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Job 6: Interac

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 5, 2017

March 2015 – March 2017 

This is the continuation of the entries I did on the overseas jobs I’ve had. Previously I wrote about my time at GEOS, English Channel, SMOE, BFITS, and my time in the JET Programme.

Leaving for Interac’s Orientation

A Different Company

Before I even signed up with Interac, I knew this company was different from all the other companies I had worked for so far. First off, they do not pay for your flight to or from Japan. They give you nothing to cover moving expenses; not one red yen.

Let’s see, GEOS gave a contract ending bonus which paid for your flight home, assuming you completed the full year with GEOS. English Channel paid for your flight to South Korea up to $700 and there was a contract ending bonus. You got the $700 after working for English Channel for 6 months and the other bonus, you got after completing the contract. SMOE paid for your flight to Korea and back, up front. Plus, there was a yearly pay increase. BFITS did not pay for any travel expenses, but for every year you re-signed you got a raise. The JET Programme, like SMOE paid for your flight to Japan up front and your flight back. They also showed you how you could trade in your plane ticket for cash, if you wanted cash instead. With JET there was a raise for every year you re-signed too.

With Interac, you get nothing other than your paycheck. There are no travel expanses paid, no contract completion bonus, nothing. This would not be so bad, if Interac didn’t pay so little compare to all the other companies I worked for. But since I lived in Miyoshi, and Interac is the only game in town, my choice was Interac or nothing.

not bad

I was surprised when Interac put everyone up in a fancy hotel for orientation. I was half expecting to foot the bill for the accommodations, but no, Interac paid for it.

Orientation lasted a little less than a week. We started at 9:00 usually, and ended at 17:00. Then there were “optional” meetings we had to attend until about 22:00. This was to avoid having to pay us over time. If these extra meetings were officially mandatory, they would have to pay us. Making them “optional” made it legal for them not to pay us for it.

Honestly, I didn’t mind the extra meeting scam so much. They were, after all, paying for us to stay in a really nice hotel and everyone got their own room. I would much rather not get the extra pay than have to stay in a roach motel with a room mate.

One of my many schools

We were drilled in the arts of ESL lesson planning. It was quite boring for me because I have been doing this for years. But there were many new teachers to the game who just didn’t get it.

Interac made it as simple as they could. They showed us exactly what they wanted. For example, they would show us a game that we could play with our students to drill some new vocabulary like… days of the week. Then we were put into groups to demonstrate what we would do to drill some other new vocabulary, say… months of the year.

I would sit in my group as my team members would rack their brains to come up with some new and innovative game. Then I would say, “Why don’t we just do what they did, just swap out ‘days of the week’ for ‘months of the year'”. Since my suggestion would come when there were only a few seconds left, everyone would reluctantly agree.

All the other groups with their fancy ideas and convoluted instructions would get chastised. Their instructions would be too complicated. The activities required too much pretending for equipment and props that were not there. Then my group would come in and repeat exactly what the trainers had done, but with the new vocabulary. And the praises would pour in.

They kept telling us that no one was expected to reinvent the wheel, but a few people just didn’t get it.

Sports day

The job itself was easy. My coworkers were nice people and I got along with everyone. There were some schools that I liked more than others, but no school was so terrible that I would contemplate quitting.

They did pay for my train ride back to Miyoshi from training.

Tips for working at Interac:

  1. Always get it in writing. Follow up any phone call or conversation with an e-mail. That way you will have proof of what was agreed on.
  2. Don’t buy a bunch of stuff for your classes. Instead of laminating a bunch of flash cards for every lesson, get the plastic covers from Daiso. You can put stick-on magnets on the back and switch out the paper inside for each lesson. Also, every school has a stationary room where you can use markers, magnets, post-it notes. Just use what you need and don’t be wasteful.
  3. If you want credit for your good work, brag about it to the higher-ups at Interac. Send them an e-mail talking about what a great job you did helping out with your school’s speech contest. If you have a great lesson, post that thing online where your supervisor will see it!
  4. Don’t burn yourself out trying to be spectacular. The credit you do get when you do a great job is a flimsy certificate and a standing ovation. There is no monetary reward and there is little room for promotion.
  5. Don’t be afraid of being unoriginal. If another ALT tells you that she has a great lesson, ask her if you can straight up steal it and use it in your class. (I get all my fun lessons from Mark. Then I take full credit for it at my schools. The students and teachers think I am a Powerpoint Presentation game god!)
  6. Don’t forget you will get reduced pay for the months of April, May, September, and January. (You are actually only working about 10 months of the year at Interac.)
  7. Be careful when telling anyone at Interac your personal information. At meetings throughout the year the supervisors tell anecdotes and cautionary tales of ALTs. They try to keep the people in these stories anonymous, but many times they fail at this. There was one story about an ALT that got kanchoed so often by students that the ALT had to visit the doctor many times. While the ALT’s name was kept private, the ALT’s gender, nationality, prefecture, and last year of work with Interac were freely given. Then there was a time when one of the supervisors forgot which group of ALT’s had shown up for the meeting and proceeded to tell everyone about a silly ALT who had gotten in trouble with the BOE. The story stopped when some shocked people from the “silly ALT’s” town told the speaker that the “silly ALT” was sitting in the front row. “Oh,” the speaker said, “I thought that happened to someone working in another part of Japan.” If you get sick, Interac will happily share all the details they know about your illness with your schools, unless you specifically tell them not to. There is no expectation of privacy here. So, if you don’t want everyone in town and their moms to know you personal stuff, don’t tell Interac.

