My Japan Bucket List

I love lists. I write to-do lists every morning detailing what I need to accomplish that day. I write items on the list that I`ve already finished just so I can cross them off. Anyone else do this? No, just me? Okay, good talk.

In any case, lists help me focus and prioritize. And while I think travelling should be a more meaningful experience than simply ticking something off a list, having a travel bucket list can really help, especially in a country as richly varied as Japan. Or if you`re anything like me, by the time you`ve reached the ripe old age of 25, you`re prone to forget things unless you write them down immediately.

Disclaimer: this is my own personal bucket list, including suggestions from friends both within and outside of Japan, as well as from the Facebook group JET-setters (a great group by the way). It`s a combination of nature, culture, food, and activities that, for me, encompass the diverse range of experiences Japan has to offer. There are so many other options! I cannot express this enough – I had to limit myself to 15 because otherwise you would be reading this post forever and I`d be writing several hundred bucket list items. Are there any that you want to add? Let me know – I`d love to hear what other people recommend.

 

So, without further ado, let me introduce Japan`s finest fifteen (in my humble opinion):

 

  1. Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima – Okay, this maybe isn`t very original, but it`s one of the most visited places in Japan for a good reason. It is of such religious significance that no births or deaths are permitted near it, so the shrine retains its purity. The famed floating torii gate is classified as one of Japan`s top 3 views, along with Matsushima Bay and Amanohashidate.
  2. Hiking Yakushima – This came up the most when I appealed to JET setters for bucket list items. Located off the coast of Kagoshima, the island is home to some of Japan`s oldest trees – many over 1000 years old – and is said to be the inspiration for the backdrop of Studio Ghibli`s “Princess Mononoke”.
  3. Shimanami Kaido bike ride – Often cited as one of the best cycle routes in Japan, and even the world. Also, I had to include an Ehime one! My next goal is to cycle there and back over two days. Shameless plug, but looking forward to seeing lots of you at the AJET event later this month!
  4. Climb Mt. Fuji – It is said that there are two types of fools in the world; those who climb Mt. Fuji more than once and those who don`t climb it at all. Whatever you do, don`t be the latter. I climbed Mt. Fuji a few years ago and witnessed the best sunrise I have ever seen in my life. I`m a fool so I may climb it again.
  5. Lake Ashiko, Hakone – If you don`t feel like climbing Mt. Fuji, how about just viewing her instead? Hakone, with its variety of hot springs, museums and views of Fuji-san, is a hugely popular destination – helped by its proximity to Tokyo. Lake Ashiko is one of the best places to view Japan`s tallest mountain, and even if she alludes you, Hakone Shrine, the pirate ships and natural beauty around the lake are sure to make up for it.
  6. Yuki Matsuri, Sapporo – Best booked well in advance before flights and hotels sell out (book now for February 2018), the Yuki Matsuri remains one of my top bucket list items. More than 2 million visitors descend on Hokkaido`s biggest city every year to see the incredible snow and ice sculptures that will put your best snowman-making efforts to shame.
  7. Watch sumo – Another まだ for me. I`ve tried to attend sumo matches twice this year alone, but was unable to get tickets (admittedly, I was trying to go for the cheapest tickets on Saturdays). This year is particularly important as it is the first time a Japanese born wrestler has reached the highest sumo rank of yokozuna since 1998 (the sport has been dominated by Mongolian wrestlers in recent years). If it proves impossible to get tickets for a tournament, another option is to visit a sumo stable and watch morning practices.
  8. Stay in a temple, Mt. Koya – One of Japan`s most sacred places, Koya-san is the start and end point of the Shikoku`s 88-temple pilgrimage. It is the place where Kobo Daishi is said to be in eternal meditation awaiting the arrival of the Buddha of the Future and is also home to Japan`s largest graveyard, which has been described as both solemn and haunting. I can think of no better place to experience a temple stay.
  9. Eat wanko soba, Iwate – The name originating from the small bowls in which the noodles are served (minds out the gutter, people), wanko soba is Japan`s ultimate all-you-can-eat challenge. The aim: consume as many bowls as you can. With 8-15 “wanko” bowls equaling a normal-sized soba serving, women apparently consume an average of 50, and men an average of 60. But why stop there? Some restaurants offer commemorative plaques for those who reach 100.
  10. Tsukiji market, Tokyo – Famous for its live Bluefin tuna auctions every morning, Tsukiji is the biggest fish and seafood market in the world. While witnessing the auctions is often one of the top picks for Tokyo, relations between tourists and buyers/sellers are strained (the market is first and foremost a business, not a tourist attraction). Instead, you`re best off heading to Tsukiji at around 9am to watch the fish being prepared at different shops and restaurants. Indulge in a fresher-than-fresh seafood breakfast – it`ll be the best sushi you ever try. Visit before the inner market is relocated (although the moving date is still uncertain).
  11. Watch Awa Odori, Tokushima – “The dancers are fools / The watchers are fools / Both are fools alike, so / Why not dance?” I personally believe this statement to be 100% true, so the Awa Odori (The Dance of Fools) sounds like my kind of festival. It is said that Tokushima city, descended upon by 1.3 million festival revelers, resounds with the sound of taiko drums and song from August 12th to 15th.
  12. Bathe in onsen, Beppu – Onsen should be an item on any Japan bucket list, and the country is blessed with so many popular hot springs spots and quaint (and not-so-quaint) resort towns. The most famous of these is Beppu, which produces more hot spring water than any other resort – over 83,000 litres a minute! Beppu also boasts sand, steam and mud bathing options in addition to normal hot water baths. Take a tour of Beppu`s “Hells” if you`re feeling brave enough (not scary, just a little tacky?). Keep your eyes on Beppu to see if the mayor comes through on his promise to build the world`s first “Spamusement park”, where – you guessed it – visitors will be able to ride rollercoasters and other attractions while soaking in the best hot spring water Japan has to offer.
  13. Bamboo grove, Arashiyama – Setting foot in Arashiyama`s bamboo grove feels like you`ve fallen right into an old Japanese woodblock painting. It`s one of Kyoto`s top sightseeing spots, but somehow walking through the emerald grove never seems to induce the same stress levels as walking through crowds at some of Kyoto`s other top attractions. Prepare your camera (no selfie sticks, please – don`t be that person) but be warned; photos just can`t capture the magic of the place (or maybe that`s just my poor photography skills).
  14. Lavender fields, Furano – Think about Hokkaido – what springs to mind? Skiing and snowboarding, Yuki Matsuri, winter is coming? But Japan`s northernmost island holds very different charms in summer, when the stark white landscape is transformed into a carpet of colours by lavender fields (other flowers are available). At the very least, summer in Hokkaido provides a welcome respite from the humidity and stickiness that smothers the rest of the country.
  15. Try taiko drumming – There`s something about the beat of drums, the most primitive of instruments, that instantly raises energy and excitement levels. Taiko drumming has not only an infectious beat, but also provides a pretty effective workout. Get those arms you`ve always dreamed of AND make great music? Sounds like a winner to me.

