Virtual Vacation #5-- Japan!
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Once again we are going to feature a country that several of us have suggested that we should vist someday. This month (February 2017) it is Japan.

Of course arranging for time off from our jobs and saving up enough money to make it worthwhile and to "do it right" is a real-world problem.
So this, the Virtual Vacation, is a way to daydream and live vicariously through other people's eyes and experiences in the hope that one day you may be able to physically be able to go and enjoy Japan yourselves.
Hopefully you can learn something, and discover some hidden gems and ideas for when you do get there in real life.

If you enjoy this vacation, please comment and add your thoughts and images to any topic that you see.

You can also check out our other destinations by clicking on these (fabulous) links:

VGG Virtual Vacation #1 - BELGIUM
VGG Virtual Vacation #2- Australia!
Join us! Virtual Vacation #3-- Italy
Virtual Vacation #4 - Scotland

Virtual Vacations #6- Canada
Virtual Vacation #7- India
Virtual Vacation #8 - Ireland

Mini: One and done- A Virtual Vacation to Buenos Aires


Virtual Vacation discussion thread:
VGG Virtual Vacations

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1. Board Game: Travel the World [Average Rating:4.33 Unranked]
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Travellers and Hosts
Add a comment if you’ve previously been to Japan and don’t mind getting and answering a few questions along the way this month.

If you’ve lived there before (or now) and want to take a more active role in directing travel then by all means send me a geekmail and I’ll unlock things even more for your additions.

If you’re just a virtual traveller who is curious about anything presented here, ask a question in the comments and even specify a person to answer it, if they’ve agreed to that.

You can also tell us why you’re along for the trip this month, and what you hope to get from this “teaser” trip.

greentrain Comment below! purpletrain
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2. Board Game: Travel Sequence [Average Rating:5.55 Overall Rank:13662]
 
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ITINERARY

February has 28 days, so this will be a whirlwind trip.

I’ve (semi-) randomly chosen ten cities, plus Mt. Fuji, to visit, so that averages out to a under 3 days per city.

In reality, we’d likely spend a week or more in Tokyo, alone, and just a day or two in some other places.
For the purposes of this VV, however, I’ll change locations about every three days.
Unless one place is getting a lot of action in the comments, in which case we could spend more time there discussing it.

If the tour gets close to some place that holds a particular interest to you, then mention it in the comments of the closest city, or geekmail me a day or two beforehand.

Start: Tokyo, with one full day for a Mt. Fuji day-trip, then move south to
Yokohama
Kamakura
Osaka
Kobe
, then back north/ east to
Kyoto
Nagoya
Takayama
, back to Tokyo then way up to
Morioka, and end up in
Sapporo on Feb. 28th
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3. Board Game: Rolling Japan [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:3936]
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Overview

Sapporo is on the northmost island of Hokkaido.
Tokyo is pretty much in the middle on the east side of the island of Honshu, Osaka west of that, then Kobe, and across the bay is the smaller island of Shikoku.
It is a long way to the southernmost island, Kyushu, from Tokyo.


Location of our planned stops on this Virtual Vacation

Japan is very moutainous, which makes sense because it has volcanoes and it sprung up from the Pacific Ocean to become part of the so-called “Ring of Fire”.


Volcanoes in Japan

Japan is well known as a place of contrasts; mountains and coastlines, jungles and cities.
They have four distinct seasons.
There is plenty of snow during the winter in the northern areas (Sapporo) and even in the middle of the island near Nagano, while viewing cherry blossoms in the Spring is an actual destination event.





August is the hottest month, in Tokyo, with an average temperature of 26°C (79°F) and the coldest month is January at 5°C (41°F).
The month with the most daily hours of sunshine (6) is December!
The wettest month is June.
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4. Board Game: Culture Crazy [Average Rating:3.00 Unranked]
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Culture

Yeah, there is a bit of culture here.


Hanging out at a Pachinko Parlor

It’s a completely different world here, in fact. Technology and innovations that we’ve maybe never even dreamed of.


Hey, I think I'll get my dog washed today...

Deference to authority and to older people. Formality and strong family values.


A tea ceremony

Karaoke bars.