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Let’s Go Around the World, But First…

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 1, 2017

March 23rd – 30th, 2017

Mark and I were very busy during our final week in Japan. My last day of work was on Thursday the 23rd of March. The next day we went to the hospital to get some vaccinations. That took half a day. The shots themselves, four of them, took a few seconds to be administered with 4 hours of paperwork and preamble.

First we had to fill out some questionnaires that were completely in Japanese, but we were given a translator with an electronic dictionary in hand and another helper with a never-ending portfolio of forms to fill out. In situations like this you always hope that your answer is the sort with no follow-up questions.

“Have you ever had a heart attack?” the lady translated.

“No,” Mark and I said.

“No,” usually had no addition accompanying questions.

Then they asked, “Have you ever gotten sick after getting a vaccination?”

“No,” Mark replied. “Yes,” I answered. Mark looked at me with a “Now you’ve done it” stare. “Well, I have!” I told him.

When I was 16, I was enrolled in a Florida state high school. My mother had lost my immunization card, so we had no proof that I was vaccinated. Before I could attend classes, I had to get all my shots again. It took a few days as I got shot after shot after shot. It caused me to run a high fever. The doctor at the clinic said it was nothing to worry about; it happens sometimes. I was told to rest, which I did and after a few days I was fine.

“What shot was it?” the lady asked.

“I don’t remember. There were many. You know, the usual… for an American?”

Follow up questions came pouring in. “What year?” “How old were you?” “What it a combo shot?”

Mark looked at the paper. “Can she change it to, ‘no’ for that one and we just move on?” But the two hospital employees were deep into discussing what other questions I needed to be asked. They stopped some nurses who made the mistake of walking by at that very moment and dragged a few more questions for me out of them.

“Sorry,” I said to Mark. He just rubbed his eyes. “Just try to say, ‘no’ from now on. That’s the best answer.”

This is not actually City Hall; it’s the winery. I just assumed that you won’t care either way.

In the afternoon we stopped by City Hall. One cannot just pack up and leave Japan. First, one’s weight in paperwork must be filled out. We asked for the forms needed to leave Japan.

“When are you coming back?” the nice lady smiled and asked in Japanese.

“No.” My Japanese is not so good.

“No?” She was astonished. “You live in Japan now?”


“At which schools do you work?”

I listed my schools and Mark’s one school.

“And, you’re not coming back to work?”


She seemed to not be very satisfied with my answer. I turned to Mark and whispered, “They can’t refuse to let us leave, can they?”

The lady was carrying on a conversation with herself which I could not fully understand. She was definitely listing things. I got the dreaded feeling we would be there all afternoon. Another lady came by and led us to a cubical around the corner.

She asked us the same questions. “So, let me get this straight. You two, the both of you, are leaving Japan for good?”


“And you’re not coming back?”

“Yes.” Sometimes, you have to answer “yes” in Japanese when you would answer “no” in English.



“Never, ever?”


“For realses?”

“Yes. For realses.”

She asked us a couple more times. I think that she was not sure we understood Japanese too well. She might have just been checking so that the city hall workers weren’t starting our “leaving Japan” paperwork, only to find out what we really wanted were directions to the bathroom.

The weekend we packed and repacked our backpacks making them lighter with each re-pack.

We also started throwing away all of our possessions no one wanted to buy or take. This was a lot harder than you would think. Most of the difficulty had nothing to do with any emotional connections we felt towards our stuff. In Japan you can’t just throw something away.

