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Category Archive: Travel in Japan

The Astonishing Ōyu Stone Circles

  • Posted by:
  • April 27, 2017

Every country has its own historical treasures that leave us agape with wonder. These historical sites were built by ancient civilizations in every part of the world.  Some historic marvels include the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, also known as Lost City of the Incas, in Peru. It lies on top of a mountain that’s only accessible by train or a four-day trek. Then there’s the historical archaeological city of Petra, in Jordan. The ancient city, possibly established as early as 312 BC, is also known as Rose City, because of the color of the stone used to carve it. It is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system.  Another example is Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England.  It is a ring of standing stones that are set within earthworks (artificial changes in land level), right in the middle of the densest complex of the Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.

Ancient monuments and cities gives us a glimpse of how the history, culture, and traditions of a nation and its people somehow evolved. These ancient structures are a fascinating means to answer some of the questions we may have about the past. Japan has its own story to tell about its rich history.

Manza. | katsuuu 44

The Sannai-Maruyama is located southwest of Aomori City. These historical ruins can be traced to the Jōmon period (about 12,000 BCE),  a time when the country was inhabited by a nomadic culture that later evolved into a degree of sedentism and cultural complexity.

Another amazing archaeological site in Japan is the Ōyu Stone Circles (大湯環状列石 ), or Ōyu Kanjyō Resseki, located in the city of Kazuno, Akita Prefecture in the Tōhoku region of Japan. It also dates back to the late Jōmon period.

Ōyu Stone Circles. |Chris Lewis

The Ōyu Stone Circles, discovered in 1931, are two large stone circles on an artificially flattened plain on the left bank of the Ōyu River. The bigger stone circle is called the Manza circle. It has a diameter of 46 meters: the largest found in Japan. The slightly smaller stone circle is named the Nonakado circle. It is 42 meters in diameter and is located a few meters away from the Manza.

Each stone circle is made from river stones that seem to have been brought from another river about 7 kilometers away. Each circle contains a smaller cluster of stone including standing and elongated stones that form a sundial pointing towards the sunset on the summer solstice. The arrangement of the stones allows the calculation of the winter solstice, the vernal equinox  (the moment in which the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the center of the Sun), and  the sun’s movement. The Manza and the Nonakado circles and other remains were designated a Special National Historic Site of Japan in 1956 by the Japanese government and were submitted for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the Jōmon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaidō.

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Ōwakudani Black Eggs

  • Posted by:
  • March 23, 2017

Ōwakudani, or Great Boiling Valley, is located in the mountain town of Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. It is a popular go to place for many visitors to witness its scenic views, volcanic activity, and most especially for the unique Kuro-tamago (black egg).

Ōwakudani is an active volcano valley with sulfur vents and hot springs. Visitors flock to the valley to see breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji and the volcanic gases that rise from the ground.  It can be reached via an aerial tram up to the hot springs, or walk up the 1 km path. There are a few hiking trails around the Ōwakudani station, but there is one specific trail that you simply cannot miss out on. It is an upward trek to the boiling site of the famous Ōwakudani black eggs. The 15-minute uphill climb is worth every step. Once you get to the top, you will have the chance to taste the kuro-tamago.

Ōwakudani black eggs. | エン バルドマン

Ōwakudani Black Eggs are regular chicken eggs. It is the manner in which the eggs are boiled that makes them special. The eggs are boiled at exactly 80 degrees Celsius (176 deg. F) for about an hour in natural spring water, then steamed at 100 degrees (212 deg. F) for 15 minutes in steel baskets.

Ōwakudani valley boiling site. | Aapo Haapanen

The spring water used to boil the egg contains sulfur and iron, which makes the eggshells turn black. It is rumored that eating these black eggs will add seven years to your life.

The Ōwakudani valley is also sometimes referred to as the Death Valley by locals. About 3,000 years ago, Mount Hakone erupted, leaving a hot spring-filled crater. The path leading to the black eggs are full of sulfuric geysers which can be dangerous. The area is prone to landslides caused by the constant volcanic activity. Conditions are potentially unsafe, and the walkway leading to the egg boiling springs is closed at times.

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The Enchanting Iya Valley

  • Posted by:
  • March 16, 2017

Iya Valley is considered one of the last vestiges of Japan’s old world.