You can do anything but stay off-a my blue suede shoes! Thankyouverymuch.

Restaurants where teenage girls wear maid uniforms, or where housecats are running wild inside.


How much should you tip your monkey waiter?

How many movies or TV shows based in, or based on, Japan can you think of?
How about music/ bands?

Add your tips and “must see” recommendations for fully immersing yourself in Japanese culture if you’ve been there before.
Or ask questions or get opinions on what you think that you might like to experience.
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5. Board Game: Wasabi! [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1252]
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Food

If I say Japanese food, two things pop into your mind. Sushi and Noodles.
They are also very big on pickled vegetables, and rice of course.
And you’re going to be offered miso soup; according to one stat that I saw, 75% of all Japanese consume miso soup at least once a day.



Miso soup is made from miso “paste”, which is made from fermented soybeans. It gets added to soup stocks, known as dashi.
Those dashi can be made from dried sardines, dried kelp, smoked tuna, or dried shitaake mushroom.
You’re also probably going to get some tofu or maybe seaweed floating in it.
Meat is expensive, so they use certain less-expensive seafoods and vegetables a lot. There are also a lot of bean paste “treats” and fillings available.

As for the noodles, the popular varieties are Udon (very thick, made from flour) and Soba (thinner, almost black; made from buckwheat flour), while the imported Chinese version are called Ramen (thin, made from wheat flour).
There are several others, each made from various starches (but not from rice).



Tempura means lightly battered and deep-fried ingredients, like vegetables and seafood, while Sukiyaki is thinly-sliced raw meat (usually beef) that is “cooked” in marinades or in hot broths.

Drinks

For a beverage, tea is everywhere. You may also encounter sake (rice-wine) either as a drink or as an ingredient in food preparation.
Japanese enjoy imported spirits, especially whisky, and some locally produced vodka and beer.


A selection of sake

The legal drinking age in Japan is 20.

Is there a particular place that we should “check out” for food? Or a dish that we should try?
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6. Board Game: Kanji Battle [Average Rating:4.43 Overall Rank:16072]
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Language

We are likely to be in trouble here. Some English is spoken, especially by the younger generation, but signs and menus and what-not are all going to be in Kanji/ Hiragana (or, hopefully, pictorial) while the main spoken language is Japanese, or a regional dialect of that.

Let’s learn a few words, even though we are going to be marked as tourists immediately.

Hello- Kon'nichiwa
Goodbye- sayōnara
Please- onegaishimasu
Thank you- arigatōgo
Taxi- takushī
Airport- kūkō
Hotel- hoteru
Train- ressha
Me- watashi
You- kimi wa
We- wareware
I want to go- Watashi wa ittemitai
Do you speak English?- Eigo o hanasemasu ka?

Oh yeah, we’re in trouble here.

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7. Board Game: Anime Madness [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
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Art and Literature

Feel free to add examples of what is more tradionally considered as art in the comments below.
You can also mention any books that feature Japan; ones that Virtual Travellers can check out for themselves in order to get a more in-depth feel for the country and its history or its idiosyncracies.

In this spot, however, I'm going to feature the most famous (these days) Japanese export(s) to the world: Manga and Anime

As you are probably aware, there is a difference between the two.

Wikipedia wrote:
Anime is "a term used to refer to Japanese animated productions featuring hand-drawn or computer animation" and Manga are "comics created in Japan, or by Japanese creators in the Japanese language, conforming to a style developed in Japan in the late 19th century."




So it is the same difference between western artwork and movies, in essence.

The distinctive style-- large and rounded eyes-- and themes-- often lots of young girls, usually in sailor or maid costumes, different "monsters", and whatnot-- have deeper significance than their mere outward appearance.



There are also dozens of sub-genres, from family-themed images all the way up to X-rated pornography.
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8. Board Game: Nippon Rails [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:2558]
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Getting around

Japan is world-reknowned for its high speed rail system, and I intend to make good use of it.

Let’s buy a Rail Pass, shall we?: http://www.japan-rail-pass.com/
21 days for around $500.
It is for tourists only—it can’t be bought in Japan (??).
You can (naturally) buy local rail passes, at the airport and in stations.





