Travel Logs: Japan Trip (2019)

Prologue: Journey to the North

If you have projects in mind, don’t wait until it’s too late to accomplish them.

In my case, it’s that time of the year again: I’m taking a week off to visit Japan! There’s something that makes me come back to this beautiful country every year. It’ll be my third time now. It’s probably the mountains, the castles, the food or even the people. One thing is for sure though, every trip is different, and every trip comes with different memories. It’s time to make new ones.

My journey this year will take me to the north region of Hokkaido. Before reaching my destination, I will stop at many cities that I haven’t visited yet. Can you guess some of them? I’m looking forward to showing you guys the places I will visit!

This year, it won’t just be a regular trip: it’ll be a journey with a reason. Of course, I’m doing this trip to visit beautiful places, but I’m also trying to prove to myself that I can still do it. This is a thing I need to do: my brain needs to know that I still need my legs! I want to keep enjoying wonderful moments. I will be walking for those who can’t while I still can. For every kilometer walked, I will donate $1 to the Stop ALD Foundation. Follow my progress all week long and support my cause: I will post photos and vlogs as many times as I can! If you’re interested, here’s a link to the foundation’s donation page ➡️ bit.ly/StopALDNow

Please look forward to my future posts, it’ll be fun! In the meantime, enjoy this short teaser video!✌❤🇯🇵

Chapter 1: Tokyo Game Show

The first stop is the usual classic: being a video game person I obviously had to be at the Tokyo Game Show again this year!

Just like other gaming conventions like E3 and gamescom, video game companies have booths showcasing demo kiosks of their latest games, most of them being unreleased! You get an exclusive first look and hands-on of the latest games, that’s pretty cool! Capcom, Square Enix, PlayStation, Bandai Namco, Konami and a bunch of other companies were at the show. My personal highlights this year were Monster Hunter World Iceborne, Project Resistance, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Trials of Mana and Death Stranding.

The games I did try out were Trials of Mana and Final Fantasy VII Remake. I’ve played the latter at E3 earlier this year and wanted to know if anything changed. I can say that the game ran much much better this time. March 2020 can’t come soon enough!

There were lots of side events including eSports tournaments. The Capcom Pro Tour Premier Asia Cup for Street Fighter V was one of them and it was highly advertised too! I got to see Sako himself play, that was pretty cool!

You can get to the west convention center from outside. The halls over there are used for merchandise, VR, recruitement and indie games! I played really cool games including Devil Engine Ignition. I got to talk to one of the composers of the game… and apologized for a mistake I made earlier this year. It was worth it! Anyways, I saw really cool products too. I really wanted to buy that Darius bomber jacket, but it was way too expensive! Maybe next time! The Kojima Productions booth was jam-packed, the waiting line was at least 45 minutes to an hour. Insane for an unreleased game! Ubisoft was also there surprisingly and I saw some Rainbow Six Siege cosplayers.

See you later TGS, you’re very cool in book! Next destination: Nikko.

Chapter 2: Nikko, World Heritage Site

After a few days in the big city, it’s now time to go back to the countryside. My favorite! On the way to the north, Nikko is a small city known for its shrines, temples and mountainous landscapes. It is also part of the Japan Romantic Road. Let’s take a good visit!

First thing we did early in the morning was go cross the sacred Shinko bridge. Crossing it gives good luck to couples, love and marriage. The sight was amazing with a view of the river and the mountain in background. At the end of the bridge there is a little box where you can pray and give a bit of money and wish for good luck!

The next thing we did was go walk on to the world heritage road which will lead us to thr many shrines and temples. Rinnoji temple is one of many on the road and one of the most important ones. It was in reconstruction at the time of my visit, but the bright red colors of the temple were beautiful. From there, we go to our main destination: Toshogu shrine.

If you’ve followed me on my previous trips, I love visiting shrines. They’re all different, and this one was probably the most beautiful I saw yet. At the left of the entrance, there is a five story pagoda. The decorations on it were beautiful, decorated with representations of swans and dragons and more. To actually visit inside the shrine, you need to buy a ticket. With it, you gain access to all the temples inside it as well as great sightseeing spots. The memorable ones are the “three monkeys” carvings, Yomeimon gate, the “Crying Dragon” float, the Nemurineko “sleeping cat” carving and finally the inner sanctum. The monkeys are a carving representing “see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil.” The Yomeimon gate, in particular, was really beautiful with its gold ornaments and decorations. Definitely one of the best looking ones I’ve seen yet.

