Tochigi #8: Kegon Falls (華厳ノ滝)

Nikko is one of Tochigi Prefectures most famous locations for good reason… the splendid shrines and temples, the cooler temperatures even in summer, and gorgeous fall colors make it a popular place for both Japanese and foreign tourists to visit. I’ve already done a post on the Irohazaka, or the colorful winding road that leads from the shrines and temples of Nikko up to Oku-Nikko, home of nature and Kegon no Taki, the Kegon Waterfall.

Along with Fukuroda Waterfall in Ibaraki Prefecture (also a postcard), and Nachi Falls in Wakayama Prefecture, Kegon Waterfall is considered one of the three most beautiful waterfalls of Japan. Its almost 100 meter falls can be seen from a free viewing platform or a paid viewing platform, and in all seasons. In winter, the waterfall often freezes solid!

I visited Kegon no Taki many years ago during the cherry blossom season. Unfortunately, spring is actually probably the most unattractive season in the area, as the snow has already melted, but the trees haven’t turned green yet. At that elevation, there weren’t any cherry trees, so everything just looked bare and brown. But you could see the waterfall really clearly! I’d love to go back one year for fall colors, but since everyone else in Japan tends to have that same plan, it can be the most crowded season then as well. Maybe summer, like it is pictured in the postcard, is best!

Kegon no Taki

Hokkaido #8: Odori Park (大通公園)

Odori Park is a large strip of green park in Sapporo, Hokkaido which separates the city and provides a nice, relaxing area in the city center. In the winter, the Sapporo snow festival takes place in this park, while in other seasons various flowers bloom and other events are held. At the head of the park stands the Sapporo TV Tower, which has an observation deck for good views over Sapporo.

When I visited, I was more interested in seeing the Clock Tower and the old red-brick Prefectural Building that I didn’t spend much time here. Also, they were setting up for some kind of event while I was there, so I just took the one picture of the clock tower and moved on! Sapporo is on my “must visit again” list, so one year maybe I’ll get the chance to retake this picture with the 2016 postcard!

My one Odori Park picture

Miyazaki #8: Aoshima Shrine (青島神社)

Tomorrow the new postcards are released into post offices across Japan, so to kick off that exciting event, here’s some information about Miyazaki’s newest postcard, featuring the amazing Aoshima Shrine. The shrine is located on the tiny sand- and tree-covered island of Aoshima, and is surrounded by a unique geological feature called the “Devil’s Washboard” which can be seen at low-tide. It’s definitely worth a trip!

Heading out to the island, the bridge is relatively new. These days, anyone can visit at anytime, but 100 years ago or so, the island was considered sacred, so normal people could only visit 2 weeks out of the year!

Around the back in the middle of a small grove of trees is the main shrine area.

Through a small path through the trees lined with ema…

You reach the tiny shrine in the true middle of the island. It’s so peaceful!

At low tide, you can see the interesting devil’s washboard rocks. They really look man-made up close, but they are a completely natural phenomenon!

Cool, huh?

The postcard shot… well, close enough!

During the We Love Japan Tour 2015, my southern blogger partner Emma visited this shrine, so I recommend checking out her blog post to read all about it, and its connections to the very first Emperor of Japan, Jimmu.

Don’t forget to pick up your new Miyazaki card tomorrow, and stay tuned for more posts about the new cards!

Toyama #5: Kurobe Dam (黒部ダム)

On the Nagano side of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, a trolley bus through a tunnel will take you to Kurobe Dam. I was able to see the dam when I visited the Alpine Route (see my last post), but the dam is really at its nicest around June on when the snow melt feeds the lake, and water is released from the dam like in the above picture. Since I went in April, the dam is quiet. Also as I mentioned before, I forgot my postcards, so I couldn’t get a picture with the card and the dam anyway. Guess that means I have to go back in June…

The dam from the viewpoint above it, quiet without the release of the water

Walking across the dam, looking down toward the lake

The lake, still low until the snow starts melting in earnest

Miyazaki #2: Prefectural Government Building (宮崎県庁舎)

Miyazaki’s second postcard features the prefectural government building in its unique style. It is built in the Neo-Gothic style which was based on castles and buildings in Europe. It was built in 1932 and is the fourth oldest government building in Japan still being used for its original purpose.

