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Catch Sunsets and Eat Noodles on this Lesser Known Island

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Lined with groups of people and selfie sticks, people ran towards the the water’s edge, trying to get a piece of the sunset for themselves. Various silhouettes became part of the orange and pink hues of the sky as they were all trying to get the perfect shot for their social media post.

This famed place is located on the north coast of Shikoku, the smallest and most rural of Japan’s four main islands, Chichibuga is a flat sandy 1km-long beach that overlooks the Seto sea. Sitting between the bigger islands of Honshu and Kyushu, Shikoku is usually overlooked by many tourists.

Many visitors of the island are drawn by its spiritual heritage, inland gorges, rivers and waterfalls, not to mention its Pacific coastline. The island is easily accessible from Honshu, though the capital port city of Shikoku, Takamatsu, is about an hour and 20 minutes’ drive from Okayama city.

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The visitors of the island and the now famous Chichibuga beach was once a very under the radar attraction to not just tourists, but even locals. Not until in recent years. Back in 2016, the Mitoyo tourism authority conducted a photography contests and concluded to a winning image of silhouettes of two children and they’re reflections on the still waters of the ocean with the sun setting in the background.

After the iconic photo circulated online, Shikoku and Chichibuga beach started to get noticed by many and started to get more and more visitors.

Kagawa is also known for their noodles. Shikoku is home to a ‘noodle hotel’ called Udon House, a cookery school with pod rooms, opened by Japanese entrepreneur Hima Furuta. Guests who wish to stay in the hotel for at least two days will be able to take udon making classes, visit a farm and join in on breakfast tours of local udon restaurants.

The Udon House is also a short drive from Chichibuga beach, so not only will you be able to eat amazing noodle but also catch the local highlight.

Ski Alongside Snow Monsters in Japan

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Home to well known hot springs and ski resorts up in the mountains of the Yamagata Prefecture, Zao Onsen is also home to “ice trees” or “snow monsters”.

Located in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan, about 250,000 people call the Yamagata Prefecture their home. With these people, every winter, snow monsters would pop by and live harmoniously with the residents.

The Zao Onsen ski resort transforms into a winter wonderland every winter, being blanketed by fine white snow. The ski resort sits about 800 feet above sea level, being fully covered by fluffy snow all winter long.

With all that snow, the trees that line the ski trails get covered as well, transforming them into snow and ice covered mythical looking creatures. The snow monsters, also known as juhyo, are caused by the region’s harsh weather, with frequent winter storms passing by the Zao Mountain Range and freezing cold fronts that originate from Siberia.

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You don’t have to be an expert snowboarder or skier to see these mythical trees, the best times to catch them would be between January and March. Guests can hop onto two connecting cable cars, the first one would be starting off from the base of the resort.

During the night time, the snow monsters would be lit up and will be seen from the summit café, or you can step off the observation deck and walk among the snow giants, if you dare.

The Zao Onsen ski resort is one of the oldest ski resorts in Japan and offers over thirty ropeways, lifts and gondolas and variety of courses that suits every skier and/or snowboarder of any ability, from beginners to experts.

The longest course starts by the territory of the snow monsters, right at the summit of the mountain and is about ten kilometres long. The ski season would usually start in late November or early December and would run all through early May.

 

Island off Japan Has Just Disappeared

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Another island has been engulfed by the seas. According to the Japanese coast guards, a small and inhabited island in northern Japan has just ‘disappeared’ after being worn away by the waves.

The island was called Esanbehana Kita Kojima and was just 1,640 ft. away from a village on the northern coast of Hokkaido before disappearing from sight. The coast guard reportedly went to the area for investigation after a report from local residents that they could no longer spot the island from their shores.

Esanbehana Kita Kojima was only recorded to be 4.6ft above sea level according to a 1987 survey, not taking much for the islet to dip under the seas. Authorities have theorised that the sea and flows of ice could have been the reason for eroding away the land that was left above the sea level.