After going through the gate, we saw the main shrine building and visited the insides of it. A small praying ceremony occured. Then, we went to sleeping cat carving, which is looking over everyone to protect them. After crossing the sleeping cat gate, we go up about 305 rock stairs, and get into the inner sanctum mausoleum which is the resting place of the late lord Tokugawa Ieyasu.

To end the day, we went a bit further down the Shinko bridge road to visit the Kanmangafuchi abyss. It is along a calm and soothing rivertrail. Near the end of it, you can see about 70 stones statues of Jizo split in three different group. Jizo was Bodhisattva who cared for the deceased.

This ends the visit to beautiful Nikko. I’ve learned a lot from my visit. Next stop is the Samurai city of Aizu!

Chapter 3: Aizu, the Samurai City

The old city of Aizu was filled with history. For a day, you can buy a bus pass for 600 yen and go all-around the city’s landmarks and historical sites. The places I went to were Iimoriyama hills, Bukeyashiki, an old samurai residence turned into a museum, Oyakuen gardens and finally Tsuruga castle. I don’t know what it is with me and samurai cities, but it always rains when I visit one and today was no exception! A little bit of rain didn’t stop me though!

Iimoriyama hills has a lot of history behind it. It explains the aftermath of the Aizu civil war that occured when the government took over the political rights in the city. Many samurai from Aizu were displeased by this takeover and decided to rebel against the government. They lost and the remains of many of the Byakkotai group that commited seppuku (suicide) because of the result of the battle are buried here. Sazaedo temple is also an important landmark in the area. It has an iconic form: the stairs are built going all around the temple.

Bukeyashiki is an old samurai residence of ancient lords. It is now turned into a museum where you can learn much history about how the samurai lived in the old days. There is even an old rice refining factory that still runs today! It shows the old techniques of refining rice. Overall, it was a very enriching visit!

Next stop was Oyakuen. It is a traditional Japanese garden. They grow herbs on-place and make medicinal tea with them. There is a beautiful pond right in the middle, where fish and duck can swim freely. With the rainy mood it was quite a beautiful sight to see.

Our final destination was Tsuruga castle. It reminded me a lot of Kanazawa’s. Its white colors made the castle almost glow! It is said to be the only castle in Japan with a red roof. The castle was brought down once because of war and was and completely rebuilt as a museum later, explaining the history behind the fundation of the castle and the many dynasties that lived within it. You can also learn more about the Aizu civil war and the history behind the young Byakkotai soldiers.

That’s it for today, thank you for your hospitality Aizu. Let’s continue our journey toward the north!

Chapter 4: Miyagi Zao Fox Village

On my way to Sendai, I made a quick stop at Shiroishi station to go visit a popular place for tourists like me: Miyagi Zao Fox Village! I love animals, so I had to go check out the cute kitsunes!

To get there, you need to take a bus or taxi as there are no direct trains going to the village. Also, while this may not sound fun to hear, there are a lot rules that you need to apply once inside the village. For example, you must absolutely not touch them. You don’t want them to bite you!

The Fox Village is actually a place that has many other animals in it! Other than the foxes themselves, there are also rabbits, goats and small horses!

To see the foxes, you need to get inside the main area. While entering inside, your heart will pound a little, but once you see them all sleeping or walking around humans there’s nothing to worry about at all! They were so dang cute!

We can also feed the little kitsunes! Head to the feeding hut and throw one snack at them! Sometimes they fight between each other, but some of them were very patient. The last thing I did was hold a little one in my arms! We had to wear neon jackets to make sure they don’t do anything “wrong.”

Overall I’d say the visit was very fun! Don’t listen to some people saying they’re all in cages or get beaten up if they misbehave. These little foxes are special ones and they get treated as such! So long! Next destination: Yama-dera & Sendai.

Chapter 5: Yamadera/Sendai

Our next destination takes us to the mountain temple of Yamadera. It is about an hour train ride from Sendai station on the Senzan train line. You get an amazing view of mountains on the way there. Once you exit the train station, the first thing you see in the horizon are a few temples way up top in the mountains. This is where we’re headed to get a great view of the valley as well as discover the secrets of the temple itself!