 

Although I`ve fully enjoyed my time in Japan so far, I haven`t experienced all the country has to offer – not by any stretch of the imagination. But you have to save something for the next visit, right? Here`s to whatever adventures the next two months (and beyond) will bring!

 Anna Tattersall is a 3rd year Saijo ALT getting ready to head back to the UK in August. She enjoys travelling, Yosakoi dance and running, and has an unhealthy addiction to Earl Grey tea.

 

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Ralph Duffy-McGhie Reviews: Shimanami Kaido

The Shimanami Kaido is undoubtedly one of Ehime Prefecture’s primary attractions. Not just for cyclists, but for any tourist visiting the area. The series of bridges spanning across six islands in the Seto Inland Sea make for a stunning experience by car, but arguably even more so by bike. By cycling the route, you are taken off the expressway and down into the islands themselves. You experience firsthand the beauty of the tree covered mountains and bluffs, the winding local roads through the islands small towns and villages. Continue reading

In Gourds We Trust

In Gourds We Trust

Miriam Hemstock

At age 20, just beginning my final year of university and one of the most tumultuous periods of my life, my mother took me out for a day in London. As usual we visited one of our favorite museums, the Tate Modern, without much thought as to what we would see. At the time, a retrospective of Yayoi Kusama’s work was being exhibited. Her obsessively repetitive and mesmerizing work had a resounding effect on me, immediately hypnotizing me with its back story of her 1970s ‘happenings’ and mental health difficulties. Her narrative and her pumpkins then proceeded to shape my developing interest in Japanese art and culture. Continue reading

Ehime AJET Scholarship 2017

The Ehime AJET Scholarship Committee opened applications for the 2017 Scholarship on 28th November 2016. Any high school student in to prefecture is eligible to apply, and we rely on the help and cooperation of high school ALTs and JTEs to make the project successful. The deadline is 10th February 2017 (Friday).

