[From February Issue 2011]
There are many non-Japanese who travel around Japan by various means in order to slowly enjoy their trips.
David M. WEBER, an American living in Tokyo, often travels by overnight bus because they are “cheap and convenient.” “I often take the JR Highway Bus because the seats recline like chairs and are comfortable. I get on a bus in Tokyo at night, sleep throughout the trip, and wake up the next morning in Kansai or Tohoku with the whole day ahead of me to enjoy sightseeing,” he says with a smile.
David has visited many places across Japan. The trip that left the strongest impression on him was when he went to Hokkaido and saw ryuuhyou or Drift Ice in the ocean. “First, I went to see the Snow Festival (in Sapporo). Then I decided to go further north on an overnight bus to Abashiri to see the ryuuhyou. In Abashiri, I got on a ship to join a one hour ryuuhyou-seeing tour. It was the first time for me to see the beautiful ryuuhyou save on TV or in a book. I even fed the seagulls some food,” he recalls.
David has used various means of transportation to travel around the Tohoku region. “I took an overnight bus to Morioka then got on a shinkansen to Kakunodate. From there, I took a rental car to Tazawako. Next, I took a local line to Aomori City. There I got on a night-ferry to Hakodate, Hokkaido. After looking around Hakodate, I took a ferry back to Honshu. Then, I took a local bus to Osorezan. I got to see not only a number of historical sites but also parts of remote Japan that few people get to see,” he explains.
British Louise ROUSE quit traveling by air due to its effect on climate change. She came to Japan on the Trans-Siberian railway and then by ferry. “I use all means of transportation except airplanes to travel in and around Japan. On the railroad, I often use passes for foreign travelers and Seishun Juuhachi Kippu. The ultra luxurious night trains are my favorites. When I went to Kyushu, I carried a bicycle on the train and rode it around Kumamoto City and the surrounding area. When I went to Hokkaido, I made a round trip from Oarai (Ibaraki Prefecture) to Tomakomai on a ferry that had an inbuilt public bathing facility,” she recounts.
Louise’s most unforgettable trip was the one she took with her parents to Kurobe Gorge. “It’s an area that is not often mentioned in sightseeing guidebooks for foreigners,” she says. “Although my mother is a Japanese translator, the Toyama Prefecture dialect can be quite difficult. So, I worked on my Japanese all summer to prepare. And we stayed at a kominka (old private house) that is a cultural property. It was a house where children stay overnight with their teachers to study history. We laid out futons and slept in an expansive, 40-tatami mat room, complete with an iori (sunken hearth).”
Louise and her parents also took the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route where the mountains between Toyama and Nagano prefectures are visible. “We took a cable car, a trolley bus, a ropeway and so on to travel from Tateyama Station to Shinano-Ohmachi Station. Along the way, we saw the enormous Kurobe Dam, stayed at an inn in the Murodo Area, where we took a hot spring bath while looking at the mountains. My suggestion is to search for hidden places of natural interest, and not rely too much on guidebooks.”
Canadian Moonie GARNER likes to hitchhike. “I like to travel slowly. I prefer traveling by foot, bike, boat, bus or train over airplanes. My most favorite way of transportation is hitch-hiking. It’s by far the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way to travel,” she says.
A few years ago, Moonie went to Kumano, Wakayama Prefecture. She hitchhiked from Kanagawa and spent some time in the mountains with an elderly couple. “I joined their organic farm, picking natural fruit, making umeboshi (pickled plums) miso and so on. We went to a sacred hot spring together. They were leading a very environmentally-friendly life,” she says.
During her trip to Kumano, Moonie realized that she knew little about the rest of Japan outside of Tokyo. This made her start a hitch-hiking journey from Kagoshima to Tokyo in October, 2010. “Some friends advised me not to do it saying hitch-hiking is a dangerous way of travel for young females. But if you ask for a ride while looking closely at the driver, then it’s all right. Since hitchhiking is rarely seen in Japan, I surprised people, but more often than not, I was offered a ride”
“When you hitch-hike drivers often share information about the area. You encounter different dialects and scenery along the way and that increases your knowledge of the country. This cannot be sensed while seated in a shinkansen or by an airplane window,” explains Moonie.
Photographer Arina ANJONG traveled around Japan on a motorbike for 46 days in 2009. “Since I had to move from Okinawa to Tokyo, I decided to make a journey on a scooter. I started from Okinawa in the south, went all the way up to Wakkanai, Hokkaido then turned around and went south until I reached Tokyo. The journey covered a distance of 6,640 km and 23 prefectures.”
Since Arina’s scooter is only 50cc, he could not ride on expressways and had to take regular roads. “I could see the various areas and feel the differences. I experienced both the untouched nature of Yakushima Island and the densely populated city of Osaka. I went to historical cities of Himeji and Nara. When I reached the Soya Promontory, the northern most part of Japan, I felt a sense of accomplishment,” he says proudly.
During his journey, Arina made friends with many local people. “This happened in Miroku-machi of Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. I noticed a festival being held in the streets so I stopped and took photos of it. Then a man came up and talked to me. He offered to let me join a banquet, and after the festival and let me stay at his home. Being treated so kindly by a person I hadn’t known a moment ago was the highlight of my trip,” he remembers.
While the Japan National Tourism Organization offers non-Japanese travelers various kinds of options to help them enjoy easy traveling across Japan, there are still those who want to take the time to enjoy travelling in their own ways, and at their own pace.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo