If you are struggling to make New Years Resolutions this might help.

http://into-mind.com/2014/12/16/your-year-in-review-50-questions-to-help-you-reflect-appreciate-and-get-excited-for-2015/

The 2nd is a link to the best TED talks of 2014, I wonder what interesting topics there will be talks about this year.

https://www.ted.com/playlists/215/the_most_popular_talks_of_2014

Have a good year everyone!

Kuju-san

I’ve been off hiking again! This time me and my boyfriend’s family hiked Mount Kuju (九重山) in Oita prefecture. This trip was probably my fourth to this area, and I have to say Kuju and the Aso-Kuju National Park is beautiful! If you are not into hiking but have a valid driving license out here, it’s definitely worth a trip, the scenery in the park is spectacular.

Anyway we had rented a house, in a complex called “Forest Hills” in Yufuin, so we were based in the area so we didn’t have so far to drive. We woke up early, and the got to see Yufuin covered in a sea of morning mist, was quite a beautiful start to our day!

Morning mist in Yufuin
Morning mist in Yufuin

We drove from here to the start of our hike at the Makinoto-pass, which has a small shop to buy coffee and ice cream, but is basically just a place to leave the car while hiking the mountain. To the left side of the car park is the start of the route, and there is a box where you can fill in information about your party in case you go missing or have some accident while hiking.

Marker at the start of the hike!
Marker at the start of the hike!

From here we walked up a rather steep concrete path for around 15 minutes, before the real hike began and the concrete vanished and we were walked a dirt path with many rocks and boulders in our way. There were also ladders and wooden steps we had to climb at one point, but after the initial climb the way stayed fairly flat until we arrived just under the summit of Mount Kuju.

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We could see many other hikers on the path ahead of us

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There are good signs the whole route of this hike, something I like about this one is the road forks several times, at one point there are 2 other routes available both easily signposted. We were quite keen to try Hossho-san, as the route looked quite challenging, maybe next time!

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There it is – Mount Kuju!

The path stayed fairly flat until we got to just underneath Mount Kuju, here we had a descent that was extremely rocky and then levelled out to a nice rest stop. Here there was a toilet and many people were scattered around looking at the views over Aso and eating lunch.

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Smoke from Mount Aso rises in the distance

Then there was another very rocky ascent, this part of the way is quite tricky as you can’t see a particularly clear path. You just have to keep looking at your feet and picking the best way between the rocks. From here we managed to hike to the top fairly fast.  While climbing the rocky ascent the path forks and if you go to the right, you can climb Naka-dake instead if you wish, this is the highest peak on Kyushu island at 1791m, 5m higher than Mount Kuju.

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We did it!

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The summit – 1786m!

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We did this hike in the last weekend in November and had glorious weather, unfortunately the weather has turned and it’s much colder now. The way up from the rest stop to the summit of Kuju-san has yellow spots painted on rocks en route, in case of bad weather so you can more easily find the path. Also this hike took us about 6 hours with some stops for food, coming back to the car was very quick.

There is a apparently a bus you can take that drops you at the Makinoto pass, that goes from a number of different cities in Kyushu. It’s called the Kyushu Odan Bus, you can’t catch it from Fukuoka but you could get the train to Kumamoto or Beppu and go from there, although it’s probably easier to hire a car.

http://www.kyusanko.co.jp/sankobus_top/

I really enjoyed this hike, and as I said at the beginning of this post, even if you are not planning on hiking the area, the region is really beautiful. As the winter season is here, going for a drive through the mountains and stopping in some onsen towns is also an option.  Chains are recommended on your tyres if you are driving in the region while snow is on the ground.

Think the next hike on my list is Yakushima, not exactly that close to Fukuoka, for now I think the hiking is on hold until it gets a bit warmer!

Mount Hiko-San

So I haven’t posted anything in ages, I know I’m rubbish! I’m going to try and get back into it with some posts on my favourite season autumn!! I know it will be soon coming to an end with December right around the corner but December’s weather has known to be okayish (well compared to the dreaded chill that January and February bring anyway!!) And recently I’ve been getting very into hiking, it’s a wonderful autumn activity if you wrap up warm and bring the appropriate gear, as the scenery can be very dramatic at this time of year! And Japan is known to have a lot of mountains!! Kyushu especially has some beautiful areas for hiking.