The islet’s identification was short lived, having to be one of the 158 uninhabited islands that had received its names from the Japanese government in 2014. This was an effort to clarify Japan’s maritime boundaries.

Located near the Northern Territories, a volcanic arc of islands that has been a topic for territorial dispute since being occupied by the Soviet is the last days of WWII, the islands are referred to as the Kuril Islands by Russia before being returned to Japan after the European Parliament passed a resolution.

The loss of Esanbehana Kita Kojima would be affecting the shrinkage of Japan’s maritime territory.

Cherry Blossoms in Japan Blooming Way Ahead of Schedule

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You’ll be surprised to hear that some of Japan’s famed cherry trees have already begun blossoming months ahead of schedule, and this is all thanks to the typhoons and irregular weather.

As per past records, cherry blossoms typically begin to bud at the start of spring. However, Japan’s Weather News reported that more than 350 yoshino cherry trees have already begun to bloom earlier this month.

Local meteorologists are attributing the early blooms to salt damage caused by the typhoons that have been prevalent throughout the summer. The warmer-than-usual temperatures that followed the storms also played a role in the trees’ early flower eruption subsequently.

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Although Yoshino cherry trees typically develop their buds during the summer, a hormone that is released by the trees’ leaves inhibit their growth until springtime. However, due to the typhoons’ strong winds and salt water, the leaves have fallen of the trees resulting in the cutting off of the hormone supply.

While there are cherry blossoms that bloom as early as January, most of them don’t start to appear until March. The upcoming year would mostly likely be very different judging on the early bloom of the cherry blossoms earlier this month. For travellers who would like to witness the sakura bloom, keep a lookout for updates by the Japan National Tourism Organization as there will be a list of predictions as to when the blooms will appear although the data for 2019 has not been released at the moment.

Of KitKats and Cocktails

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Image credit: Nestle Japan

For those who have plans to visit Tokyo soon, you’ll be delighted to know that you can now sample the new plum sake KitKat chocolate bar at a pop-up bar in the city. We’re all familiar with how innovative and creative KitKat can get in terms of coming up with new flavours and you shouldn’t be missing this one out if you’re a fan.

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The KitKat Umeshu Tsuru-Ume can be sampled at Citan, a cafe-bar-hostel situated in the Nihombashi neighbourhood of Tokyo. For added pleasure and joy, the KitKat would be paired with cocktails and this pop-up bar experience has been named Craft Sake Week @ KitKat Bar.

Umeshu is actually a Japanese liqueur made by steeping ume fruits in alcohol and sugar. According to Nestle Japan, the Kitkat Umeshu Tsuru-Ume has been launched with the purpose of meeting the demand for plum wine and umeshu overseas in recent years. The KitKat was developed under the supervision of Hidetoshi Nakata, who is a former member of the Japanese national soccer team and has travelled to over 350 sake breweries around the country so as to develop a thorough knowledge of Japanese rice wine.

Visitors will be able to sip on two original cocktails that have been specially designed to be paired with KitKat Umeshu Tsuru-Ume. In addition, there is also a total of 16 umeshu and Japanese sakes handpicked my Nakata for guests to choose from.

Citan is also serving a cured mackerel and tofu sour cream tartine that is exclusively created by Shinobu Namae, the executive chef at Tokyo’s L’Effervescence, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant.

This Hot Spring Theme Park Has Drink-Themed Baths

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Image credit: Yunessun

Located just 75 minutes away from Tokyo, the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Spa and Resort offers a variety of unique baths for its guests. From the jellyfish bath where guests can swim in a dark cave that’s lighted up by fluorescent creatures to the “Doctor Fish” foot bath and a collection of Japanese style open air baths, this hot spring theme park has something for everyone.

The highlight of the hot spring theme park is however, the coffee, wine, ramen, green tea and sake baths that are available.

