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Aichi Castles Chubu Japan

Nagoya Castle and Hommaru Palace

May 27, 2016

After destroying an entire tower with the flick of his tail, Godzilla approaches a tall, white building with full force. But then he stumbles and falls into instead, nonetheless sending it crashing to the ground. The target of the mon-star’s rage in this epic scene from Mothra v. Godzilla is, of course, the historic Nagoya Castle.

The smell of hot food and beer wafted up my nostrils. Having been lulled to a half-slumber by the chugging of the train, I opened one eye to find our new neighbours arranging their brunch on a drop-down tray. Behind us, a group of rowdy men were drinking away their hangover from the night before. I turned to Mark and we exchanged a look. Half annoyed and half amused, I turned up the volume on my phone, readjusted my ear buds and drifted off back to sleep.

It was on a journey much like this one that we had seen Nagoya Castle for the first time. The Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Tokyo blitzes straight through Aichi’s capital city. This time, we’d come from Osaka, taking a slower, cheaper route that snakes through the beautiful countryside of Mie prefecture. We were to spend three days of Golden Week exploring the heart of Japan.

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Chubu Japan Nagano

The Onsen-Bathing Monkeys of Yamanouchi

April 1, 2015

Because of Japan’s high volcanic activity, thousands of hot springs are scattered throughout the country. Locally known as onsen, the mineral-rich water is believed to cure a wide range of ailments and diseases, from muscle pain to diabetes. Bathing in onsen has been a part of Japanese culture for centuries, and more recently it has been adopted by another population: the wild macaques of Nagano prefecture.

The town of Yamanouchi is covered in snow for a full third of the year, making it the perfect location for Japan’s largest ski resort and dozens of indoor and open-air baths. It was in one of these open-air onsen that a very young monkey first learned to take a bath. The warm water was welcoming in the cold weather and other monkeys in his troop soon began to copy his behaviour.

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Chubu Japan Nagano Temples and Shrines

Zenko-ji Temple Nagano

March 30, 2015

“Oh this isn’t so bad,” I thought as we entered the tunnel. But as we walked further and further, the air became thick with black and eventually I couldn’t even see John in front of me anymore. My grip tightened around the edge of his jacket as he led us deeper into the darkness. I’m not a fan of not being able to see my own hand, but exploring a passage under the altar of one of the most famous temples in Japan is an experience I just couldn’t miss out on.

Nestled in the valley of Nagano city, against the backdrop of apple orchards and snow-capped mountains, Zenko-ji (善光寺) temple boasts a 1400-year history and an annual visitorship of 7 million. It is believed that if you visit the pilgrimage shrine just once in your lifetime, you will be granted salvation and passage into the afterlife.

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Chubu Japan Yamanashi

Lake Shoji: The hidden gem of Mt Fuji

May 17, 2014

Lake Shoji is a hidden gem at the base of Mt Fuji. The smallest of the Fuji Five lakes, it is beautifully quiet and serene, and completely removed from the rest of the bustling, touristy scene surrounding the famous volcano.

Almost untouched, the lake only has four hotels, 2 restaurants and a conbini. It’s hard to imagine why; it offers a completely unobstructed view of Mt Fuji, Mt. Omuro and Aokigahara forest.

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Chubu Hiking Japan Yamanashi

An afternoon in Aokigahara – Part 2

May 15, 2014

During Golden Week, John and I spent two nights on the smallest of the Fuji Five lakes. Lake Shoji faces Aokigahara, the notorious woodland that sprawls 30 square kilometers of Mt Fuji’s northwestern base. This is part two of our journey into Suicide Forest. Part one is here.

The cry stopped me in my tracks, shattering all the illusions about where we were. It was a man’s voice, and my mind instantly created a picture to match it; someone had jumped and realised too late that they didn’t want to hang.

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Chubu Hiking Japan Yamanashi

An afternoon in Aokigahara – Part 1

May 13, 2014

During Golden Week, John and I spent two nights on the smallest of the Fuji Five lakes. Lake Shoji faces Aokigahara, the notorious woodland that sprawls 30 square kilometers of Mt Fuji’s northwestern base. This is part one of our journey into Suicide Forest.

I’m not sure what I was expecting to see when John and I pulled up to the Saiko Bat Cave, but four busloads of schoolchildren wasn’t it. What I had pictured as a tiny building sitting on the edge of a misty forest, manned by a creepy old man selling tickets to an underwhelming cave in an attempt to distract visitors from the real horrors of Aokigahara was, by all accounts, false.

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