Do you have any previous experience with the Japanese train system that you can share with the first-time visitor?
What to do (or perhaps more importantly, what not to do) ? How to read schedules? Best/ worst times of the day to ride? Other slow train or even non-train options?
Does the Japan Rail pass cover travel within Tokyo, or just on routes into/ out of the city?
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9. Board Game: Money! [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1486]
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One American dollar is worth a bit more than 100 Japanese Yen, depending on the exchange rate that you get.
So you don't have to freak out when you see something for sale at ¥3500 yen-- that's $35 (or less). Take off two "zeros" from the price, and you'll be close enough.



Coins come in ‎¥1‎, ‎¥5‎, ‎¥10‎, ‎¥50‎, ‎¥100‎, and ‎¥500 units
Common Banknotes are in ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥5,000, and ¥10,000 units

Coins are often referred to as "Sen", which is 1/100 of a Yen.
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10. Board Game: Face the Facts [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked]
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I'm adding this item and moving the current facts from the Tokyo comment section, for better visibilty.
I wish that I'd included this idea in my other vacation geeklist.


Fun Facts! (Updated daily)

1) Japan is made up of 6,852 islands.
2) Sumo is recognized as the national sport of Japan, although the most popular spectator sport is baseball.
3) On Feb 3rd or 4th, the day of Setsubun, there is the custom of throwing roasted soybeans away from you while chanting "In with Fortune! Out with Evil" in order to prevent evil ogres from entering one's house!
4) Farmers grow watermelons inside square moulds—it makes them easier to stack and ship.

5) Yokohama has the largest Chinatown in Japan.
6) Japan's birth rate is so low, they sell more adult diapers than baby diapers.
7) Japan has more than 50,000 people who are over 100 years old.
8) Around 24 billion pairs of chopsticks are used in Japan each year.
9) Black cats are considered to bring good luck in Japan.
10) In Osaka there is a building with a highway passing through it

The Hanshin Expressway goes through Gate Tower Building

11) In Japan, Ronald McDonald is called “Donald” McDonald due to a lack of a clear "r" sound in Japanese.
12) Many hot springs and public bathhouses in Japan ban customers with tattoos from entering.
13) Prior to 2012, Kobe beef was not exported. Actual Kobe beef must be raised in the Hyogo Prefecture and, as of March 2013, the total amount of Kobe beef exported to the USA was less than 400 kilograms. What is commonly called Kobe beef is from a Wagyu/ Angus crossbreed, and may have been raised in England, New Zealand, or the USA.
14) Japanese women give chocolates to their men on Valentine’s day. Men are supposed to return the favor a month later, on White Day (March 14th).
15) In Japan, tipping a server is considered rude.
16) If you rearrange the letters of Kyoto, you can spell Tokyo. But the two names are unrelated.
17) Japanese customers can purchase over 50 different types of Kit Kat chocolate bars, including “baked potato”, “French Salt”, soy sauce, several types of sweet or savory bean paste, and this:

Apple Vinegar Kit Kat. Only in Japan—damn it!

18) Japan has 5.52 million vending machines.
19) Norway introduced Salmon Sushi to the Japanese in the 80s.
20) Most Japanese streets are unnamed. The mail is delivered using a complicated system defined by the prefecture, municipality/ward, block, and building number.
21) The '70s cartoon, Rascal the Raccoon, inspired Japanese to adopt baby raccoons as pets. As a result, Japan imported thousands of raccoons from America. After realizing how violent they really were, families started releasing them into forests as shown in one of the scenes in the cartoon. Raccoons started multiplying and damaged a large percentage of Japanese temples.
22) You can buy eel flavored ice cream in Japan.
23) The shishito pepper grown in Japan has the unique ability of being only spicy 1 out of 10 times and there is no way to know beforehand which one it might be.


