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Hinomisaki Lighthouse in Izumo A unique spot in Shimane Prefecture

Hinomisaki Lighthouse in Izumo       A unique spot in Shimane Prefecture

The Hinomisaki Lighthouse in Izumo is definitely one of the more unique spots in all of Shimane prefecture. This massive white structure towers in stark contrast over the dark and rugged Northern coastline. It’s said to be the tallest lighthouse in all of Japan, and for 200yen, you can have yourself a climb to the top. While it’s open year round, be prepared for strong winds and cold floors. Here, like most places in Japan, you’ll be required to remove your outside footwear, and if you’ve got big gaijin feet like me, the tiny slippers provided to you will not fit. I declined use of these “half–slippers” and this being February, shivered my way up in only socks. After ascending the roughly forty meters to the top, take a firm grasp on your camera before stepping onto the outer platform!

Matsue Excel Hotel Tokyu

Matsue

590, Asahimachi, Matsue-shi, Shimane 690-0003 

  • 3 minutes on foot from JR Matsue Station (North Exit)

  • 30 minutes by airport bus from Izumo enmusubi Airport to Matsue station

  • 40 minutes by airport bus from Yonago Kitaro Airport to Matsue station

Distance from hotel

about 1 hours and 10 minutes by car from Matsue Excel Hotel Tokyu

Adachi Museum of Art Enormous classical garden and art museum in Shimane

Adachi Museum of Art Enormous classical garden and art museum in Shimane

Adachi Museum of Art in Yasugi city, Shimane, is home to a sprawling 165,000 square meter classical Japanese garden, impeccably groomed and unique in each season. With expansive plate glass windows, museum patrons can gaze at the gardens in between viewing an impressive collection of Nihon-ga style paintings numbering more than 1500. The museum also hosts a exhibition of Japanese ceramics and a whimsical gallery of paintings for children, as well as a few lovely cafes with great views.

Matsue Excel Hotel Tokyu

Matsue

590, Asahimachi, Matsue-shi, Shimane 690-0003 

  • 3 minutes on foot from JR Matsue Station (North Exit)

  • 30 minutes by airport bus from Izumo enmusubi Airport to Matsue station

  • 40 minutes by airport bus from Yonago Kitaro Airport to Matsue station

Distance from hotel

about 45 minutes by car from Matsue Excel Hotel Tokyu

Hiroshima's Atomic Bomb Dome Peace Memorial "Genbaku Dome" on a rainy day in autumn

Hiroshima's Atomic Bomb Dome Peace Memorial "Genbaku Dome" on a rainy day in autumn

Along with the Peace Memorial Museum itself, Hiroshima's Atomic Bomb Dome has become a symbol of peace, visited by pilgrims from around the world. Hiroshima has once again become a beautiful city, and the dome is a testament to the resiliency of the city's people: Standing alone, yet surrounded by modern skyscrapers, it is a marvel to see and somehow lifts the spirit.

I was there on a rainy day in late November, along with hundreds of young students on a school trip. The rain made everything seem fresh and alive. The horrors were still evident, but even more so was the hope.

Hiroshima Tokyu REI Hotel

Hiroshima

10-1, Mikawa-cho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima 730-0029 

  • 7 minutes by car from JR Hiroshima Station

  • Get off the train from JR Hiroshima Station at Hatchobori Station and 8 minutes on foot 60 minutes by airport bus from Hiroshima Airport to Hiroshima bus center

  • 60 minutes by car from Hiroshima Airport

Distance from hotel

about 20 minutes by walk from Hiroshima Tokyu REI Hotel

Kumano Brush Festival Day of fun, not only for the calligraphy obsessed

Kumano Brush Festival       Day of fun, not only for the calligraphy obsessed

Every year on the day of the Autumn Equinox, usually September 22nd or 23rd, the usually quiet town of Kumano, located to the east of Hiroshima city, pays thanks to the product that has put it on the map - the fude (brush).

