Japan overview

The Land of the Rising Sun

The real name for Japan, in Japanese , is Nihon. This means Sun Origin and can be loosely translated into English, as the Land of the Rising Sun. Recently I had the pleasure of participating in a nature and outdoors tour of the Japanese Islands of Hokkaido and Kyushu.

I believe these Islands are not so well known to the average tourist, especially the over 60’s.

I , for one,was unaware of the hundreds of attractions available to be explored.

What an amazing trip. I was absolutely blown away by the sheer beauty of these magical places.

Flying from Sydney to Haneda, Tokyo was a pleasant nightime flight,so I was able to sleep. The time difference between Australia and Japan is only 2 hours so there is no jet lag associated either way on the trip.

Hokkaido.

Arriving on Hokkaido, at the small town of Memanbetsu, I was happy to meet with my guide.

Kimi, was a walking encyclopedia on all aspects of this particular tour.

Luggage all sorted, the journey to the Shiretoko Peninsular was an incredible insight into a place I never dreamed existed.

From the magestic mountain peaks, capped with snow, to the beautiful lakes, especially Lake Tofutsu which was teeming with birdlife, every kilometre offered something new.

There are many onsen (hot springs) in Hokkaido. In fact all of Japan has many thermal areas and onsen are an integral part of the Japanese lifestyle.

All too soon I arrived at my hotel, the Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort . The friendly, smiling staff went out of their way to please.

After settling into the sumptuous room I then proceeded to the dining area where

a sumptuous buffet was awaiting this hungry traveller.

There was no end to the amount of foods on offer.

From traditional Japanese food , to western style, there was something for everyone.

Kimi advised me to have a hot spring bath and a long sleep as the next day would be the start of my sightseeing tour.

Day one and after breakfast, which was also a sumptuous buffet, the Nature guide arrived and we were off on the first hike in the World Heritage Shiretoko National Park.This was quite an easy hike for anyone without mobility issues. There is a shorter course, wheelchair friendly, where some of the beautiful lakes can be viewed. If you have mobility issues, do not let that deter you from visiting Hokkiado.

There was a series of five lakes, nestled beneath the towering mountains. Each and every lake was absolutely stunning. Birdlife abounds as do brown bears at certain times of the year. There are red foxes and sika deer. Fish can be seen jumping to catch unsuspecting insects who land on the tranquil waters.

In autumn the bears are preparing to hibernate so are rarely sighted. If a bear is sighted, the tour has to return to the starting point, report the bear sighting and the park is closed.

Hikers are briefed on what to do if confronted by a bear. The main rule is to stay calm and retreat slowly.

I have my doubts that I could remain calm if a 600kg bear, galloping at 30 k’s an hour was heading my way. Luckily I need not have worried.

The name Shiretoko derives from the Ainu (indigenous people of Japan) phrase siretok, meaning “end of the earth.

Shiretoko is located on the most northeastern point of Japan.

Shiretoko is home to rare seabirds such as the speckled guillemot and Stellers sea eagle and sea lions, the white tailed eagle and other migratory birds.

A rich eco system, with majestic mountains and coastal cliffs created by Volcanic eruptions. Drift Ice appears in wintertime and there are tours out onto the ice.

The next day found me hiking through the Shiretoko National Park, right next to the World Heritage Park. This hike was a little more challenging and not suitable for those with mobility issues.

The goal was to spot as many animals as possible. Red fox and Sika deer abounded. I saw woodpecker made holes in the trees, small birds and many deep scratchings on large trees. These were bear scratchings. Bears marking their territory. Luckily the bears were all out at the time and did not appear to ask what we were doing in their living room.

This park is also home to the Blakiston’s Fish Owl. The largest living species of Owl. Unfortunately the Owls were hiding on that particular day.

The hike ended at lunch time, so after a lovely lunch, in a quirky little cafe, we once again set out. This time to see a waterfall on the very edge of the massive cliffs in the national park. The trek to the waterfall was absolutely beautiful. We sighted and got very close to many Sika Deer and lots of birds.

Back to the hotel again to recharge the batteries and have another delicious meal in a lovely little seafood cafe.

Night Time and another tour, by car, to do some night animal spotting. Plenty of deer and foxes, but the elusive Blakiston’s Fish Owl stayed away.

Might have to go back again to spot one of those.

The third day was the last on beautiful Hokkaido. I saw salmon jumping upstream to spawn and then die. Lots of salmon in pristine waters. Very easy to view. A meal at an Izakaya (japanese pub) and another ride through the countryside to Nakashibetsu to catch a plane to Kyushu.

A stop off at

Lake Matsu and a meal of Teshikaga ramen were also enjoyed. Ramen is a wonderful dish, noodles, veg, some meat and a broth that is so delicious it is worth bottling.

Hokkaido has so much to offer us over 60’s. A positive wonderland of scenery, foods and hot springs.