24) The Wakayama Railway Company employs a cat as the “Super Station Master”. She is the only female employee in a managerial position.
25) Japan has over 70 flavors of Fanta including 'The Mystery Fruit', 'Genius Energy' and 'Hip Hop' flavor.
26) Macaque monkeys of Japan have taught themselves to steal wallets and purses and take out the coins from them to buy drinks and snacks from vending machines.
27) Tokyo was scheduled to host the Olympic Games in 1940, but it was moved to Helsinki, Finland, and then it was cancelled that year due to WWII. Tokyo did host the 1964 Olympics, and it will host the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics.
28) Sapporo was the Japanese city to host the first ever Olympic Winter Games to be held in Asia, in 1972. Nagano, Japan became the second Asian city (by then the 18th Winter Games, overall) to host, in 1998.

A scene from the ski jumping bowl at the Olympic Games, the 11th Winter games overall, Sapporo, 1972
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11. Board Game: King of Tokyo [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:236]
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TOKYO

Feb. 1 to Feb. 3


The airport. A bit freaky?


Despite the presence of an Eiffel Tower-like structure, this is not Paris.


For a truly height-panic inducing experience, try the "Sky Tree": The observation deck is at 450 meters (1,476 feet)!


Kabukichō in Shinjuku


Sensō-Ji Temple


The waterfront


Ginza Crossing, at night


Shibuya Crossing; up to 2,500 people crossing at one time!


Imperial Gardens

I doubt that any traveller would get bored in this city.
Lost, maybe; but bored? Never.

With more than 35 million people living in greater Tokyo, the city is the largest metropolitan area in the world.
Space is limited. A typical size of a one bedroom apartment is usually not more than 15 square meters (170 square feet). Hotel rooms are often tiny.


A building (Nakagin Capsule Tower) of 1 room apartments for you to live in


Typical Interior there

So you've arrived, and have stowed away your stuff at a hotel somewhere.
Now you want to go out onto the streets and experience Tokyo city life.
You'll see hundreds of people wearing surgical masks over their mouths and noses, but it probably isn't due to the smog.
Many people wear them when they get sick so they don't transfer germs to their co-workers, and others wear them if they have to deal with a lot of potentially virulent people who could cause them to miss work if they catch something.

You'll see that men (especially teenagers) spend a lot of time at home making their hair spiky or blond or red colored. The young women may be walking around in a baby-doll outfit carrying a pink sucker or a wand.
Everyone is talking on or looking at a cell phone.

You won't need a destination to enjoy yourself, probably. You'll see plenty to amuse you in a three block walk around your hotel.

Add your own thoughts (and photos if you have them!) on what you'd actually like to see and do in Tokyo.
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12. Board Game: Fuji's World [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Feb 3. Mt Fuji (day trip)



Mount Fuji is a 7 - 10 hour hiking ascent to the summit, depending on the route, and 5 hours (at least) back down so, unless you have all day and proper hiking gear, only plan to do the first little bit and just take pictures the rest of the time!
All of the paths to the summit are officially open for general public climbing during July and August, via several routes.


On the plus side, you won't get lost once you are there.

TIPS:
Go on a weekday in the first half of July. By mid-August, there are usually line-ups at the "stations".
Station #5 is the "base elevation", apparently, with 4 different locations depending on what side you approach from. Each of them has a huge paved area for autos and buses and a large tourist area with a restaurant, coffee shop, gift shops and and other shops.
There are buses that make 6-10 round trips per day during the climbing season
It goes down to 2 round trips per day on weekends/holidays and in the off-season

Arriving by bus: Get there from Shinjuku Station (Tokyo); it costs an estimated 2,700 yen (one way); 140 minutes travel, no other perks.
I found one online tour for about 13,000 yen: it leaves from major hotels near Shinjuku and Ginza @ 07:30 & returns 20:30—it’s a 13 hour day-trip but it includes the drive to the 5th station, a 15-minute lake cruise, and a cable car ride at Hakone.


I'd suggest leaving your sandals at home...

You can get a train and do a self-tour much cheaper than that, of course. Assuming you have figured out the train system well enough...


Oh, I see! That makes perfect sense now!

From Tokyo, take the JR Tokaido line, through Odawara to Kozu, and change for the JR Gotemba line (1 to 2 trains every hour).
From the Gotemba station (labelled in green on the map above), you can take a bus (every weekday from June 1st to August 31st, and only the weekends are “out of season”) in order to reach the climbing routes.