Historically, the remote Iya Valley (祖谷渓, Iyakei) served as a sanctuary for the members of the Taira Clan or the Heike, who took refuge in the region after losing the Genpei War (1180-1185), during the end of the Heian Period. Descendants of the Heike can still be found in the area hundreds of years later around the Iya valley.

Iya Valley. |Christian Kaden

Tourism is popular in the western area of the valley, Nishi-Iya, which draws a number of visitors because of its historic vine bridge (kazurabashi) and hot spring baths. The eastern area, Higashi-Iya or Oku-Iya, can still be relatively difficult to reach, making its natural beauty even more undisturbed. Thirteen vine bridges once spanned the area; in early times, those bridges were the only method for crossing rivers.

History is not clear on the origins of the vine bridges, but legends tell us that they were built either by Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Sect of Japanese Buddhism, or by the  Heike refugees. Only three vine bridges survive today and are maintained.

Iya Kazurabashi  (祖谷かずら橋)

Iya Kazurabashi is the largest and most popular of the three remaining bridges. It stretches 45 meters at the center of the valley across the Iya River. The vine bridge gives visitors a majestic view of the river, 14 meters below. The bridge is rebuilt every three years and is anchored to gigantic cedar trees on both ends. It is reinforced by modern steel cables hidden within the vines for extra safety.

Iya Valley. |Sarah Marchildon

Oku-Iya Kazurabashi (奥祖谷二重かずら橋) or couples bridges

The larger of the two bridges is Husband Bridge (Otto no Hashi). It stretches 44 meters across the Iya River beside a small waterfall. Slightly below Otto no Hashi is Wife Bridge (Tsuma no Hashi) which spans 22 meters upstream. The bridges contain steel cables hidden within vines that are replaced every three years.

Iya Valley. |Christian Kaden

The bridges are connected with each other using a network of paved hiking trails that lead to camping grounds along the far side of the river.

Wild Monkey Bridge is found right next to Tsuma no Hashi. This is a type of bridge that is made of a wooden cart suspended on a rope over the main bridge. It was used to transport goods and people and was reconstructed for visitors to try out by pulling themselves across the river.

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Getting around Tokyo on a Student’s Budget

  • Posted by:
  • December 26, 2016

The allure of exploring a new place in a different country is one of the best perks of studying abroad. Discovering exotic locations, culture, language, tradition, and of course, bargain shopping! Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and for any foreign student, it may be quite a challenge to stay on budget. One of the main concerns  is budgeting for transportation costs.

Some tips to save on transportation:

Trains & Subways

Tokyo’s train and subway system is a series of reliable, convenient, and comfortable network of state of the art carriages that can get you around the city and even out of it in hardly any time at all. There are two separate subway operators (Tokyo Metro and Toei) as well as one major rail company (JR) and a multitude of private line operators. Usually it costs less to change between the different operators on a single journey.

Train railway. | tokyoform

If you plan on staying for more than 24 hours in one destination, it would be advisable to get a Suica travel pass. These are cards that you can charge up with credit and use on all lines. They work all across Japan. This will save you time on thinking of what kind of ticket to purchase. You can also use the cards to pay for items from vending machines and at shops. You can get these cards  at the JR ticket office at a station, or at Narita or Haneda Airport as soon as you arrive. You can even hand in the card back when you don’t need it anymore to receive the 500 yen deposit.

Bullet train. | NJ Moore

Go for a walk

Another way to save on transportation costs is to walk. If the distance is close enough for a walk, why not take advantage of the exercise? Tokyo is a beautiful and vibrant city with so many things to experience and see. By walking around the city to get to your destination, you’ll be able to experience more of the culture, meet more people, and perhaps even discover some off the beaten path finds worth remembering.

Walking in Shinjuku. | Kageaki Smith at KCP Flickr

Take a bus

Japan’s bus system can be useful to get to some areas the train or subway can’t get to. Bus fares are cheap and you can even use Pasmo/Suica contact-less payment cards. Just remember to study the bus routes and consider asking a local to help you out in telling the driver where to let you out. Highway buses are also one of the cheapest options when travelling out of the city.

