I recently finished by second trip to Japan. I visited the following places
The Prefecture Where I Stayed for More Than One Month:
The Prefectures Where I Stayed for 7 Nights:
Prefectures Where I Stayed for 4 Nights:
Prefectures Where I Stayed for 3 Nights:
Prefectures Where I Stayed for 2 Nights:
Prefectures Where I Stayed for 1 Night:
Prefectures Which I Visited But Did Not Stay Overnight:
Here is I made a map showing which prefectures I visited during my first trip to Japan and this second trip to Japan: blue = first trip, red = second trip, and purple = both trips (and this map does not show Okinawa – I visited during my first trip)
So, what were the highlights of my second trip to Japan?
Favorite Flower: Komakusa (you can see a photo in this post)
Favorite Show: Tough choice. I keep on changing my mind, so I will make this a three-way tie for 1st place between Live Doom in Niseko, Earth Celebration / Umi by the Kodo Drummers, and Elisabeth by the Takarazuka Revue.
Favorite Mountain: Rishiri-Fuji
Favorite Serving of Matcha Tea: At the teahouse at Hikone Castle – they serve one of the best traditional desserts I have had in Japan
Favorite Castle: Matsumoto Castle. It is worth staying overnight in Matsumoto just to see the castle at night.
Favorite Garden: Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu
Favorite City: Hida-Takayama (Gifu)
Favorite Place That Nobody Has Heard of: Bifuka, Hokkaido
Favorite Island: Rebun Island
Favorite Bird: Much as I adore the Rock Ptarmigan, my favorite bird is the ever-graceful Red-Crowned Crane (seen in this post)
Favorite Village: Ainokura (Toyama) (yeah, it is touristy, but it still brims with charm)
Favorite Religious Place: Haguro-san (Dewa Sanzan)
Favorite Buddhist Temple: Risshaku-ji (Yamadera)
Favorite Shinto/Shugendo Shrine: Ishizuchi Shrine, which also happens to be near the highest point in western Japan, and that mountain put up a good fight to get the ‘favorite mountain’ listing.
Favorite Journey by Public Transit (land): Tateyama-Kurobe Alpen Route
Favorite Journey by Public Transit (sea): Riding the Hamayuu, a ship operated by Kampu Ferry.
Favorite Onsen: Noboribetsu Onsen (see this post)
Favorite Lake: Tazawa-ko (Akita)
Favorite Wetlands: the alpine wetlands on the slopes of Hakkoda-san
Overall, my favorite region of Japan is Hokkaido.
Now, as you can see in the map, my first trip focused on Kansai, Chugoku, Kyushu, and (not in the map) the islands south of Kyushu. Overall that trip was a good, engaging experience, but I was happy to leave Japan when it was over. During my first trip, I found a country largely devoid of beauty, except in the islands south of Kyushu and a few isolated spots here and there. I also found an overwhelmingly beaten tourist path running right along the shinkansen line from Kyoto to Kagoshima, though the foreign tourists are thinner in places such as Okayama, and even in the tourist-dense parts of Kansai it is not that hard to get away from the tourists (want to get away from tourists in Kyoto? Then visit a church run by a Christian sect which originated in Kyoto). And I did go to places such as Yoron Island, Wakayama, and Shimane, which are most certainly not on the super-beaten track.
Why the distaste for the super-beaten path? Well, sometimes I like the beaten path, but I feel that once a place is so overrun with foreign tourists that I hear way more Mandarin/English than Japanese being spoken, it makes it harder to connect to Japan, and I came to Japan for *Japan*.
Well, in the second trip, I got well off the track for foreign tourists (though I still managed to encounter plenty of other foreign tourists) and I often was asked “How did you know about this place?”
It made all of the difference. In Tohoku, in the mountains of central Honshu and central Shikoku, and especially in Hokkaido, I discovered just how many beautiful mountains, rivers, lakes, flowers and forests Japan has. I also got a much better sense of just how much cultural/regional variation there is in Japan during this trip. I also got to interact a lot more with Japanese people. In Hokkaido, I spent very little time visiting temples (and the temples in Hokkaido feel different from other Japanese temples), I did not have much traditional Japanese food, and I did not visit a single castle, but got a feel for Hokkaido’s own culture (hint: a lot of talented musicians live in Hokkaido). When I returned to Honshu, I found myself drinking a lot more tea, seeing a bunch of castles, and visiting a lot more temples and shrines- but ones which are quite different from the famous temples/shrines of Kyoto and Nara. And I also went into the Kita Alps, which, to someone who is used to hiking in Taiwan, is a major “what? WHAT!” (what? hot baths in mountain shelters? WHAT! THEY LET PEOPLE HOLD A HIGH-ALTITUDE RACE IN THE MIDDLE OF A TYPHOON!)
After this second trip, I was not happy to leave Japan. I was excited about my next destination (if you look carefully at this post, you can figure out where it is), but I was not happy about leaving Japan. I was a little sad.