Please contact the committee if you have any questions: ehimeajetscholarship@gmail.com

Ehime AJET Scholarship 2017

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The Mikan — Mikans and Money: The Ehime AJET Scholarship

Mikans and Money: The Ehime AJET Scholarship

Anna Tattersall

I feel I am very lucky to come from the UK. I have always taken for granted how close I am to other European countries and the ample opportunities to travel and work abroad (not so much anymore — I’m still pissed off about the whole Brexit thing). Since my first journey outside of the UK at the age of 6 months, various family holidays, school trips, and travels with friends have taken me to approximately 20 countries around the world, and I have had the opportunity to encounter festivals, events, languages, cuisines, and cultures that I certainly would not have if I’d stayed home in my quiet corner of the English countryside.  Continue reading

The Mikan — 365 Days in Japan

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Bronwyn O’Neill

One of my last memories of England before coming to Japan was sitting quietly with my parents, eating poached eggs at an airport cafe and looking bemusedly at my suitcase. We’d just wrapped the suitcase in clingfilm at an overpriced machine to keep my worldly possessions safe inside. At this point, the centre of the suitcase finally buckled under the pressure of the plastic wrap and contorted into an hourglass shape. The suitcase was red, and I smiled at the thought that I would be lugging around something very Jessica Rabbit-esque to my first graduate job. Maybe I should have interpreted it as a portent of the time trials to come, and not just the Mario Kart variety. Continue reading

The Mikan — Pirates, Monks, and Inakamono: Ehime in Contemporary Media

Pirates, Monks, and Inakamono: Ehime in Contemporary Media

John Wheeler

Tokyo is the center of Japan’s media industry, the place where a majority of production and marketing happens. The capital’s gravity is felt in everything from films to manga to advertising. Tokyo is modern Japan, and everywhere else assumes an outside position relative to the center.

There are extremes. Hokkaido is the frontier, making it a reasonable stand-in for southern Kansas in Lee Sang-il’s remake of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” and for Norfolk in the Studio Ghibli reimagining of “When Marnie was There.” Okinawa represents both relaxation and danger in the Japanese consciousness. Characters may go to Okinawa to vacation, but often enough they go to buy guns or drugs, as in Takeshi Kitano’s “Boiling Point.” In the extreme case of the cult anime short film “Blood: The Last Vampire,” a young warrior poses as a schoolgirl to kill demons. Both films take place on or around the American military bases.

In between these two geographical outliers is the countryside, the signs of which are nearly universal and coded to create nostalgia even in people whose only experience of the pastoral is through media. Much Japanese media set outside of Tokyo emphasizes the divide between tokai and inaka. When city folk trek to the inaka, they may encounter mystery or horror rooted in local traditions (see the film “Shikoku”), find spiritual healing (“Departures”), or become wrapped up in a comedy of manners. Films and novels set in the inaka without this “visiting protagonist” may be about attempts to make the country more like the city through economic revitalization plans (“Hula Girls”) or material consumption (“Kamikaze Girls”).These rural settings have defining characteristics such as local landmarks and dialects, but they are reduced to places we want to go because they are different from the alienating crush of city life.

With all of this in mind, what images does Ehime conjure in the Japanese imagination? Using the Ehime film section at my local Tsutaya, Wikipedia, and a website cataloguing location shoots across Japan, I’ve compiled a list of media (mostly films) set in Ehime. One quality of Japanese media that frustrates this kind of research is the intentional ambiguity of settings outside of Tokyo. Many films and dramas with scenes shot in Ehime take place in anonymous seaside towns.

It goes without saying that the most famous work set in Ehime is Natsume Soseki’s “Botchan,” a gentle satire of country folk from the perspective of a city boy. The novel has been embraced by the targets of its humor, who have named everything from a stadium to clinics to parking lots after the novel. As a part of the literary canon, “Botchan” is an extraordinary example, but there are very few contemporary works explicitly set in Ehime. The ones I found fit the patterns discussed above. The settings have qualities specific to Ehime that make them curious to outsiders and familiar to locals, but thematically they serve mainly to create a contrast between the city and the country. The most common imagery in these works is of healthy, tanned seafarers and pilgrims in white, and Ehime is accordingly associated with summer. The following is a list of works that engage with the Ehime setting in different ways.