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Image credit: Yunessun

It is said that each of these drink-themed baths will aid guests in beautifying their skin. For example, the Coffee Bath is made of low heat Nel Drip style brewed coffee that is said to provide recharging, relaxing and skin beautifying effects while guests take in the aroma of coffee. In a vibrant grape colour coupled with a rich aroma, the Wine Bath is used as a rejuvenation bath and is said to be able to provide skin beautification effects as well.

Apart from these drink-themed baths, there is also a 40m long open air bath which provides stunning views of the surrounding Hakone mountains in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. During the Autumn months, the open air bath provides a breathtaking view of the autumn colours covering the mountains while letting you witness snow-covered mountains during Winter.

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Image credit: Yunessun

For guests travelling with their family, Yunessun has a playground complete with an impressive water slide with swift currents that is perfect for kids. As the slide uses warm water, families are able to enjoy it during the Winter months as well.

Prices start from approximately 2,900 yen (~ US$26).

Typhoon and Earthquake Hits Japan

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Image credit: Kota Endo/ AFP/ CNN

On Tuesday, the powerful typhoon Jebi struck western Japan causing flooding due to the heavy rain and high winds, flooding the region’s main international airport and blowing a tanker to slam into its only access. This would disrupt all land and air travel throughout the area.

The typhoon initially made landfall on Japan’s southwestern island of Shikoku and then to Kobe on Honshu while Tokyo remained relatively unharmed, with some irregular gusts of wind and rain.

Typhoon Jebi is said to be the strongest typhoon to hit Japan since 1993. The typhoon left a series of damage and destruction, taking the lives of 11 people and injuring hundreds more. The storm headed north across a broad path of Japan’s main island of Honshu towards the Sea of Japan. It then headed off the coast of Fukui on Tuesday evening while sustaining winds of 126 KPH and gusts of 180 KPH.

In the city of Osaka, Kansai International airport was forced to shut down due to the heavy rains flooding one of its runways, cargo storage and other facilities. More than 700 flights were cancelled, leaving some stranded in the airport for the meantime. The High-speed bullet train from west Tokyo to Hiroshima was suspended as well.

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Image credit: Kentaro Ikushima/Mainichi Newspaper via AP/ CNN

A day after typhoon Jebi struck the western part of Japan, the northern island of Hokkaido was shocked by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake early on Thursday. The earthquake triggered a landslide, engulfing houses and injuring hundreds of people. A series of smaller shocks, including one 5.4 magnitude, followed the initial earthquake. Officials have warned residents to take precautions for any major aftershocks that could potentially hit in the coming days.

The earthquake caused a power outage all through Hokkaido, affecting the the High-speed bullet train and New Chitose Airport.

Efforts are being made to evacuate people from the highly affected areas. On Wednesday, boats and buses were ferrying people who didn’t want to stay in the airport to locations they were more comfortable in. More than 1.2 million people were advised to evacuate the Kansai area as Jebi approaches the industrial heartland.

Train Like a Warrior On This 5-Day Japanese Retreat

Not quite your average digital detox, but a 5-day trip with Japanese mountain hermits known as the Yamabushi, will serve as an enlightening experience that promises that you’d come out of it totally renewed.

 The Yamabushido program will make you trade speaking, bathing and social media for hiking through forests and meditating under icy cold waterfalls. The practice, Yamabushi, dates all the way back 1,300 years ago to help people separate themselves from all physical and emotional desires and discover their inner strength.

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Image credit: WolfgangMichel

Yamabushi was an esteemed practice during the Samurai period in Japan as it helped warriors train. Surviving in the forest by hiking for multiple days, eating whatever they found, and continuously pushing their strengths, mentally and physically.

Are you ready to train like a Samurai? Well you can sign up for a five-day Yamabushido program which allows non-Japanese speakers to train with a 13th-generation Yamabushi, Master Hoshino and his disciples. You will be staying in his pilgrimage house in the Yamagata prefecture, surrounded by mountains, the Sea of Japan and the colour- changing lake, Goshiki Numa.