Avoid the main trains/ subway in Tokyo between 7:30 and 9:00 am, since this is when “packing” passengers happens...
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13. Board Game: Yokohama [Average Rating:7.95 Overall Rank:92]
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Feb. 05 Yokohama


Yokohama from the Osanbashi Pier

Yokohama is not too far from Tokyo; about an hour south, by train.
It is an important port city, and the second largest city in Japan.
Among the tourist attractions there are the Yokohama Silk Museum, the Yokohama Doll Museum, and the Hakkeijima Sea Paradise.
It is also well known for its ramen noodles, and a place to go to see cherry blossoms in the spring.
In fact, if you enjoy the pastoral setting of a Japanese garden in particular, the Sankeien Gardens should not be missed.



Sankeien Garden


Hakkeijima aquarium

Or, if you're looking for real thrills, take in the amusement park at the same site.


Hakkeijima Sea Paradise

Travel tip for Yokohama: Don’t climb up the long hill, to the look out, from Yokohama station.
Instead, take the local Metro train to the end of the line. From there, climb the smaller hill to the fantastic lookout point over the bay.
Enjoy the beautiful gardens too. Then walk back to Yokohama station, down hill, through Chinatown, to the quayside and the tall ship at Landmark Tower. Much easier on the feet and lungs.
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14. Board Game: BuddhaWheel [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
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Feb. 07 Kamakura

Staying south of Tokyo and moving west a bit along the coast we come to a lesser-known city today.



This city could easily be explored as a day-trip from Tokyo. I usually like to choose a city that is off the tourist track on my tours.
A change of pace from the hustle and bustle. Taking some time to relax and breathe a bit.

So what's here?
It's positively tiny compared to the last two places we've been, with less than 200,000 people as its population.
It was an incredibly important place back in the days of the Shogun, since it was isolated from the main roads and was only accessible by sea, which made it easily defensible.
From the beach, you would pass through three "Shinto Gates", called Torii to reach a shrine in the center of the city.


Ichi No Torii-- follow the gates to the center of town

You'll see Torii all over Japan. The primary function of a torii is to mark the entrance to a sacred space.
Their presence is normally the best way to distinguish a Shinto Shrine from a Buddhist Temple.
You will find a lot of Shinto shrines and temples in Kamakura.
Oh; and further up a hill there you will find one really big Buddha statue.


Great Buddha at Kotoku-in

Other than that, it's more of a relaxation spot. The Japanese think so, too, since it is a popular short-time vacation getaway.
In fact, if we were here in the summer-time, we could have gone to one of the beaches on the bay in Kamakura.


It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, the beaches are always crowded in the summer.
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15. Board Game: Traders of Osaka [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:961]
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Feb. 10 Osaka

Time to go another big city, with plenty to see and do there.


Has every major city got one of those Ferris Wheel observation rides now?


Minami (Namba)


Alternately called “Namba Park” or “Green Mall” on Google images

There’s a Universal Studios theme park in Osaka, a highly regarded aquarium, The Osaka Castle (which is pagoda–like, not like a classic western castle), National History and National Art museums, and the Shinsekai shopping area for just walking around and looking, or for sampling the street foods on sale there.
There are also loads of interesting looking temples to visit, if that’s your thing.

Up for a thrill? Try this out:


Umeda Sky Building. Yes, that’s an “observation deck” between the towers (on the 39th floor...) and you can cross through the two walkways shown in the middle of that circle.

Then, just 30 minutes north of here (Umeda), you can find Minoo Park:


A great place to see the fall colors, or just to get away from the bustle of the city

Also in Minoh (spellings vary in this area), is a craft beer restaurant “Minoh Beer Warehouse” where you can get freshly brewed ales and western (and traditional Japanese) food, like a ham sandwich!



Much like Tokyo, we could spend a lot of time here and not be bored. But I’ve packed in other places to visit so I’m only allotting 3 days to it.
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16. Board Game: Kobe Mini-Yard [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Feb. 13th Kobe

Moving south and west from Osaka, today finds us in Kobe.

This is the sixth largest city in Japan, and if its name seems familiar to you, that is likely because it has suffered greatly in the past due to the devestating earthquakes that have struck it.