When I was in Miyazaki due to time constraints the only chance I had to visit was at night, so the picture isn’t terribly clear. It is also Miyazaki’s retired postcard, and I didn’t think to actually bring the postcard with me on the trip, so there’s no card in the picture either. Sorry!

Miyazaki prefectural government building

Next time I’ll go in the daytime, and remember to bring the postcard with me!

Miyazaki #3: Haniwa (はにわ)

Haniwa are terracotta figures buried with the dead during the Kofun period of Japanese history (3rd to 6th century AD). They range from humanoid type figures to animals to important objects like replicas of houses or carts. In Miyazaki City in the Heiwadai Park, you can visit 400 different examples of haniwa in the Haniwa Garden.

My visit to Miyazaki of course included the garden where I took lots of pictures!

Haniwa and postcard… there were a few similar, but this was the closest to the postcard I could find!

And another one

Haniwa Garden sign in Miyazaki City

Close up… there were so many different kinds!

A few more in the same vein

Haniwa can be seen and found all over Japan, but their usual setting these days is in museums. It was a really unique and interesting setting to see them all over the garden, and it was nice walking around finding so many different ones along each new path. I really enjoyed the Haniwa Garden a lot!

Also in Miyazaki (though not terribly near the garden) you can try your hand at actually making a haniwa. Check out this link and enjoy!

Miyazaki #4: Legends of Old Japan (手力雄命)

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve been putting off making this post forever because it is going to be a LONG one! Most postcards on this blog are pretty easy to explain. They often represent a place like a shrine or temple, a food like fruit or vegetables, or a person famous from the area. However this particular postcard isn’t that easy because it takes a bit of background knowledge on Japanese history and legends to understand just who the guy on the postcard is, and why he was featured. But today, I’m rising to the challenge!

Let’s start at the beginning.

The oldest books in Japanese history are the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, in which the myths and legends of Japan are written. It is said that Izanagi and Izanami, after creating Japan (and I guess the rest of the world), created three children as well: Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun; Tsukuyomi, the god of the moon; and Susanoo, the ocean and storm god.

Amaterasu didn’t exactly get along with her siblings, but in her defense, Susanoo especially seems like he was a bratty little brother, even throwing a flayed horse at her while she sat quietly weaving. In a rage (and probably in defense as well), she hid herself in a cave, denying the world of her light. The other gods and goddesses were concerned as the earth began to die, but no amount of pleading could bring Amaterasu out from her cave. Finally, the goddess of laughter, Ama-no-Uzeme started dancing wildly, and the other gods and goddesses laughter finally brought the curious Amaterasu peaking out of her cave. The god of strength, Tajikara Onomikoto, took the giant rock used to block the cave, and threw it all the way to what is now Nagano Prefecture, where you can see it today somewhere near Zenkouji. (Look, that’s the legend okay, I just report it how it is).

So in Takachiho we’ve allegedly got the cave where Amaterasu hid herself, the cave where the other gods and goddesses met to discuss what to do, and the origin-place of a rock that is now in Nagano.

Tajikara Onomikoto’s statue in front of the Amano Iwato Shrine

A bit clearer of a picture

The ema of Amano Iwato Shrine showing Amaterasu emerging from the cave.

The Amano Iwato Shrine’s inner shrine is actually the cave where Amaterasu hid. You can ask the priests at the temple for a view of it, and they will explain the legend and take you to the look out area to spot the cave, but no pictures are allowed of the viewing platform or the cave itself, which you can’t actually go in. However you can see the cave where all the gods met, which is down a river path about 5-10 minutes from the shrine.

The cave in which the meeting was held by the other gods to discuss what to do about Amaterasu

At the Takachiho Shrine, nightly Yokagura dances are held to explain the story. There are actually 33 dances, but the whole story is only performed on weekends in winter. During the rest of the year, a shortened version of the story is performed.

