Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shiobara/Nikko in Autumn, Tochigi

The autumn colors are out in force in the mountains now. Mt. Nasu is very beautiful though we've had horrible luck with the weather on two visit. This article is about a driving trip to the Shiobara/Nikko area that starts in Nasushiobara. We did the trip in late October and the colors were beautiful but only in the higher altitudes.

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We started out driving Northwest on route 400 up into the Shiobara area. We travelled through this area pretty quickly because we know it well, but if you haven't been here then there is lots to see and do. You might consult our map if you want some ideas.

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We drove into Shiobara Town and then took route 19 southwest. We took a short side trip to Swamp Lake (there must be a better translation than this Japanese to Chinese to English one) to check out the autumn colors. That colors around the lake and nearby mountains were just magnificent. There are lots of nice onsens in this area if you want to stay longer, but we kept going.

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Return to route 19 and short while later the toll road starts. The views were beautiful the whole way and some of the ski resorts have really beautiful grounds at this time of year. The traffic was heavier than usual weekend traffic but never got slow. The toll road empties out onto highway 121. We headed north through some really lovely country along the side of a river.

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Then we joined up with route 400 again now heading Southeast back towards Nasushiobara.

The whole trip took the best part of a day of slow driving with lots of stops.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Living Environmentally in Tochigi

This is an unusual article for this blog. Today is Blog Action Day. This years topic is the environment. What can the audience of this blog do to improve the environment?

CO2 emissions.


Many people, including pretty much all the scientists in the field believe that our CO2 emissions are having a major impact on our weather now. And that even if we greatly reduce those emissions right now, its going to keep getting worse for a while before it gets better. Remember how exceptionally hot it was this summer?
You can calculate your impact right here. Carbon Footprint
Who are the worst polluters? Per capita carbon emissions
Want to know more? Environmental Forum has a fairly high noise ratio, but good info too

Travel


Its probably very likely that the people who read this blog have fairly high CO2 footprints. Thats because most of us probably travel a lot. Thats probably one of the most significant contributions to carbon emissions we can make. We probably also encourage our friends and family to travel to visit us too. Lots of long haul travel is definitely not good for the environment. So there is a big opportunity for us to save here.

There is a strong temptation to go home for the holidays. How about spend that time looking around Japan? Most of us will go home in the future and perhaps regret not really seeing Japan as well as we could have. Lets really explore it while we are here. Japan has a great rail network that we can use to visit even far flung parts of the country more cheaply than flying overseas and with much less environmental impact.

We can also cut our emissions by living close to work. We can walk or ride a bike instead of going by train and go by train or bus instead of driving. Because many of us are visitors we have a lot more choices about where we live and how we travel.

Consumption


Next we can watch what we consume. First of all lets consume less. Actually buying a lot of stuff here probably doesn't make much sense anyway because we'll only have to pay (and pollute) to ship it back. Another thing that has a pretty big impact is all those imported things we like. How about explore local food instead of imported food and swapping books with your friends rather than buying them? Finally, buy efficient products. Get fluorescent bulbs and if you must buy a car get a nice small one with a small engine or a hybrid.

Lifestyle


As you know in Japan daylight savings is not observed. So in summer we get all that extra daylight in the early morning. We changed our hours anyway. We switched our routine and got up at 5AM and went to bed at 9PM, as a result we had the lights on one hour less than we would otherwise have done.

Japan is pretty good about restricting heating and air conditioning (some say too good!). This is a very good thing. Remember, when you turn on your aircon you are only contributing to an even hotter year next year. Using your heater does the same thing. At the very least try to rug up when its cold and dress light when its hot. But I'd suggest resisting those devices whenever you can.

Local environment.


It was a big surprise to me how bad the local environment was here in Tochigi. There is rubbish on the road, rubbish at tourist destinations and rubbish on the walking tracks.(we don't normally highlight than in this blog) Here's a local story. Every night my wife and I walk around our block. There is quite a bit of rubbish along the way. So on one Saturday afternoon I took a bag and started picking things up. At first I was a little embarrassed doing it. I ran into one of our neighbours who decided to help us. The next day another neighbour was out picking things up. Our road is cleaner now and I met a neighbour I probably wouldn't have otherwise met. Now I do the same thing when I go walking in the mountains. My next project is to do the same on the road up into Shiobara. There are some very horrible parts there. It will only take 1/2 an hour and it will be a nicer place because I was here.

Lots of people are waiting for the government to take action or for somebody else to start cleaning up. The fact is probably everybody who reads this blog pollutes more than the world average. The thing we can do right now to make things better is to cut our own pollution. How about we start today?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Satinoyu Onsen - Tochigi

Map Location

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You can visit for a day visit or stay the night. This is a very good onsen.
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It wasn't busy and it had one of the nicest outside baths that we have visited.
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Its nearby to an onsen town called Itamuro which is a nice place to stop and look around. There is a nice walk along the river there.