Hello Kitty-themed bus. | Jody McIntyre

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Breathtaking Winter Landscapes in Japan

  • Posted by:
  • December 23, 2016

Winter in Japan can be as equally exciting as any other time of the year. Each season brings something new and beautiful to the landscape and surroundings that makes your visit fun and memorable.

Winter in different parts of Japan presents varied experiences. It’s such a north-south country, there’s a great difference in climate. Big cities such as Osaka and Tokyo have shorter, temperate winters, while the Northern parts as well as the mountainous regions of Japan experience long winters, extremely cold temperatures, with a lot of snowfall for long months at a time.  The thick snow makes it ideal for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding as well as the much anticipated Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido.

All around Japan there are some amazing places to discover in wintertime. Here are some of the most loved places to visit:

Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano

Jigokudani Monkey Park, a part of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park (locally known as Shigakogen), is located at the northern area of the Yokoyu-River.  Jigokudani, or Hell’s Valley, is aptly named for the boiling water that spumes from the crevices of the frozen ground.

Jigokudani is not only famous for its picturesque winter wonderland but for the many wild Japanese macaques or snow monkeys that inhabit the area during the winter. They climb down from the steep cliffs and forests to enjoy the warm waters of the hot springs (onsen).

Jigokudani Monkey Park. | Douglas Sprott

Snow Monsters in Zao, Miyagi

Mt. Zao is located between the border of Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures.  Winter in Mt. Zao brings winds that blow from Siberia and as they pass through the Sea of Japan, they pick up moisture. After the wind crosses the Asahi Mountain Range to the west of Mt. Zao, the moisture forms clouds of supercooled droplets.  The mountain is surrounded  by coniferous trees such as the Aomori Fir. The trees cover the slopes that are between an altitude of about 4,265 and 5,249 feet. The clouds frost the conifers on the slopes of Mt. Zao over and over until an icy crust forms and the trees are completely covered in ice and form weird kinds of shapes. It makes an eerily majestic sight.

Mt. Zao. | alala_p

Diamond Dust, Hokkaido

Diamond dust is a gound-level cloud that is made up of tiny ice crystals. It is a meteorological phenomenon similar to fog since the cloud is on the surface. However, fog is composed of liquid water while diamond dust forms directly as ice. Diamond dust is formed when the skies are clear, making the effect more dramatic and magical.

Hokkaido is in the northernmost region of Japan and diamond dust forms during midwinter in Nayoro, Asahikawa, Tokachi, and Kawayu Onsen. As diamond dust kisses the area, the sight is just too beautiful for words.

Diamond dust. | halfrain

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The Deserted Hashima Island

  • Posted by:
  • December 20, 2016

Hashima island, also known as Gunkanjima (or ‘Battleship Island’) and Ghost Island, is one of the 505 uninhabited islands of Nagasaki Prefecture in Japan. Nearly a century ago (from 1887 to 1974), it was a bustling coal mining facility and home to thousands of workers. When the demand for coal began to shift to petrol, the once thriving island was abandoned and left to the elements. Its concrete buildings now lie as decrepit ruins, a reminder of a past long gone.

Hashima Island. | OZinOH

Hashima island was known for its undersea coal mines when coal was discovered on the area sometime in 1810. The coal mining industry operated during the industrialization of Japan. When Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha obtained the island, it began extracting coal from undersea mines and sea walls, and land reclamation tripled the actual size of the island. When the island was still a flourishing coal mining community, Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha bought it in 1890 and built a large nine story concrete building. More buildings were built over the years to accommodate the growing number of workers. Concrete was the choice material used for structures on the island to allow them to withstand typhoons. Buildings such as  apartment blocks, a community center, schools, a hospital, and a town hall were all maintained for the workers and their families. There were even structures for entertainment such a cinema, swimming pool, rooftop gardens, shops, communal bath, and a pachinko parlor.

Ruins of the island. | Roger Walch

Battleship island is also notorious for its dark history as the site of forced labour before and after World War II. In the 1930’s until the end of WWII, Korean conscripted civilians and Chinese prisoners-of-war were forced to work under very harsh conditions on the island. About 1,300 labourers were said to have perished under these harsh conditions, accidents, malnutrition, and exhaustion.