There are color-coded bags that need to be used. Everything goes into some bag. You have to put everything in the right bag or the garbage man won’t take it… We actually had a Homer Simpson-like stand-off with the garbage men once, where they just refused to take our trash. Unlike Homer, it was not because of our stubbornness. We just had no idea what we were doing wrong.

Me: “Did they take the bag of glass bottles this time?”

Mark: “No. And, I don’t know why.”

Me: “Did you use a blue #4 bag?”

Mark: “Yes!”

Me: “Is there only glass in that bag? No plastic bottles posing as glass.”

Mark: “No. Those pesky plastic bottle didn’t get passed me this time.”

Me: “Did you wash all the glass bottles and remove all the labels?”

Mark: “We have the cleanest trash in this whole neighborhood!”

Me: “Did you put it out on the correct day?”

Mark: “Yes. The 3rd Wednesday of the month.”

Me: “And, you took the caps off and put them in either a blue and yellow #6 bag for soft plastic, a red #3 bag for hard plastic, or a different red #3 bag for metal?”

Mark: “Yes.”

Me: “I’m out of ideas…”

The problem was that Mark had the audacity to put clear glass bottles in the same blue #4 bag as green and brown glass bottles. If you ever hear of a Japanese person lighting his own house on fire, it might not be for insurance fraud purposes. He might just have gotten tired of sorting through the maze that is the recycling/ trash process in Japan.

Who will take our dead computers off our hands?

Adding to our stress was that on Sunday I came down with a really bad cold, then Mark caught it. We would get up, take some Day-quil. Pack. Nap. Take ibuprofen for our fevers. Throw away stuff. Nap. Take NyQuil. Throw more stuff away. Then fall asleep once the NyQuil kicked in.

On Monday we had to drive all the way down to Hiroshima City. My US driver’s license expires in April and I’m not too confident that I can get it renewed in the mail. I did all the paperwork and stuff, but I feel like something will go wrong. So I renewed my Japanese driver’s license, which expires in May, just in case. Mark and I also got international driver’s licenses for the trip.

By Wednesday evening we had a completely empty apartment. The gas man came over, gave us our last gas bill, and turned the gas off. The water man came by and did the same. The electric man also came by, collected the last payment, and told me to turn off the switch the next day before we left.

With no heaters in the apartment it was very cold. Mark and I walked to the nearest mall, which is also a community center, to waste some time and drink coffee. I felt ill at ease.

“I’m a bit nervous, but I don’t know why,” I told Mark. “I thought you would love not working for a year,” he teased. “Well, yes,” I said. “That’s the part I’m most looking forward to.”

I sighed, “Maybe it’s knowing that I will no longer have health insurance.”

“We HAVE health insurance; the travel insurance,” Mark corrected me.

“Then I don’t know what’s wrong. It’s not like I’ve never done something kind of like this before.”

Mark leaned in and asked, “Do you think something bad will happen?”

“I’m sure something bad will happen. Something bad always happens. But I think it will be more entertainingly bad that will make my blog more interesting and not some like, ‘And they were never heard from again Dot Dot Dot.’”

A little apprehensive.

“Well then just relax,” Mark said. “You’re on vacation.”

I tried. But, my stomach hurt.

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10 Things I Will Miss About Japan

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 30, 2017

  1. Conveyor Belt Sushi

They come in both the expensive and inexpensive varieties. Mark and I mainly stick to the more economical kaiten sushi places like, Hamazushi, Sushi Meijin, or Sushi Ro. They charge 100 yen (1USD) for a plate of sushi with 2 pieces of regular (or one sumptuous) cuts of sushi or rolls. I usually eat about 4 to 5 plates with a side or dessert. The cheaper restaurants also have special days for discounts. Hamazushi’s sushi plates costs 10 yen less on weekdays. Sushi Meijin gave women 10% off on Tuesdays. Although sushi is the main attraction, they also serve fries, ice cream, cakes, soups, salads, and other dishes.

  1. The Kei Car

It’s like driving half a car. They are not as fast, big, or powerful as regular cars, but they’re also not as expensive. Kei cars burn less gas. It costs less to drive a Kei car on a toll road. Both insurance and taxes for Kei cars are about half that of regular full-sized cars. There are also more parking spots around town for these smaller vehicles.

My first Kei car cost about $1,500. That price included all the taxes and both mandatory and optional insurance for a year. It didn’t have much power though. I would have to turn off the air conditioner when going uphill with more than two people in the car.