I may have mentioned in a previous post that me and some friends tried to climb Mount Fugen Dake in Unzen national park during the summer, but being woefully unprepared made probably the best possible decision and gave up! Well I honestly learnt my lesson and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again!!

Anyway moving on, so me, my boyfriend and his father went on a little expedition to Hiko-San ( 英彦山) a mountain that lies on the border of both Fukuoka and Oita prefectures.  If you are able to rent a car it takes around 90 minutes to drive there from Fukuoka city centre (I will list information about getting there via public transport at the bottom of this post). Hiko-san is considered one of Japan’s most spiritual mountains and the path follows an old pilgrim trail still used to this day by mountain priests or yamabushi ( 山伏). And on our drive up the mountain we saw a group of them wearing traditional clothing jogging up the mountain in training. We parked the car at Seinen no Ie (青年の家) and from here got a free shuttle to the start of our trail ,the shrine, Takasumi Jinja ( 高住神社), where we stopped for a chat with a couple more yamabushi before hitting the trail.

Our new yamabushi pals
Our new yamabushi pals

The route up the mountain is easy to follow but is pretty steep, you definitely need gloves to help with gripping onto the ropes or chains you sometimes need to use to pull yourself over large rocks in the path.  Getting to the top took us around 1 hour and 20 minutes, the view from the top is fantastic! At the North summit it is a fairly easy stroll to the central summit, when we got there it was very busy with a lot of people eating lunch!! The North summit was a lot less crowded and more sheltered from the wind!! But the central summit does have a toilet and a covered viewpoint that you could sit inside if it was raining.

On the hike up!
On the hike up!
At the summit!
At the summit!
Lunch!
Lunch!

We had a good lunch cooked on a mini gas stove we’d carried up, it felt wonderful to have something hot as it got extremely windy and cold! At the top is also a very old shrine you can go inside and make an offering. On the way down the first part of the path was very easy to follow, going down an old stone staircase, obviously part of the original pilgrim trail, the scenery here was very autumnal. The route we had chosen branched off a little way down. It took us a bit of humming and haring to figure out which way we were meant to go, the map and compass we brought with us proved very useful!

Scenery on the climb down

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A lucky catch!
A lucky catch!
Lost in the woods!
Lost in the woods!

We ended up taking the bird sightseeing trail, which thankfully was the right way, during our descent we didn’t see any birds, but we did spot three deer! Finally we emerged into a gorgeous field of pampas grass which used to be an old ski slope. From here it was a very short walk to where we parked the car lucky!!!

This used to be a ski slope!
This used to be a ski slope!

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It was a challenging hike for me, a beginner, and the mountain was beautiful it did feel like a really spiritual place. Although a bit tricky to get to without a car, I would recommend it for anyone in the Fukuoka area who enjoys the great outdoors!

Some additional information, this link (see below) has some basic maps with different routes, we did route A on the 2nd page. It says this route takes 3.5-4 hours, it took us more like 6 hours, we stopped for around an hour for lunch and it took us a while to find our bearings on the descent.

http://www.fsg.pref.fukuoka.jp/hikosan/pdf/5-2tozan_sansaku_map.pdf

This hike is also listed in the Lonely Planet “Hiking in Japan” book, I found out about this after doing the hike, the route in the book is different to the one we took.

If using public transportation, you can get a train to Hiko-san station from Kokura station and it takes 1 hr 45mins. From here you can get buses to Hiko-san Bessho, and start your hike from there doing a different route to the one we chose.  Happy Hiking!

Let’s go to the beach, beach!

So I had a lovely weekend at the beach!!! And despite the horrible rain today, now all I can think about is the summer!!! Am getting super excited about all the awesome beach times to come!!! It got up to 27 degrees yesterday and I was brave enough to try swimming and it was well worth it! The water was so clear and I’d say more refreshing than chilly!

One of the best things about living in Fukuoka is there are a multitude of great beaches on your doorstep!! Some are easily accessible using public transport and are very close to the centre of town! Others take you out of the city to Itoshima or the islands of Nokonoshima and Shikonoshima!!