Hiroshima Tokyu REI Hotel

Hiroshima

10-1, Mikawa-cho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima 730-0029 

  • 7 minutes by car from JR Hiroshima Station

  • Get off the train from JR Hiroshima Station at Hatchobori Station and 8 minutes on foot 60 minutes by airport bus from Hiroshima Airport to Hiroshima bus center

  • 60 minutes by car from Hiroshima Airport

Distance from hotel

about 40 minutes by car from Hiroshima Tokyu REI Hotel

Tamamo Park, Takamatsu Imposing castle ruins, resting in a peaceful park

Tamamo Park, Takamatsu Imposing castle ruins, resting in a peaceful park

Next to the ferryport in Takamatsu, Tamamo Park is a pleasant park, which has nearly as much water as greenery. It contains the ruins of Takamatsu Castle, whose moat is connected to the ocean, as well as a traditional wooden mansion, and cherry-blossom trees in the leafy rock garden which give a tremendous display of pink flowers in the spring.

Takamatsu Tokyu REI Hotel

Takamatsu

9-9, Hyogomachi, Takamatsu-shi, Kagawa 760-0024 

  • 7 minutes on foot from JR Takamatsu Station

  • 7 minutes on foot from Kotoden Takamatsu-Chikko Station

  • 30 minutes by car from Takamatsu Airport

Distance from hotel

about 7 minutes by walk from Takamatsu Tokyu REI Hotel

Ritsurin-koen Garden, Takamatsu Nature sculpted to perfection

Ritsurin-koen Garden, Takamatsu Nature sculpted to perfection

Ritsurin-Koen is the largest landscape garden in Japan—at 75 hectares—and surely one of the most beautiful too. Constructed over many years by three successive feudal lords, it provides beautiful views year-round. The snow of winter contrasts with the lake’s red bridges, while summer sees a colorful riot of flowers in full bloom.

Overall, it's hard to beat half a day spent in the open air here, immersed in what must be some of the most exquisite landscape that Japan has to offer.

Takamatsu Tokyu REI Hotel

Takamatsu

9-9, Hyogomachi, Takamatsu-shi, Kagawa 760-0024 

  • 7 minutes on foot from JR Takamatsu Station

  • 7 minutes on foot from Kotoden Takamatsu-Chikko Station

  • 30 minutes by car from Takamatsu Airport

Distance from hotel

about 30 minutes by walk from Takamatsu Tokyu REI Hotel

The Splendour Falls On Castle Walls

The Splendour Falls On Castle Walls

Matsuyama Castle doesn’t actually look too different from other Japanese castles. Built of stone and wood, their white plastered walls with distinctive curved black tiled roofs, stamp the castles with the same corporate look. Matsuyama Castle, however, perched on 135 meter high Mount Katsuyama, means you can enjoy rather splendid and different perspectives of the Castle as you clamber up any one of four trails, than if you were to take the rope-way or chairlift.

I felt dwarfed walking by the 14 meter high stone walls made of massive hunks of granite on the edge of the verdant 'Forest of Matsuyama Castle', rich with a wealth of trees like camphor, cinnamon, laurel, Japanese blue oak, fern, and only about 550 different varieties of plants. It is a splendor that really does fall on and around Matsuyama’s castle walls. I also felt dwarfed by history, walking on the Kuromon Trail, in use since the Edo period.

The castle's granite walls look like random rocks thrown around, and with no super glue, either. This turns out to be a correct perception. They are stones piled up at random, but the corner stones have been cut into rectangles for buttressing, with no gaps in sight. As I walked up, I did note the concave slope of the walls described as being like a concertina, a folding screen or fan.

This trail goes past the Ninomaru Historical Park, which I’m told many skip, including me, there being an entrance fee involved. Ninomaru was the location of the Lord's residence and offices. As it has been reproduced as a park following the original castle’s floor plan, it supposedly augments understanding of the castle. It is tenderly nicknamed The Lover’s Sanctuary. I saw some of it from up on my trail.