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Image credit: Jordy Meow

Each morning, disciples are to be woken up by a shell horn at the crack of dawn and they have to be dressed in layers of thick white cotton known as the Shiroshozoku, which symbolizes the walking dead. Breakfast is a mere bowl of miso, rice and pickles. The hike through all three sacred mountains of Dewa Sanzan starts at 5am, equipped only with wooden sticks and your white canvas shoes.

Throughout the hike, you would be stopping by shrines and would practice Shugendo, a belief system that incorporates pre-Buddhist mountain worship, Shinto, Taoism and esoteric Buddhism.

Even when it rains, the hike continues. Taking brisk steps and focusing inwards, silencing the mind. ‘Uketamo’, meaning “I humbly accept with an open heart”, is the response to every command of the Master. One has to be ready for any challenges that came their way, no questions asked.

Evenings were spent practicing Zen meditations, chanting the Lotus Sutra and being hugged by the smoke of burning incense. Men and women are separated in different communal rooms which had tatami mats at the Dashiobo pilgrimage lodge.

The entire program will truly make you comprehend the meaning of “Mind over Matter”, and will renew your physical and mental state one way or another. It is the best retreat to disconnect yourself from the business of the modern society and find peace in nature.

The Yamabushido full immersion program is only offered three times during the summer, though they do have 13 retreats that are less intense from the month of June through October.

The Rabbit Island of Japan

Though to most of the world the Easter Bunny only reigns every once a year, in Okunoshima, Japan, rabbits reign all year round. The island is unofficially known as Usagishima, Rabbit Island, and for an obvious reason. The island is home to hundreds of the fluffy, long-eared creatures that will crowd around tourists seeking for food.

Animal lovers take ferries to the small island from the Inland Sea off the coast of the Hiroshima prefecture to see the bundles of cottontails. Some would even lay on the ground to be ‘attacked’ by a flock of fur balls.

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Image credit: Mamechom

The island was mostly unknown until a few years ago but is quickly becoming a popular tourist destination thanks to the power of sharing on social media sites. Thousands of rabbits reside on the island and have gradually lost their fear of humans whom they now go to for food.

 Despite the fluffy welcoming party that greets you the moment you arrive on the island, Okunoshima is also home to the Okunoshima Poison Gas museum which opened in 1988. The poison gas museum is one of the many ‘peace’ museums scattered all across Japan. The museum displays and preserves the memory of events during Japan wartime history.

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Image credit: Sveagal

Okunoshima was initially an island producing a variety of materials such as Mustard Gas. This was because of its geographical location where it is far from Tokyo and hidden from the mainland in case of any accidents. Following Japan’s defeat, the factories in Okunoshima were destroyed.

The Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum is relatively small and only consists of two rooms, but the displays hold big meanings. Items such as equipments used in the factory, worker diaries and historical photos are displayed throughout the museum with English description to cater to international visitors.

The island can be easily explored by foot in under a day. Alternatively, you can rent a bike from the nearby hotel to tour the island, provided that you don’t get stopped by the hundreds of rabbits that could block your way.

5 Spots to Include in Your Kyushu Itinerary

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Put aside Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and every other mainstream tourist hotspot in Japan. It’s time to pay more attention to Kyushu and set out on a brand new adventure of your own. As one of Japan’s 4 main islands, Kyushu has more often than not been completely missed by most travellers to Japan. As an early centre of Japanese civilization, Kyushu is home to modern cities, natural beauty and historic treasures, and perhaps this is exactly where you should be headed to get off the beaten path.

Kyushu is Japan’s southern- and western-most main island. Often described as one of the warmest, friendliest and the most beautiful locations in Japan, Kyushu is home to beautiful coastlines, active volcanic peaks and an abundance of relaxing onsens.

We’ll share with you the beauty of Kyushu and introduce a few of our favourite spots:

1. Lake Ikeda Paradise
Lake Ikeda Paradise

Image credit: TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋)

Lake Ikeda Paradise is home to beautiful flower fields and offers a breathtaking view of Lake Ikeda and Mt. Kaimon in the distance. The yellow “Nanohana” flowers are in full bloom during the months of January to February.