Kobe: Sister "port city" to Seattle; it is surrounded by mountains

Antique cable cars connect Kobe to Mt. Rokko, which offers panoramic views over the port. Beyond the Mount Rokko hills are the outdoor hot springs of Arima Onsen.


A cable car headed down to the main port


Hot springs? Now we're talking!

In 1995, Kobe was hit by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which measured 6.9 on the moment magnitude (Richter) scale. It knocked down a major raised-highway, killed over 5,000 people, and destroyed tens of thousands of buildings.
Today the city is completely rebuilt, and few signs of the terrible event remain.
In fact, it is considered to be one of Japan's most attractive cities.


Don't mess with Mother Nature. She's got a temper.

While here, we will also see the world's longest suspension bridge, and I should also note that Kobe's Nada district is famous for sake, so there will be multiple places to go for tastings and tours of the various producers in the area.


The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge-- think "Golden Gate bridge" , but on steroids.
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17. Board Game: Surprise! [Average Rating:5.71 Unranked]
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There will be a bonus entry today, of a place that was not on the original itinerary.
The good part about a Virtual Vacation is that time and distance mean very little to us.
So then; from a cool/ cold day in February (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least!), we will be transported southwest from Kobe 725 miles (1,167km)-- and to the summertime-- on a more tropical latitude...

All of this information has been supplied by:

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Thank-you, Mike!!
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Feb. 15 Okinawa

400 miles south of mainland japan is the island of Okinawa. Fly into the capital (and only airport), the city of Naha. You are going to have to rent a car as there is no train on the island!

Drive North to our firt stop Urasoe Castle and Park.



There are a bunch of Castle Ruins on the Island but we are stopping here for a few reasons. The original castle was destroyed during the second world war as this is also the site of Hacksaw Ridge (of movie fame, please note that the site looks nothing like the movie) and was rebuit in the 2000s. Make sure to visit the royal tombs in the castle.
Just down the hill is a children's playground and a great place to try out a roller slide!
A roller slide is a very long slide that uses round tubes to slide down instead of a flat metal sheet.



After the slide head north again notice that you are going to be driving past several US military bases. There are 32 bases on the island and at least one from every branch.

There are a lot of beaches on the island. It is a vacation island and is often compared to Hawaii. We are going to stop at Araha beach for a quick dip!



Also they have a cool pirate ship playground



Next up we are going to stop off at the Sea Wall in Sunabe for some snorkeling/ SCUBA diving. Of course Okinawa is a tropical island and surrounded by reefs.
There are a ton of diving spots but the seawall is the easiest! Just take the staircase down to the water and jump in! Tons of tropical fish await! If there are waves you might see some surfers, they are surfing over the reef though so any crashes are really going to hurt!



Now we continue north towards the city of Nago. Nago has a lot of tourist spots and one of the best is the Pinapple park!
The video speaks for itself...



Our final stop is the Ocean Expo Park! Home to several atractions including:

The Tropical Dream Center





The Pacific Cultural Center where you can check out the cool out rigger canoes the islanders used



Finally to Churaumi Aquarium

Until 2005 it was the largest aquarium in the world! There are 77 tanks but the main atraction is the Whale Shark tank! It is truly massive. There are also dolphin shows!

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18. Board Game: Kyoto [Average Rating:5.33 Unranked]
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Feb. 16- Kyoto

Kyoto is a major city, but the first images that you find for it are for temples and relaxing looking gardens.

Here is the concrete side of things:



And here is the more traditional side:



So Kyoto is billed as a city that is a mix of the modern and the traditional. Which makes it well-worth spending the next few days at.

The city has many parks and green spaces, but the best known one contains the Imperial Palace.





I can see why the image search offers so many views of nature. It’s a beautiful place.
There is even a bamboo forest practically in the town center!


Okochisanso Garden


Arashiyama Bamboo Grove


Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple

The name Kyoto may be familiar to you from a past part of your life—there was an international gathering of government leaders there in 1997 and they came up with an agreement to try to lessen the effects of Global Warming that a 1992 international treaty first established.
It was dubbed the “Kyoto Accord” or “Kyoto Protocol”.