After weaving my way through the splendor on the walls, two levels, daunting gates and secretive turrets, Matsuyama Castle at the peak looked more foreboding and untouchable than from the ground. All castles have this indomitable look. As bastions of defense and deterrence they can never do warm and cuddly. But the view from the castle was serene, the Inland Seto Sea, Matsuyama and nearby regions safe from all marauders and enemy warlords.

Matsuyama Castle is actually special, not only because of its imposing three stories and vast grounds, but because it is an "original" castle, one of only twelve left throughout Japan. Built in 1603, much of what is seen is as it was since the last time it was changed around 1854. Not many castles survived like this, so relatively intact. Many succumbed, first to the end of the feudal regime, then the Second World War, not to mention the usual fires. Many were reconstructed using concrete, no longer the original wood and granite. Some castles are new born babes, like Hiwasa Castle which was built from scratch in 1964 to attract tourists.

Matsuyama Tokyu REI Hotel

Matsuyama

3-3-1, Ichiban-cho, Matsuyama-shi, Ehime 790-0001 

  • 10 minutes by tram from JR Matsuyama Station

  • 10 minutes by tram from Dogo Onsen

  • 30 minutes by bus from Matsuyama Sightseeing Port

Distance from hotel

about 15 minutes by ropeway & walk from Matsuyama Tokyu REI Hotel

Walking on Cloud, Sea, and Sky

Walking on Cloud, Sea, and Sky

I have always wanted to walk the Shimanami Kaido. It is the world's longest suspension bridge structure, connecting Onomichi in Hiroshima, Honshu, to Imabari, the Shikoku terminus. So I did feel a thrill when I tumbled out the bus onto the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, one of the nine bridges that makes up the 60 kilometer long Shimanami Kaido.

The whole Shimanami is prominent for being the only connecting channel that runs through several islands in the Inland Seto Sea. The Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge is the one that links Oshima Island to Imabari. It is made up of three successive suspension bridges with six towers. Walking on it brought me spectacularly close to its impressive height, breadth, and size. When heavy vehicles whizzed by, I think I felt the bridge bounce a little.

The Shimanami Kaido is the only land transport system between Honshu and Shikoku that accommodates walkers and bikers. It was heartening to see signs and amenities for both groups, such as viewing points, no toll charge, a broad, clearly marked biker and pedestrian path, an SOS call box and an elevator to take people up and down the four levels of the bridge.

On my sunny day, the sea appeared one with the blue sky, with puffs of clouds to break up the monotony of the blue, a fitting backdrop for the white bridge, going on for miles, hanging over the sea. I know nothing about bridges and engineering, but I could imagine the brain work, the efficient teamwork, manual strength and labor, even belief and passion, that went into creating and assembling the bridge. Although a heavyweight structure, it looked elegant, the slim white arched pylons like steel lace. It really is a beautiful bridge. Opened in 1999, the biking and pedestrian path was made specially to enable us to walk and cycle in the beauty of uncluttered sea, sky, and cloud. They wanted everyone to “feel one with the harmony of nature”. They succeeded.

I took the lift to the ground floor. It opened onto another angle to the bridge, now showing its full height from bottom up. Next to it was a hamlet of houses so close to each other, it would be awful if there were bad neighbors. An esplanade and forested trails made for more walking, with boats for hire. You could swim, for right there was the sea and beach.

I walked to a lighthouse, with a tiny antique shrine. I wanted to shake the shrine bell as is the custom to announce one’s arrival to the shrine’s deity, but it did not look as if anyone had rung it in eons. So I thought it best to let them continue sleeping.

Matsuyama Tokyu REI Hotel

Matsuyama

3-3-1, Ichiban-cho, Matsuyama-shi, Ehime 790-0001 

  • 10 minutes by tram from JR Matsuyama Station

  • 10 minutes by tram from Dogo Onsen

  • 30 minutes by bus from Matsuyama Sightseeing Port

Distance from hotel

about 35 minutes by express tarin from Matsuyama Station