So many great beaches to choose from, my favourites are Fukutsu beach, Shikonoshima, Itoshima and Shingu. Here are some summery beach pictures – hopefully I can get in a couple more trips before rainy season swings round!! : )

Chilling on Meinohama beach during Golden Week
Chilling on Meinohama beach during Golden Week
Meinohama beach view towards Fukuoka Tower and Momochi
Meinohama beach view towards Fukuoka Tower and Momochi
Momochi beach
Momochi beach
Shikonoshima Beach
Shikonoshima Beach
View from the top of Shikonoshima of the spit below connecting it to the city
View from the top of Shikonoshima of the spit below connecting it to the city
Beach combing finds at Wajiro Beach
Beach combing finds at Wajiro Beach
Fukuma beach Sunset
Fukuma beach Sunset
Sandy toes
Sandy toes

Another Itoshima Beach

At Palm Beach Restaurant at Nishinoura Beach
At Palm Beach Restaurant at Nishinoura Beach
Swing at BBQ cafe on the way to Nishinoura
Swing at BBQ cafe on the way to Nishinoura
Nishinoura Beach in Itoshima
Nishinoura Beach in Itoshima
Shrine on the way to Shingu Beach
Shrine on the way to Shingu Beach

 

Momochi is really easy to get to as it’s basically in the city!! It’s not the most beautiful as it’s a man made beach but for convenience you can’t beat it!! The easiest way to get there is to get the subway to Nishjin, when you exit you should be able to see Fukuoka Tower in the distance, just walk towards it for around 10-15 minutes and you’ll find the beach! Buses go near there too!

Fukuma is easy to get to from Hakata Station by train, about 20 minutes (you get off at Fukuma) on trains heading towards Kokura, and then you should probably take a taxi to the beach which is only around 10 minutes away.

Shingu is also fairly easy, you go to Chihaya station on the JR and then change to the Nishitetsu station. Take the Nishitetsu to Shingu at the end of the line, the beach is a 5 minute walk from the station.

Shikonoshima is a bit harder to get to, and is much easier if you have a car. There are buses that go there, I will have to do more research into which number you should take but from Hakata station the journey time will be fairly long.

Itoshima is also easier if you have a car, but is a really nice area to explore on the weekend, and has a lot of cute beach side restaurants and cafes. If you can hire a car, I’d really recommend heading out that way as it starts to get a bit warmer!! If you drive toward Keya you can find a lot of nice beaches to stop at on the way there, I’ve never even made it to Keya as we always get sidetracked by other nice spots!!

 

Twilight cherry blossom

So my parents have been visiting me for the last 10 days and we did loads of stuff in that time!! It was such a busy trip for them, but I think most trips to Japan usually are! It was a really fun 10 days!! It also gave me loads of ideas for blog posts as showing them around meant I also got to visit some new places I haven’t been before. We also did a three day break to Osaka, which I will post about next week (bit busy at the mo with a new job and house to sort out!!!).

The most time specific thing I wanted to talk about is that in Fukuoka right now it is cherry blossom season!!!! They came into full bloom at the end of last week, but in other parts of the country full bloom will probably be next week or even much later. And while my parents were here we did manage to fit in one evening where we could go see the trees at Ohori Koen and Maizuru Koen. It was lucky as the weather was beautiful that day, but at the weekend it rained, if there is too much rain the cherry blossom season can be cut very short.

Maizuru Koen is a really good place to go see the cherry blossom as they light it up at night, so if you are busy during the day you can still go there up to 9:00pm or 10:00pm. There are a lot of trees there!! Also right now there are some special areas where you have to pay ¥300 to go in to view more interesting light displays. We went into one area, and although it was cool I would say there are plenty more beautiful trees you don’t need to pay to see, so not sure if it’s really worth it. Those areas are less crowded though.

If you really want to do the full hanami experience you should get there early and bring a tarp or picnic blanket, some beers and food and have a picnic. That is how Japanese people enjoy the cherry blossom!

Anyway here are some of my pictures . . .

People enjoying Hanami in Ohori Koen
People enjoying Hanami in Ohori Koen
Me posing by some cherry blossom, everyone has to do it at this time of year!! It's like a rule!
Me posing by some cherry blossom, everyone has to do it at this time of year!! It’s like a rule!