Kyoto also boasts a still-working geisha district and some of Japan's most exquisite cuisine



Supposedly there are many costumed “performers” walking around in the district, there for tourists to get pictures of. But a “real” geisha has extra makeup on her neck that most of the pretenders don’t use:



If it is the middle of the day then it is likely not a real geisha; they begin work in the evenings. The real ones also do not pose for photos or take money to have a photo taken with them.
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19. Board Game: Trains: Nagoya Map [Average Rating:7.57 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.57 Unranked]
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Feb. 20th Nagoya

Our itinerary now begins to move us northeast, back toward Tokyo.

Thanks to its position opening onto the Pacific, Nagoya has developed into the country's busiest port and has long been an important manufacturing site of such traditional industries as ceramics and textiles.

Many of the city's historic sites remain, including its 16th-century castle, which like much of the city center, was rebuilt after the destruction of WWII.

These days, this large city is a pleasure to visit for its excellent network of wide modern streets, museums, art galleries, and historic temples.



Some of the more touristy sites to be found in this city are:


Nagoya Castle (and the surrounding Meijō Park)


The Ōsu District

I mentioned Ceramics earlier-- the Noritake Company has a popular Garden and Ceramic Museum housed on the original factory grounds.
Highlights include displays showcasing the company's history, antique porcelain, as well as demonstrations of the manufacturing process, hands-on workshops, and gift shops and restaurants.


Noritake Gardens

It will be no surprise to learn that Nagoya also has an excellent aquarium (including killer whales and dolphins), but for something a bit more terrestrial, we can check out a zoo and botanical gardens here.


Higashiyama Zoo & Botanical Gardens

24 km north of the city is the Imperial Hotel, a unique design created by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.


The Imperial Hotel at the Meiji Village

Nagoya's main industry is automotive. Toyota (and their luxury brand, Lexus) have offices here.



Finally, if you are longing for something that isn't seafood, you can get a local specialty--Tebasaki-- which are chicken wings marinated in a sweet sauce with sesame seeds

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20. Board Game: Kanagawa [Average Rating:7.20 Overall Rank:524]
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Feb. 22 Takayama

Takayama is located in northern Gifu Prefecture.
I chose this area for a day trip, from Nagoya, because it is an example of a Japanese city that has retained much of its historical character in terms of architecture and lifestyle.


Tranquil Takayama

From Nagoya to Takayama: take the JR Hida limited express train (approximately 1 train every hour) for about 2 hours (one way); travel costs are covered by our rail pass.

It is most famous for the Sanno-machi Historic District and the biannual Takayama Festival, which has been designated as one of Japan’s most beautiful festivals. During the festival, intricately crafted festival floats are displayed in the city. The floats themselves are testament to the region’s history and are a chance to see the culmination of hundreds of years worth of artistry and craftsmanship.
The Takayama Festival is held in the spring and fall every year.


Sanno-machi District—yet another place where you’ll find good sake for sale




Takayama Festival

Every morning a farmer’s market is held along the Miya River and in front of Takayama Jinya. Local farmers and craftsmen sell everything from vegetables and pickles to carvings and clothes.


Good luck identifying some of these items.

There are many skiing resorts in the Takayama area, which are open during the winter months. The nearby mountains, such as Mt. Norikura are popular for sightseeing and trekking.
Additionally the World Heritage Site Shirakawa-go is just a 50 minute bus ride away.


Mt. Norikura


Shirakawa-go
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21. Board Game: Volcano [Average Rating:4.25 Unranked]
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Feb. 25 Morioka

As we near the end of this Virtual Vacation, we travel from far in the southern part of the main island to a more northern part of it.
Why Morioka? I wanted to go some place north of Tokyo, and Fukushima is too radioactive for my tastes.

To be honest, I was looking for a point partway between Tokyo and Sapporo, our final destination, so that actual (physical) travel time would be lessened. As it turns out, Morioka is 3 1/2 hours north of Tokyo by train but Sapporo is 9 hours north and, without a rail pass, it is more expensive than a 90-minute flight is.
There are multiple airline choices; Tokoyo to Sapporo one of Japan’s busiest air-routes.