Google Street View of the island. | Kevin Dooley

By 1959, the 6.3 hectare island had a population of 5,259. It was considered the most densely populated place per square meter in the entire world.In 1974, as the coal reserves of the island were nearing depletion, the mine was closed and all of the residents left the island. Between 1891 to 1974, about 15.7 million tons of coal were excavated in mines with high temperatures and humidity.

Ghost Island began to pique the interest of people because of the undisturbed historical ruins. The island gradually became a popular attraction and was re-opened for visitors on the 22nd of April, 2009. The increased interest on the island prompted initiatives to protect it. On July of 2015, Hashima Island was formally recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of Japan’s Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining.

Check out this fascinating virtual tour of Hashima Island with Google Street Views:




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The Amazing Zao Fox Village

  • Posted by:
  • November 24, 2016

Japan is known for their outrageous fads, cosplay, anime, manga, and gaming. Aside from all those great things that make the country so unique, they also have a Cat Island (Tashirojima) and a Rabbit Island (Ōkunoshima).

Tashirojima is a small island in Japan in Ishinomaki, Miyagi. The island is a small fishing community of about 100 residents. It is known as Cat Island because of the number of cats that live in it. Amazingly, cats outnumber the locals almost four to 1. The stray cats thrive on the island because residents believe that feeding the cats will bring them wealth and good fortune. These cats roam freely in the streets and most can be found hanging around Nitoda Port.

22962671626_af2656cdc1_zOn a tiny island on the Inland Sea of Japan, in the city of Takehara, in Hiroshima Prefecture, there is Ōkunoshima also known as Usagi Jima or Rabbit Island because of the unbelievable number of feral rabbits that call it home.

If Cat Island and Rabbit Island are not enough, believe it or not, Japan also has Zao Fox Village! Zao Fox Village is located in the mountains near Shiroishi in Miyagi Prefecture. The village is a haven for over 100 animals and six different types of foxes. Foxes are a huge part of Japanese culture and history and figure in several Japanese folktales.

Foxes at Zao Fox Village. | Olena Shmahalo

22988720655_ee65ae43c5_zZao Fox Village is a preserve with small houses and structures to house foxes. There is a shrine with statues and a torii.  The animals roam freely, there is a petting zoo, and visitors are rewarded with the beautiful Miyagi Zao mountain scenery. The Fox Village is close to the town of Shiroishi that can be conveniently reached by a bullet train to Shiroishi Station. From there, it’s a quick 20-30 minute drive to the picturesque mountain preserve.

Fox, close up. | Olena Shmahalo

Watch the foxes of Zao Fox Village in action in this YouTube video by Rachel & Jun:


Click image or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92wtDKCtOiU

Zao Fox Village is a wonderful addition to your bucket list of places to visit when in Japan!

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Home Remedies for Headaches

  • Posted by:
  • November 21, 2016

Headaches and migraines can be a common occurrence easily be remedied using natural substances rather than medication. These natural remedies can be a more healthful alternative, too.

For many study abroad students away from home for a long period of time, it is imperative to know what types of medication need a prescription, the allowable quantity for personal use, what is available over the counter, and what types are not allowed to be brought into the country.  This information is essential to know when travelling to Japan.

In Japan, bringing medication from overseas into the country is controlled by the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law and the Customs Law. The Japanese government observes strict compliance primarily to prevent health hazards caused by defective products. Restrictions like this on medication when travelling make it very useful to know some helpful tips in treating the more common ailments. Here are some remedies to try in relieving headache pain and tension:

meds1Eat some nuts. The National Headache Foundation identifies about 20 types of headaches, from tension headaches to migraines. Research suggests that nuts such as almonds contain salicin which when consumed creates salicylic acid (primary by-product of aspirin metabolization). Consumption of 10 to 15 almonds a day are said to make regular headaches less severe.

Almonds. | HealthAliciousNess

Exercise. Regular exercise is great for your health. Regular physical activity also allows the body to release endorphins which can dull the sensation caused by a headache. Exercise regularly to maximize the overall benefit. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down after every exercise. Most of all, enjoy the outdoors. Fresh air and beautiful scenery can only do good for your overall well-being.


Omega-3 fatty acids are more than just for the heart. Some studies show that taking fish oil helps reduce migraine and headache pain. Research shows that ingredients found in fish oil may decrease blood clotting and inflammation, lower blood pressure, and promote a steady heart rhythm. All of these help reduce the inflammation of blood cells that press and pinch nerves.