The goddess’s dance which made the other gods and goddesses laugh, and Amaterasu curious

Tachigara Onomikoto about to move the giant rock from the cave

The shrine during the day is a really beautiful place as well

So there’s the story. Around Takachiho there are many statues and sacred places, and I wish I had had more time to explore, but it was informative in even the short time we stayed. It is a bit difficult of a place to get to, but you can check here for some options.


Oita #1: Hell’s Valley Hot Springs (地獄谷)

The bubbling, brightly colored hot springs of Beppu Onsen in Oita Prefecture are collectively called the “8 Hells” of Hell Valley. The hot springs are too hot to bathe in, but are nevertheless entertaining for visitors to view. Although I’ve never been to Oita, anyone interested in onsen have heard of these famous pools!

Most famous perhaps, or at least the most memorable, is the blood-red pool of Chinoike Jigoku with its vibrant contrast to the green foliage around it. Others, such as the pretty Umi Jigoku or the mud-bubble Oniishibozu Jigoku are also interesting. You can read about each of the hells, and how to get there and see them all, here.

Okinawa #6: Taketomi Island (竹富島)

It’s December, and it’s cold. It’s going to get colder. During these cold times, I like to pretend I’m in the tropical island paradise of Okinawa. I try to remember what being warm felt like, and envy anyone living in or visiting a warmer clime. Since my mother and brother live in Florida, that’s pretty much every day.

Anyway, enough whining. Okinawa! The sixth postcard features the picturesque ox-pulled cart plodding through the quaint white-sand streets of the tiny island of Taketomi, part of the Yaeyama Island chain south of the main islands. I visited these three islands, consisting of Ishigaki, Iriomote, and Taketomi my first year in Japan waaaaaay back in 2009. Taketomi can be explored in a half-day, and a popular way are these ox-cart rides. The guide talks about the local sights and plays the sanshin, a 3-stringed instrument native to Okinawa. When my husband and I went, we explored the island by bike.

Taketomi combines white sand roads with high shell walls and red-roofed houses. Flowers bloom seemingly everywhere, and the cute shisa greet you from every gate. It must truly be paradise to live there!

And ox cart from around the corner

The ox has a cute little sunflower, awww!

Looking out onto Taketomi from the highest point on the island

Sign and shisa

Inside the ox cart

Although I could have sworn we rode in one, I can’t find any pictures or videos, so I guess my memory is going with my old age (I turned 30 this month, ugh). But I found a cute youtube video that shows it quite clearly, so take a look, then book your flight there… you wont regret it!

(By the way, the very first postcards came out in 2009, but I didn’t know about them until later, and this card came out only last year. So no postcard pictures until I go back again!)

Chiba #3: Choshi Electric Railway (銚子電気鉄道)

Chiba’s third postcard is of the retro Choshi Electric Railway, a private rail which connects the small Choshi peninsula together. I had the chance to ride this cute train while on the We Love Japan Tour 2015 for Japan Guide, and you can read about my experience here and more about the railway’s history and current stock here.

The postcard combines the DeHa 801 train (now retired) among yellow na no hana (rape blossoms) with the Inubosaki Lighthouse in the background. Although when I visited the na no hana weren’t blooming, I got the chance to see some of the different train cars as well as the lighthouse.

The retired 801 in… not so great a shape, actually. I was a bit surprised by its condition!

The car is parked at Tokawa Terminal Station, an old wooden traditional style station

Inside is a small museum, and you can ask the station staff to unlock the door to go inside.

The closest station to the lighthouse is Inuboh Station which is a unique looking white stucco and blue tiled building.

Inubosaki Lighthouse up on the cliff

Tickets are thick cardboard and reusable, though I got to keep mine!

The pouch the conductor carries actually drives the train, and is switched out half way down the line. Without it, the train wont go.

Some of the different cars on the line

More retired rolling stock kept at Nakanocho Station

Although Choshi isn’t exactly easy to get to, I really loved my visit there. It has a lot to offer, so I’d definitely recommend a trip! I think during April would be nice, as the na no hana are blooming then too!