So when I discovered that Morioka is a “sister city” to Victoria, in Canada, which is one of my favorite cities to visit in real life, that sealed the deal for me!


Morioka with Mount Iwate in the background

It is situated at the confluence of three rivers, the Kitakami, the Shizukuishi and the Nakatsu.
So it is actually a lot more like Pittsburgh than Victoria. shake
The Kitakami River is the fifth largest river in Japan, at 155 miles in length, and there are a few dams on it within Morioka itself that provide both hydroelectric power and irrigation (and flood) control to the city and river basin region.

Mount Iwate is a volcano (a “stratovolcano”, to be precise; a volcano built up of alternate layers of lava and ash.)

What else is there to see in Morioka?
Mitsuishi is a Shinto shrine which has three large rocks on the grounds with shackles around them to represent the story of 'Oni no tegata', which is a legend explaining the origin of the name of Iwate prefecture.
According to the legend, there was once a demon (Oni), who often tormented and harassed the local people. When the people prayed to the spirit of Mitsuishi for protection, the demon was immediately shackled to the rocks and made to promise never to trouble the people again. As a sign of this promise, the demon left a handprint on one of the rocks, thus giving rise to the name Iwate, literally meaning "rock hand".



One of the city’s notable tourist features is “Castle Park”, and it is here that I can understand the comparison with Victoria.


Victoria has the “Butchart Gardens”, Morioka has “Castle Park”

Also like Victoria, Morioka seems to be a fairly walkable city, if maps like this are to be believed:



Because we are “in” Morioka for 3 days, we could take a day-trip to the Geibikei Gorge—which is halfway between here and Sendai—and we can get some hiking and walking in there:


Better yet—you can go on a guided river tour of the Geibikei Gorge! Do a Google Image search and see for yourselves!
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22. Board Game: Japan Ranking! [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
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Feb. 28 Sapporo

Sapporo is the fourth largest city in Japan by population, and the largest city on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
It is also the final stop on our Virtual Vacation tour.


Sapporo in the winter


Sapporo in the summer. That is Odori Park (in both photos, obviously!)

If you check out the final entry on the "Japanese Fun Facts" entry (located just above the first travel list item for Tokyo), then you will see an image from the Olympic Winter Games, circa 1972. As you can see from the first city image, Sapporo is a city that embraces its northern latitude and its winter season. So the Olympics were a natural fit there.


The 1972 Winter Olympic Games were held in Sapporo

The city now hosts the annual Yuki Matsuri, internationally referred to as the Sapporo Snow Festival, which draws more than 2 million tourists from around the world.
Mostly because of the amazing snow and ice sculptures on display there.
Do yourself a favor and google image search "Sapporo Snow Festival". Holy cow!
Images like these:


wowcool

wow

The fun doesn't end at night. It just gets even better.
wowwow


Beer enthusiasts will know the name of the city from its most famous beer, also called “Sapporo”.
There also have a “beer history museum” at the brewery.


It is a 100% malt beer (lager).
Bottles and cans found in North America are brewed in Canada or the USA under licence (much like Guinness being sold somewhere other than Ireland/ the UK)


Here’s something different that you can do here: Visit the Shiroi Koibito Park Chocolate Factory!
http://www.shiroikoibitopark.jp/english/

There are plenty of opportunities to buy souveniers, including their famous white chocolate biscuits called shiroi koibito, which gets translated as “white sweetheart”.

You can even bake and decorate your own personalized 18cm heart-shaped cookie (for just under $10/ ¥972)


Depending on if you want to bake the cookie yourself, or just decorate one that is already made, the time required ranges from 30m to 1h20m

There is also entertainment, loads of shopping places & restaurants, a botanical garden, and the Nijo Public Market (featuring fresh seafood and other foods, as well as restaurants serving the same).


Susukino is the largest entertainment district north of Tokyo


(Public) Botanical garden at the Hokkaido University


Nijo Public Market—see also the photo below this one

Among the most popular menu items at Nijo Market for starting the day is the uni ikura donburi: sea urchin and salmon eggs on rice.
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