“Crying Out Love in the Center of the World” (2001)

(Also known as “Socrates in Love”)

世界の中心で、愛をさけぶ

By some measures one of the ten best-selling books of all time in Japan, this soapy teenage romance by Kyoichi Katayama is set in his hometown of Uwajima and features many of the city’s landmarks. The film version (2004), directed by Isao Yukisada (who also made “Go,” the smash hit about a Korean-Japanese teenager) was largely shot in Shikoku and features the Ehime Prefectural Office doubling as a hospital. An 11-episode TV drama aired from July 2–Sept. 10, 2004.

“The Daughter of the Murakami Pirates” (2013)

村上海賊の娘

The winner of the 2014 Japan Booksellers’ Award was this work of historical fiction about Kyo, the wild daughter of the last great pirate lord of the Seto Inland Sea. She gets wrapped up in the conflict between Oda Nobunaga and Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple. In reality, nothing is known about Murakami Takeyoshi’s daughter except for her name, which author Ryo Wada took to create a selfish, insecure, but inevitably good-hearted protagonist who idolizes another legendary ocean princess: Tsuruhime. It was recently adapted into a manga, a medium more suitable for the story’s exaggerated characters and often contemporary themes. For anyone interested in these seafaring clans, I recommend the Murakami Suigun Museum on Oshima Island.

“I am a Monk.” (2015)

僕は坊さん。

Based on a collection of autobiographical essays by Missei Shirakawa, the head priest of Eifuku-ji Temple in Imabari, this film was shot largely on location. Like many contemporary Japanese films, it is more episodic than narrative-driven. The protagonist is a monk who becomes head priest at age 26. While the film is cheesy and at times even amateurish, it captures the temple inside and out. “I am a Monk” also documents daily life at the temple, including scenes of visits from traveling salesmen, meetings with disgruntled parishioners, and monks getting blackout drunk.

“Tora-san Meets His Lordship” (1977)

男はつらいよ 寅次郎と殿様

Released twice a year for over 20 years and almost all directed by Yoji Yamada, the beloved Tora-san films (officially “It’s Tough Being a Man” in English) are a testament to the Japanese love of formula. Over the 46 films in the Tora-san series, the eponymous protagonist visited every prefecture in Japan except Kochi, Saitama, and Toyama. The 19th installment features a visit to Ozu and opens with the hero daydreaming while waiting for a train at Shimonada Station. Tora-san is a perpetual fish out of water, a traveling salesman with a rough Tokyo-Shitamachi accent and manner. He is kind and unlucky in love. This film’s core is a friendship between him and the wealthy descendant of Ozu’s domain lord. It features many scenes shot in Ozu and on Gogoshima.

“Godzilla vs. Destoroyah” (1995)

ゴジラVSデストロイア

While not entirely set in Ehime, this installment of the long-running film series features a close call between the big lizard and the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant. This imagery is uncomfortable in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, though the scene is silly in spite of itself: a high-tech fighter jet applies a soothing lotion to the monster’s burning nuclear rash. I don’t have much experience with these movies, though I learned some from Youtube explanations and rankings while watching this highly acclaimed installment.

Other films set in Ehime available at Tsutaya:

“Samurai Pirates” (2013)

Like a G-rated version of “The Daughter of the Murakami Pirates.”

“Shodo Girls” (2010)  A “big competition” film set in Shikokuchuo and based on a true story.

More than “Crying Out Love” and even “Botchan,” the specific settings of “I am a Monk.” or “The Daughter of the Murakami Pirates,” rooted in real life and history, can’t be swapped out with any other place in Japan. We can enjoy most works set or shot in Ehime because we live here and our connection to the setting is different than for films set in other inaka, but I wonder what impression they have on viewers from Tokyo. Do images of our prefecture convey specific qualities, or does it merely become part of the larger dialogue between inaka and tokai? I can’t say, but I hope to see more novels and films that engage with Ehime (and Shikoku) on a deep level.

Continue reading