There are many stairs on our way to the top, about 1000 of them! With a map of the area, we get a glimpse of all the places and landmarks we’ll get to see. I missed a few spots for sure, but I tried to cover most of them! The first place we visit is Konponchudo Hall and is the temple’s oldest building. The ascent to the top from there takes about 30 to 45 minutes. Along the way, you will find many inscriptions of an old poem composed by a poet called Basho, either on rocks or on wood. There are also “Hora” rocks and many stone lanterns and statues. It was one atmospheric hike I’ll tell you that! At the top is Godaido Hall, where we get to see the magnificent view of the valley. You cannot go beyond the hall, and that is when we make our descent.

Back to Sendai, we visit Osakihachiman Shrine, which was a shrine of the Date clan. During my visit, Japanese lanterns were lit up and it seems like there was a festival happening earlier. The gate at the entrance was humongous! Finally, we go to the remains of Aoba Castle, which was destroyed during giant fires and the carpet bombing of 1945. A statue of late feudal lord Date Masamune shined in all its glory at night. I got a nice night view of the city from the top as well.

I really liked my trip to Yamadera and Sendai. It was a nice change of pace and the visit to the mountains was very good exercise! Now, it’s time to head closer to Hokkaido: Aomori is next!

Chapter 6: The Port Town of Aomori

Aomori is the regional city of the Tohoku prefecture. It is a small port town close to the sea, and this makes it a very good place to go shop for fresh fish and other goodies! The city is also known for its big apples called fuji. They create all kinds of products and derivatives from it like ciders and more.
First thing we do in the morning is go eat some fish at Furakawa Fish Market! It contains lots of packed rows of vendors selling local seafood freshly brought in from Aomori Port. Buy tickets to create your own donburi bowl (bowl with rice) with fish of your choice picked freshly from the market! The Augashinsen Fish Market is also next to Furukawa’s. I go buy and eat a nice rice cake filled with red bean paste, mmmm!
After that we go to the Hakkodamaru Memorial Ship. It was a ship that connected Aomori with Hakodate, and transported many things like the famous apples. It is now retired because of the new railway system that got introduced later in Japan. The museum inside explains the lives of the people at the time while inside and outside of the ship. We get a nice view of the city from the deck of the ship! There is also a vehicle deck which holds several historical trains of the time.
Nebutta Warasse is a museum about the Nebuta Matsuri, which is a festival held on summer around the beginning of August. Obviously, being in September I could not attend the actual festival, but visiting this museam gives us a good idea of what it is! The floats were amazing and I got to assist a little show while I was there! It recreated the atmosphere of the festival that’s for sure!
Sannai Maruyama Archeological Site is the largest and one of the most complete and best preserved Jomon Period (13000-300 BC) villages in Japan. It was very interesting to see the old buildings and learn more about this time period of Japan.
Finally, to end the day we went to the Aomori Museum of Arts. Great art pieces of Chagall’s “Aleko” were displayed in the Aleko Hall. No videos could be taken and photos are just for personal use. I could get shots of the Aomori-Ken statue though, which is a giant dog statue by artist Nara.
Overall, this was a nice city to visit! Next stop: Hakodate. We’re entering Hokkaido for real now!

Chapter 7: Hakodate

We’ve finally arrived in Hokkaido! It was a beautiful sunny day in Hakodate, and we did a lot of things in just one day! A common theme you’ll see when reaching the north of Japan is that the biggest cities are usually close to the sea. The reason is because most of them were involved in large export trade in the past. The harbour of Hakodate was one of the first to be opened to foreign trade after Japan’s era of isolation had come to an end. This also means they have many markets!

Speaking of which, the first place we went to was the Hakodate Morning Market. Just like in Aomori, every morning the market is opened to the public with street vendors offering fresh fish, crab, squid and many fruits like melons! I bought some squid jerky fresh from the market, and it definitely tasted a lot better than what you get in convenience stores around Japan!

After taking a nice walk around the market, we went to the famous Red Brick Warehouses, which are buildings from the past trading days now turned into a dining and shopping complex. I might have bought a few souvenirs there, hehe!

As previously mentioned, Hakodate was one of the first harbour to be opened to foreign trade. This caused traders from Russia and many other Western countries to move to Hakodate. The residential area known as Motomachi came to be! Foreign-looking buildings can be found here, like churches of all things! The most beautiful was the Russian Orthodox Church. The skyline from Motomachi was quite special!

