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Japan Travel Destination: Kanazawa

September 5, 2011
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Kanazawa City, part of the Ishikawa Prefecture, is located approximately 180 miles on the North western side of Tokyo. The city is situated adjacent to the Sea of Japan, bordered by the Japanese Alps, Nato Peninsula and Hakusan National Park. It lies between the Asano and Sai rivers, with a climate similar to that of Tokyo although slighlty rainier.

Kanazawa is well-known as a tourist destination in Japan because visitors get to enjoy a part of the country preserved perfectly as it once was. It is also known as one of the castle towns of Japan. The famous Kanazawa Castle was constructed in 1583 and for many centuries it has been the feudal Maeda Clan headquarters. Today, the castle forms one of the major tourist attraction sites in Kanazawa and in Japan. The castle has been renovated over the years enabling it to regain its grand facade after the various earthquakes and fire damages, while still truthful to the country’s traditional architectural style. In 2001, a major renovation exercise reached completion creating a better and newly looking castle. The current castle which has a double earthen wall stands 17.3 meters above a stone base. It is large enough to serve as a hall and currently serves as a command post. Perhaps the most unique feature about the Kanazawa Castle is its white roofing tiles. The lead-made tiles make the castle remain impervious to damage by fire. In the past they were built so that they could be melted to make bullets in case of an attack.

Another popular attraction in Kanazawa is its landscape garden called Kenrokuen, which used to be the exterior garden of the Kanazawa castle. It is considered one of the most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan – that is saying a lot. Worth a visit.

Reaching Kanazawa is the easiest from Komatsu. There are regular flights from Tokyo to Komatsu from where you can board a bus to Kanazawa, which will take you there in less than 50 minutes. There are also direct buses from Tokyo to Kanazawa (one way trip takes about four hours and costs about 13,000 Yen). By train, you will need to ride the bullet train from Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa Station and transfer there. The city has a myriad of traditional hotels as well as budget guesthouses, all with exceptional Japanese hospitality.

Off the Beaten Track: Gunma Prefecture

February 16, 2011
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Still figuring out what to see during your trip to one of the world’s most renowned travel destinations? If you are adventurous enough you will have the opportunity to discover and experience some rarely explored regions in Japan. Gunma Prefecture is one such place, where untouched nature flourishes, magnificent mountains soar high into clear skies, and hot water gushes out of the earth for your bathing pleasure. Travelers from around the world visit this region to find peace of mind. In the mountainous Gunma Prefecture and nearby plateaus, you can enjoy activities ranging from golf to rafting to skiing, as well as numerous other forms of outdoor recreation.

Following are some of the attractions of Gunma Prefecture, though there is no limit to exploring Gunma’s natural beauty:

Oze National Park

Does hiking tickle your sense of expedition? If so, the Oze National Park is your kind of place. It is located about 150 kilometers outside of Tokyo. Highlights of the park are the Ozenuma Pond, the Ozegahara Marshland and the incredible surrounding mountains. Ozegahara Marshland is one kilometer wide and six kilometers long. You will also find numerous small and distinct pools within the marshland. During the months of May and June, Oze National Park is covered with white skunk cabbages that bloom all over the Ozegahara Marshland. At the eastern end of the marshland, you will find the Ozenuma Pond, which consists of a six kilometer path to stroll along.


Minakami is a mountainous hot spring resort town located in the northern side of Gunma Prefecture. Minakami is among the best hot spring resorts in the prefecture, and Takaragawa Onsen specifically is one of the most famous baths in Gunma. Around the resort, you can also spend a day out in any of the ski resorts that are located around the Minakami Valley.

Ikaho Onsen

Another famous hot spring resort in Gunma Prefecture is Ikaho Onsen. Its thermal waters have a high concentration of iron. The resort town is famous for its stone stairs that lead up to the town center where you will find old fashioned game arcades, shops and ryokans.

Snowed in? Carve Yourself Out.

January 6, 2011
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A snowy white wonderland may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Japan travel (perhaps except the snowy peak of Mt. Fuji). The less-visited northern island of Hokkaido, however, proudly hosts the annual Sapporo Snow Festival of Japan. The festival takes place in the city of Sapporo on the first week of February every year. The event is one of the largest snow festivals and is famous around the world for its ice sculpture competition. Every year, thousands of artists visit Sapporo to flaunt their skills in an attempt to win valuable prizes. Top notch artists participate in the event, so you can expect to see some of the most elaborate artworks made entirely of snow and ice. The artistic snow sculptures are so large and complex that many of them are constructed with the assistance of the military.

The Sapporo Snow Festival is among the largest winter events in Japan. There are several foreign teams that come to Japan to participate as well. The Japanese therefore considered it a great way to improve international relations. Around two million people come to enjoy distinctive ice sculptures and artworks made from ice and snow. Every year, the event has a new theme or several subjects. Usually the the theme is based upon a famous building or person who sparked sensation in the previous year.

These events take place in several regions within Sapporo. Satoland (or Satorando in Japanese pronunciation) is the first region of Sapporo where the festival is held. It was first added in 2006 to the list. Satoland is the only site which is not located in the central part of the city. Besides admiring the ice sculptures there, you can also enjoy a ride in a hot air balloon. Odori Koen is another area where you can take part in the magical happenings of the Sapporo Snow Festival. It is practically a huge playground in the central part of the city. Susukino is the nightlife area of Sapporo and also hosts the festival. It’s recommended to go visit Susukino on the first day of the festival to witness the sculptures being carved with power tools such as chainsaws.

Japan on a Night Bus

October 10, 2010
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Transportation in Japan is generally expensive, and traveling around Japan could be a big part of your budget. If you are up for it, a good way to save both your money and your time is using a night bus. Night buses are popular with travelers who are on a limited budget, or backpackers. It’s cheaper than bullet trains, but more importantly, it saves hotel expenditures, as well as the time spent lodging statically.

For the luxury traveler there are executive night buses as well. These provide reclining seats that are very comfortable to sleep in. Every seat is also equipped with a private television, and some buses facilitate internet access. These buses are not as cheap, but remember that you would still be saving on the hotel and time.

However, if you are looking to hang on to every penny (after all, Japan is not a cheap destination), and wish to keep transportation expenses at a minimum, there are less expensive night buses too. After all, sleeping in a night but is not that different from sleeping in an economy seat on a plane – think about how long your flight is to Japan. If you are good with economy seats on airplanes, and do manage to somehow fall asleep, you do not need to worry about missing your stop. The night buses have 4 to 5 scheduled stops in the area before reaching their final stop. The bus conductor informs the passengers which stop it is as well.

Booking tickets in advance and/or online could provide further discounts – usually up to two percent. Ticket sales often begin one month prior to the departure date. It’s usually a good idea to book in advance anyway, since these buses can fill up quickly.

Survey: What is the ONE thing that scares you the most about traveling to Japan?

September 7, 2010

Think about it for a minute and choose the one thing (only one!) that intimidates you the MOST when thinking about going to Japan.

Post your answer as a comment right now!

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    Born in Tokyo. Lived, worked, and traveled in Japan for over a decade combined. Author of the book, "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang for Your Yen" -

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