Fish oil capsules. | Jo Christian Oterhals

meds3Minimize consumption of foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG). This is a common ingredient that promotes umami flavor in Japanese cuisine. It is derived from an amino acid, called glutamic acid, which occurs naturally in various foods. MSG is said to trigger migraines or headaches in some people as it excites neurons. Be conscious of food labels, and you can request restaurants to refrain from using MSG when you feel it may trigger a headache.

MSG. | Shoreline

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Fun Times at Jigokudani Monkey Park

  • Posted by:
  • November 17, 2016

Japan is a country rich in beautiful landscapes, natural resources, and wildlife. One of Japan’s popular indigenous wildlife species is the Japanese macaque.


The Japanese macaque is known as saru (monkey) in Japanese but to distinguish it from other primates of the world, it is called Nihonsaru (Nihon means Japan in Japanese). The Nihonsaru are Old World monkeys, a group of primates that fall under the superfamily Cercopithecoidea. They are also known as “snow monkeys” because they live in areas where snow is prevalent throughout the year.

Japanese macaque. | Martha de Jong-Lantink

Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑) or Jigokudani Yaen Kōen  in Yamanouchi, in Nagano Prefecture, a part of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park (locally known as Shigakogen), is located at the northern area of the Yokoyu-River.  Jigokudani,  or Hell’s Valley, is aptly named for the boiling water that spumes from the crevices of the frozen ground.

13728815813_a9c913fd09_zThe area is surrounded by steep cliffs and cold forests, and heavy snowfalls cover the ground for about four months of the year. Jigokudani is accessible solely via a narrow two-kilometer footpath through the forest. The place is relatively well known, but the difficulty in getting there makes it hard for many visitors to access.

Jigokudani Monkey Park. | David McKelvey

macaque2Jigokudani is famous for the many wild Japanese macaques or snow monkeys that inhabit the area during the winter. They climb down from the steep cliffs and forests to enjoy the warm waters of the hot springs (onsen).  The monkeys tend to want to stay all year round because they are also fed by park attendants.  Visiting Jigokudani at any season will allow you to see hundreds of monkeys.

Taking a bath. | Yosemite

Jigokudani Monkey Park and the Japanese Macaques are only some of the few unique things to see and explore when in Japan.

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Mount Takao: A Gem to Discover Near Tokyo

  • Posted by:
  • October 17, 2016

Japan is an island nation composed of 6,852 islands. The four largest islands, making up about 97% of the country, are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Japan also has over 200 volcanoes and breathtaking mountainous terrains. One of the most popular mountains in Japan is Mount Fuji, a staggering 12,389 feet high: the tallest mountain in Japan. Located on Honshu Island, it can be seen all the way from Tokyo on a clear day. Mount Fuji is famous for its near-perfect cone shape, surrounding national parks and lakes. It is one of the “Three Holy Mountains” (三霊山 Sanreizan), along with Mount Haku and Mount Tate.  It is truly a beautiful site to behold.


Mt. Takao. | YU-JEN SHIH

However, Mount Fuji isn’t the only mountain attracting visitors in Japan. Mount Takao is another mountain located in the city of Hachiōji in the western part of the Tokyo metropolis that attracts throngs of people. It is protected within the Meiji no Mori Takao Quasi-National Park. Mount Takao has received three stars (highest ranking) as a “Must Go” mountain from the Michelin Green Guide to tourist spots. It’s no wonder that about 2.6 million people make the climb to Mount Takao annually.

tama_forest_science_gardenMount Takao stands at 599 meters (1,965 ft) tall and is conveniently located only about an hour from downtown Tokyo. Visitors can choose from eight hiking trails to the summit. The Tama Forest Science Garden, at the base of the mountain, is an experimental forest and an arboretum.

Tama Forest Science Garden. | Arashiyama


Mount Takao can be climbed from the base or by a cable railway or ropeway ride halfway up the mountain. The mountain supports about 1,200 species of plants and numerous varieties of native insects and animals such as wild boars and monkeys.  So many things to discover so close to the bustling city of Tokyo!

Aerial tramway at Mt. Takao. | Dick Thomas Johnson

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