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Selfie with mum
Selfie with mum
Dad looking pensive by some cherry blossom
Dad looking pensive by some cherry blossom

 

Fukuoka tower in the distance at twilight
Fukuoka tower in the distance at twilight

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Dad taking a pic of mum posing by cherry blossom
Dad taking a pic of mum posing by cherry blossom

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If you want to get to Maizuru Park and you don’t know the way, take the subway to Ohori Koen and leave via exit 6.  You should see a street lined with cherry blossom in the distance if you turn right down that street and follow it for a little while you’ll see some steps going up on the left side of the street and Maizuru park and all the cherry trees are up there!

Next week I will write a proper post about our trip to Osaka and some nice places to go for a drink in Fukuoka city!

Daytrippin to Yufuin and Kuju!

It’s been a really busy last couple of weeks so it’s taken me a while to write this post.

At the end of February me and my boyfriend decided to get out of Fukuoka for a day trip. We bought one of these magazines from the local 7/11 to inspire us with some ideas of places to go.  These magazines are great for ideas!! Obviously they are all in Japanese but they have lots of pictures, to give ideas and if you have the know how you can grab the addresses from the magazine and put them into google maps or a car sat nav.

Drive Kyushu magazine
Drive Kyushu magazine

At the time the Nagasaki lantern festival was on, we decided to avoid the hustle and bustle of that event and head in the opposite direction to Yufuin and Kuju.

Yamanami Highway Route Info

Yamanami Highway Route Info
Beppu and Yufuin route info
Beppu and Yufuin route info

We drove at night from Fukuoka to Yufuin at around 9pm and it only took us 90 minutes!!! There is a direct train from Hakata station but that takes over 2 hours. Many of the trains to Yufuin require a transfer in Beppu or Oita as well.

We managed to find a cute little pension to stay in overnight, with it’s own onsen, near the centre of town. Which meant we could wake up bright and early the next day to wander around the main street and check out lots of the little shops and galleries. The centre of Yufuin is a really nice place to amble away an afternoon going in cafes and galleries. The Yufuin Art Museum near the centre of town is a really interesting building to look around and you can make your own watercolour postcard there. They also have a fish spa, where you can get the dry skin nibbled off your feet by well you guessed it fish.

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Walking round town I found these stylish ear muffs!
Walking round town I found these stylish ear muffs!
My original watercolour
My original watercolour
Old shot from a previous trip later in the spring of me with the tiny car!
Old shot from a previous trip later in the spring of me with the tiny car!

After exploring the centre of town my boyfriend decided he’d really like to check out a nearby ski resort in Kuju only an hour away. It is an artificial slope, but was pretty good for me as a beginner snowboarder to practice on the lower slope while he as a more experienced skier could go to the higher slopes. I’m not sure how much longer it will be open but if you’re in the area and you enjoy skiing or snowboarding you should check it out. The name of it is Kuju Shinrin Koen Ski.

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On the way home we found a really cute little restaurant, the old couple inside really did not look like they were expecting any customers, as there was no one around!!! The food was great though, I kinda felt bad we disturbed them!  We also managed to fit in a trip to a local onsen using a recommendation from the magazine, before driving back to Fukuoka. We got home before 11pm. Great day trip!!!

There are loads of other things to do in the Yufuin and Kuju areas! Yufuin boasts lots of onsen. Kuju is also famous for it’s suspension bridge and the Kuju Flower park. Included are some older photos from previous trips of other things in the area, including a frozen waterfall from 2 years ago, very Game of Thrones-esque!

Kuju Suspension Bridge
Kuju Suspension Bridge
Kuju Flower Park
Kuju Flower Park
Kuju Flower Park
Kuju Flower Park

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The address for Kuju Shinrin Koen is –

Kokonoe Shinrin Koen Ski Resort
612-1, Oaza Yutsubo Kokonoe-machi, Kusu-gun,
Oita Prefecture

And there website is –

http://www.kujyuski.co.jp/multilanguage/en/index.html

I’ve done research and it seems like the best way to get there is to rent a car.

The address for Kuju Flower Park is –

4050 Oaza Kuju, Kuju-machi, Taketa-shi, Oita

Here are some directions to the suspension bridge –

40 minutes by car from Kokonoe IC on oita Expressway.
Take Route 210 toward Kuju from Yufuin IC on oita Expressway. Turn to route 11 at Mizuwake Toge and go toward Chojabaru.
50 minutes by bus from JR Bungo Nakamura Station on JR Kyudai Main line.