Next, we took the tram to get to Fort Goryokaku, the last western style Japanese fortress in the country. It has a special star shape, and as you’ll see in the video, I walked around most of it. It was a peaceful walk that leads to the center of the fortress where the rebuilt Former Magistrate Office stands. It was the base of operation for former shogunate officers against the newly formed government at the time, and as you’d expect, just like in Aizu, they tried to fight back! Lots of history here that’s for sure. We decided to get a nice view of the whole fortress from Goryokaku Tower. For just a few yen, you can get to the top of the tower and see all its glory. Extra bonus: you also get a magnificent of the city!

Finally, the last stop of the day was a visit to Mount Hakodate via ropeway, oh my! It is a popular attraction because you get to see a night view of the city from the observation platforms. I’ve arrived just before sunset, and it was very special because while the sky was clear blue on one side, it was orangeish on the other! The view from the top was incredible! I wish I could have stayed very late, but I had a bullet train to catch!

Thanks a lot for watching, this was a very fun video to make and every time I watch it, I wish I could still be there! The next and final destination to my trip is Sapporo, let’s go!

Final Chapter: Sapporo

This is it, the final destination was Sapporo! The city is known for many things: winter olympic games, its famous beer, the winter festival, and even more. The city is the center of attraction in Hokkaido! Fun fact: I’ve arrived just in time for the Rugby World Cup festivities. The city was booming with more tourists than usual from all around the world! I got to live a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’ll never forget!

The first stop in Sapporo was a visit to the former Hokkaido Government Office, also known as the “Red Brick Building” by locals. This is where the seat of the government of Hokkaido was housed for years. Visits inside are free, where you can learn more about the history of the building as well as visit the memorial hall which holds many portraits of old governors. The view of the building from a distance was beautiful, with flower beds everywhere and Ginkgo trees all lined up. I could only imagine the scenery once the autumn leaves appeared!

Just a few blocks down from the Office stands the Sapporo Clock Tower. It is one of the oldest buildings in Sapporo, and was used as a drill hall for the Sapporo Agricultural College. To give some context, William Smith Clark, an American professor, was invited by the government of Japan to establish a college in Sapporo. His mark left a great impact on the economic development of Hokkaido. The college has now become the Hokkaido University. This also explains why the structure is similar to old midwest American buildings. The Clock Tower is now a museum that explains the history of the building and on the second floor you can see a replica of the clock that was brought directly from Boston. People can also take pictures with Dr. Clark sitting on a bench. You’ll see him many times, as he is quite an important figure to Sapporo!

From the Clock Tower, we went to Odori Park. This is where all the big yearly festivities happen in Sapporo. At one end of the park stands the Sapporo TV Tower. At my time of arrival, the Oktoberfest festival was happening just under the tower itself! I got to drink good beer and listen to nice music, it was very relaxing! After that, we walked down the park to look at the beautiful fountain overlooking the TV Tower. A little bit further down was the Sapporo Fanzone, where the Rugby World Cup festivities were happening. I’ve had the chance to attend a great opening ceremony with performers, all of this for free! The ambiance was superb!

Next, I obviously could not be in Sapporo and skip going to the Sapporo Beer Museum! Hokkaido is the birthplace of beer in Japan, and this museum tells all its story in Japan, not just Sapporo beer. I could not take videos inside the museum, but I took plenty of photos as this was allowed! If you have the chance, it’s worth reading taking an hour or two to read about all the history of beer in Japan. At the end of the tour, there is a beer garden where you can order Hokkaido exclusive Sapporo Classic beer. I also drank Kaitakushi, which is beer made from the original Sapporo recipe. It tasted very good! One thing that I did not have time to do was eat at the Garden Grill restaurant. You can eat “Ghengis Khan,” a popular all-you-can-eat mutton BBQ local dish. It’s apparently delicious! So many things to do and see, but so little time!

The last place I’ve visited to end the trip was the Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill. There is another Dr. Clark statue overlooking the city of Sapporo. The famous phrase “Boys be ambitious!” is engraved on it. It was the last thing he said to students before going back to America. Many people take pictures here! Usually, you can see sheep around, but it was a bit late to see them. No worries, I’ve enjoyed the view of downtown Sapporo city from there and this marked the end of my trip.

Thanks a lot for reading and watching my video recaps. I wish I could stay more in Japan. There is so much more to see. Until next time!

-Nico