Lake Ikeda also happens to be the biggest lake in Kyushu, with a depth of 233m and a shoreline of 15km. Apart from the giant eels that reside in the deep waters of the lake, legend has it that a Japanese monster named Isshi inhabits the lake as well. Eyewitnesses have vouched for sightings of the monster but nothing concrete has been found at the moment and you can have a go at spotting Isshi when visiting this beautiful lake.

2. Huis Ten Bosch
Huis Ten Bosch
Image credit: kobakou

Huis Ten Bosch (which translates to “house in the forest”) is a residential-style resort that is modelled after a medieval 17th Century Dutch town. Soak up the atmosphere of this European town filled with picturesque canals running through the resort, iconic windmills, beautiful gardens and intricate architecture. The resort is complete with amusement rides, speciality shops, restaurants, five distinct hotels, a marina as well as a residential area and is the perfect example of east meeting west.

Seasonal flowers bloom throughout the year at the Flower Kingdom and it’s a mesmerising sight to behold. While on this escape to a European town, take the opportunity to pamper yourselves with a savoury meal at one of the many restaurants. Alternatively, take a break and relax on a leisure boat that brings you on a tour along the canals.

3. Aso Kusasenri
Aso Kusasenri
Image credit: Soumei Baba

Kusasenri (which translates to “a thousand leagues of grass) is renowned for its vast emerald green grassland and is the perfect spot for taking a stroll. At Kusasenri, you’re actually standing on top of two vast craters that is filled with boiling magma a couple of thousand metres underneath you.

While you’re there, there’s a chance you’d come up-close with the cows and horses that graze peacefully in the open meadow. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even sign yourselves up for some horse riding through the vast greenlands while catching a glimpse of the smoky Nakadake Peak of Mt. Aso in the distance. Kusasenri is also the perfect spot for a picnic, you can pick up some food at the Michi No Eki farmer’s market near Aso Station before heading over.

 4. Hells of Beppu
Umi Jigoku
Image credit: Gabriel Rodriguez

Beppu is known for being a geothermal city on the island of Kyushu, where more onsen water gushes out from the ground compared to anywhere else in Japan. According to folklore, natural onsen are often said to resemble the Japanese afterlife. The Hells of Beppu are actually hot, steaming baths that are rich in minerals that are suited for viewing rather than bathing in.

Jigoku Meguri (“tour of the hells”) brings travellers on a trip to visit all Eight Hells of Beppu — Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell), Shiraike Jigoku (White Pond Hell), Oniyama Jigoku (Devil Mountain Hell), Yama Jigoku (Mountain Hell), Oniishibozu Jigoku, Kamado Jigoku, Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell) and Tatsumaki Jigoku (Tornado Hell).

If you’re looking to soak your weary feet after walking for a long day, you don’t have to be disappointed as four of the hot springs would still allow you to do so — Umi Jigoku, Ishionibozu Jigoku, Kamado Jigoku and Chinoike Jigoku. They are known as “ashi mizu” baths, which allows you to soak your feet.

5. Kirishima Shrine
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Image credit: STA3816

Part of Kagoshima’s beauty can be attributed to its continued connection to history and tradition, which is seldom present in the more urbanised areas of modern Japan. Kirishima Jingu Shrine is a well-known sacred ground where people visit to seek divine blessings for marriage and children. The mountains of Kirishima remains to be an important site for Japanese myths, and if you have a love for history, the shrine would be your paradise.

The shrine also features an gorgeous architectural style, where the brilliant red of the shrine is contrasted starkly against the solemn dark green background of the surrounding trees, making it a must-visit spot in Kyushu.

From nature lovers to history enthusiasts, Kyushu is perfect for escaping the hustle and bustle of the city life. Venture off the beaten path and visit Kyushu for your next travel destination, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the gems you can discover there.