The hot spring are said to be very beneficial to one’s well being. Full of pristine, mineral laden water that can only do good to the bather.

Kyushu

I caught the plane from Nakashibetsu back to Haneda and then connected with a flight to Oita, Kyushu..

Here I was met by another guide. Kate was to be my guide for the next two days.

From Oita we travelled by car to the beautiful city of Beppu, in the Oita Prefecture.

Beppu is the famous geothermal city on the Island of Kyushu. More onsen water gushes out here than anywhere else in Japan. Of course, not all springs are suitable for bathing in. The Hells are way too hot for that.

Accomodation in Beppu was Beppu Onsen Hotel, a Ryokan, traditional Japanese hotel where one sleeps on a Futon.

Another good sleep and I awoke to start the next stage of my tour.

First stop was a local market, mainly food and a few trinkets. The array of foods available is incredible. There is no shortage of anything.

On to the amazing Beppu Boiling Hells. First up, Chinoiķke Jigoku, the Blood Hells, named because of the blood red colour of the springs. Set in a picturesque location with a waterfall on one side and heavily treed woods on the other. The colour of the pond is incredibly red. There is also a foot bath which is quite a pleasant temperature and a must have after a walk around the hells.

Umi Jigoku , Sea Hell was next up. This geothermal pond was an amazing shade of cobalt blue. Temps of 78C meant no feeling this one. There was also a smaller red pond here and a clear water pond

covered with beautiful lotus lillies. The strong leaves of the lotus plants are big and strong enough to carry a small child.

On to Oniishibozu Jigoku, the Monks Head Hells. This area had many boiling mud pools. The mud bubbles which emerge from the pools look just like shaven heads of monks, hence the name.

After another foot bath I was treated to lunch, cooked by the steam of the boiling thermals.

The little cafe where lunch was taken, had wooden like ovens in which steam arose from a tapped hole in the ground.

The steamed food was delicious and according to the guide, very healthy.

Travelling away from the hells and into the countryside to the rural area of Tashimunosho. I travelled through ancient rice paddies and rural areas where there was an abundance of small farms. Rice, wheat , daikon radish and all manner of veggies were grown. The farms are very small but obviously produce a lot of veg and such.

A little further on and I arrived at the coastal town of Matama. This was where I witnessed the amazing sunset. Many people flock to the area to photograph these sunsets. It was well worth the trip.

Later on another perfect meal at an Italian restaurant. Who would have thought.

A new day and a new guide, Osaka was just as pleasant and helpful as the previous two guides. All are veritable walking encyclopedia with a vast knowledge of Japan, the myths, culture and foods.

Time to move on from Beppu.

A trip on the Sea Gaia 7 express train to Noreoka and then a taxi to Takachiho in the Miyazaki Prefecture.

Takachiho, steeped in Japanese mythology. The site where the legendary Sun Goddess Amaterasu hid herself in a dark cave, thus depriving the world of light.

Luckily, the other Gods and Goddesses were able to lure her out and thus restore light to the world once more.

A trip to the Takachiho Shrine to see a cultural dance in regards to Amaterasu was indeed a pleasant experience.

Takachiho is also known as a power spot, a place of deep religious importance and natural beauty.

In fact, a trip into Takachiho Gorge radiates a spiritual energy not to be missed.

The Gorge, is a place of outstanding beauty.

There are many different hiking trails , some easy and others quite challenging. I took a couple of the hikes and found them to be quite doable for the over 60 person with no limitations on mobility.

The magnificent Manai Falls can be viewed from atop the cliffs or down on the water in a boat. Either way, they are stunning.

The autumn colours of the ginkgo, maple and rowan trees are absolutely incredible. There are no words really to describe the beauty of the leaves.

Takachiho, my favourite place that I have been so far. The little town itself, with its quaint shops and friendly people. The unhurried pace of life here is just perfect.

Enjoy the Sea of Clouds from Kunimigaoka Observatory. Watch the sun rise above them for an out of world experience.

Moving on and a car trip to Mount Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano. This is in the Kumamoto Prefecture. An easy walk to the Observatory, wheelchair friendly as well, and one can look down at the farms and houses nestled on the crater floor. Last eruption of Mt Aso was in 2016 so I am not sure if I would like to live down there.

The scenery around the Mount is mainly fertile grasslands and rocky outcrops.

A horse ride around the outer rim of the Mount was a lovely way to explore a little more of the countryside.

Those who are fitter than I could enjoy a pushbike ride around the same area.

Lunch was at the El Patio horse riding facility and was surprisingly American style. Hamburgers, chilli beef and fries. Quite different from anything I had eaten previously and as always it was delicious.

The food on offer in Japan is second to none. Such a wide variety of tempting and tasty dishes.

I would love to return for a foodies tour.

Japan the most amazing country I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. It is extremely clean, safe, and easy to navigate your way around.

Put it on your list all you over 60’s. You will not be disappointed.

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