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hatsuchonoya Onsen - Okukinu, Tochigi

Map Location

This is a very nice Ryokan in the Okukinu area.

From the car park you can walk in. It takes about an hour. You can also bus in. Most people are going to combine with with the Okukinu walk. They can make a rice ball lunch for the walk and also bus you out after your walk too.


This onsen is quite different from others we have visited. Its strong points are location and great onsen. The room was good. The food was good, but not great.


On a Friday night we paid 9,000 yen per person.

The staff was very friendly and one guy speaks pretty good English.
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Okukinu - Tochigi

Map Location


Okukinu is a fantastic area in Tochigi in between Nikko and Oze. This walk is a very good overnight trip. Though if are very fit you could do it in one long, long day.

Its a very nice drive to get to the area, though the road is a bit narrow in parts. There are lots of ryokan on the way in too so it could easily be made into a 3 day trip. You can't miss the starting area. There is a big car park and the road closes to regular traffic.

From the parking area its about one hour walk to the first of a small group of in park ryokan. You can take a bus if you prefer. The walk is nice, there is a bit of construction at the start but you will soon be past that.

We stayed at Hatsuchonoya Onsen. Its very nice and covered in a separate post.

Its a 2 1/2 hour walk to the top. There are some quite long steep sections but its beautiful along the way. At the top there is a great alpine meadow. Its a good place for lunch. From there you can walk to the top of a small mountain with nice views, but its not a must see. You can also walk to Oze, but that must be a very long walk.

Its a 3 1/2 hour walk back to the car park. You might consider taking the bus back from the onsen area. The whole walk starting from the onsen, finishing at the carpark and including the small mountain must be about 20 km. If you skip the mountain and take the bus its probably 12 or 13 km.
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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Nasunogahara Park - Nasushiobara, Tochigi

Map Location
This is probably the largest park in the Nasushiobara area.
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Like most parks in Japan it is worth visiting in the different seasons because its character changes a lot with the seasons. There is a fountain with a shop, little hall (we once saw a bonsai exhibition there) and a place you can rent bicycles. There is a beautiful wooded area. And a very nice field which is great for a picnic. There is a nice view from the hill area. I bet it would be a good place to go for a run, though its some distance from downtown so you couldn't run to it (and I hate driving to go for a run).
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This is a great park for kids. There is a large playground area. And a great obstacle course. You have to pay a small amount to use the course. Both of them are sensational. These are not your watered down, wimpy, low litigation playgrounds found in Australia or USA. These are exciting and slightly dangerous playgrounds of my youth. I had a lot of fun on the obstacle course.
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There is also a rather prominent, kitch windmill which I hate.

See also Nasushiobara Cherry Blossom

Monday, October 1, 2007

Asahi Brewery - Fukushima

Map Location

Free beer! And only an hours drive from Nasushiobara. How did it take us a whole year to discover this?
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At the brewery there is a barbeque restaurant with beer and you can do a factory tour. The barbeque area is nice. We just sat and had some snacks and a few beers. I'd like to go back there for a barbeque some time.

Its quite different to the Sapporo beer factory tour (in Sapporo, Hokkaido). For a start its guided. And its much more a tour of an operational beer factory (which was not in operation on the day we were there). It was a good tour with English signs along the way and an English brochure for us to read. At the end of the tour there is free beer! You get one 300ml (guessing there) glass of beer (the photo is a 700ml beer in the restaurant) and can have 3 (I think) refills. There are some nice little snacks too.
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The beer hall and tour at Sapporo were much more beautiful and historic. But the Fukushima tour was very interesting. I think it would be fantastic when the brewery is actually operating. And the friendly staff made it very pleasant too. And its free beer an hours drive from Nasushiobara!!!!

No photos allowed on the tour and we were too busy drinking to take serious travel photos so sorry, no extra photos.

Sendai Hira - Fukushima

Map Location

Its just a short stop. But its right next to Abukuma Caves. There is a good panoramic view from the top of this hill.
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Most notably, it looks like hang gliders take off from there sometimes. There was a windsock and a launch ramp. Nearby there is a camp ground, which I am sure is primarily used by hang gliders.

There is also a little temple on the way up the hill. We didn't stop there.

The camp ground has some nice looking little huts too.

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Abukuma Caves - Fukushima

Map Location
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This is a fun cave visit. Its located next to an observatory that you could combine in the same trip. When we were there, there was a huge event on with a stage, bands, comedians and a lot of food stalls. But I am sure thats not the normal case.

Honestly, I don't think the caves are so good. At least the formations are fairly tame compared to what we have seen before. But it was fun because the pathway becomes very restricted in parts and you have to crawl and scramble to get past some bits. It might be a bit scary for even mildly claustrophobic people.

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