My second Kei was newer, cost about $2,500, and had a turbo something. (I don’t know that much about cars.) It had more power than my first Kei car, but it was still not as fast as other regular cars on the toll roads where you can drive faster than 80 kph. But in Japan, there are very few roads where you can drive that fast. The speed limit in and around town is about 50 to 60 kph, so it doesn’t matter that some cars can go 180 kph and mine can’t.

The only real reason to get a regular car over a Kei car, is if you have to drive around with several passengers. Kei cars can fit 2 adults comfortably, 3 adults less comfortably, and 4 adults uncomfortably. Four is the max capacity for most Kei cars. There is one make of Kei with 2 extra jump seats in the hatch-back trunk area. In general, no one ever wants to sit in a jump seat.

This happens so infrequently, we had to take a photo.

  1. Not pumping my own gas in the winter or summer

Self-service gas stations in Japan are not that common. When you find one, they seem a bit gimmicky, like a self-check-out aisle in the supermarket. Some people think that the self-service stations are cheaper, but I think it varies. The full-service place where I get my gas now, is on par with the self-service place I used when I lived in Okayama (and it comes with free stuff when you buy a pre-paid gas card).

In the winter I stay in my heated car as the gas attendant stands out in the cold pumping my gas. While he’s doing that, his co-worker cleans my windshield and mirrors. When I pay, they ask me for any trash I might have in my car that they could dump for me. This is the closest thing to a cleaning my car ever gets.

  1. Apples

Apples in Japan are just more delicious and apple-like. They only have Fuji apples, though.

  1. Calpis

It’s the drink with the funny name that also tastes kind of funny, but in a good way. If you’ve never had Calpis, let me explain the flavor this way:

Imagine you live in a little town or village somewhere. Your community doesn’t have a lot of things that most places in the world have, like pizza, the internet, newspapers, or milk. One day your neighbor, who spent a few weeks out in the world several years ago, sits by the big tree to regale the village with tales of the Outside. Everyone likes his stories so they sit at his feet to hear about ink pens, fax machines, and disco music. But, the most popular yarns are about milk.

“Tell us again about milk!” The townsfolk beg, almost whispering the word “milk” to show reverence. Everyone is fascinated about this white juice that doesn’t come from a fruit. “It feels like drinking something smooth and soft,” your neighbor tells everyone. “I would say it’s creamy, but I come from this milk-deprived village and know nothing about cream or creamy things. So I would say it’s not uncreamy because I know more about things that aren’t creamy.”

You go home and retell your neighbor’s stories to your mother who has never heard the tales before. She works in a lab and she is very curious about this “milk-juice”. She asks you to repeat everything you remember hearing about milk. She asks you, because she refuses to talk directly to the neighbor. She was engaged to him once and he stood her up on the wedding day. He ran off and went to the Outside and she has never spoken to him since.

After retelling your second-hand tales several times, your mom runs to her basement laboratory vowing that she will make this milk herself. After an hour she comes back with white-enough liquid that she added some ice cubes to. You taste it. It’s slightly too sweet, but it tastes like milk to you. You’ve never had milk, but you think this must be it.

That is what Calpis tastes like. It’s wonderful!

Salt, Denim, Sweet Potato, Gold Flakes

  1. Souvenir Ice Cream

I don’t see this as much I would like, but I’ve seen it enough times to look out for it. If you go to a town that is famous for strawberries, you will see someone selling strawberry ice cream. Of course that could just be a coincidence. But Mark and I have been to towns famous for figs and found fig ice cream. We went to an island that harvested salt, and the gift shop sold salt flavored ice cream. It was terrible!

I’ve had denim ice cream, in a denim manufacturing town, sake ice cream near a sake brewery, and asparagus ice cream near a farming village. The denim ice cream was actually ramune flavored but it had denim-blue food coloring and was sold next to The Gap.

Miyoshi is famous for its wine.

  1. Omiyage

In the states when your co-workers or friends go on vacation they will usually bring back souvenirs. They give out t-shirts, key chains, or post cards. When you get one you think, “Great, another refrigerator magnet…” In Japan the souvenirs are little cakes, cookies, or chocolates. They are either molded in the shape of some tourist attraction or have a picture of some attraction on it. Sometimes the omiyage tastes good, sometimes it tastes bad. Either way, it’s gone after two bites. You eat it and thank the person who gave it to you. And for that person, buying the omiyage was very easy. They sell boxes of the stuff at every souvenir shop and all rest stops on the toll roads. One box has anywhere from 10 to 50 little treats, so you don’t have to spend half your vacation wondering, “What should I get Kim from accounting?”

Cola & Soda KitKats

  1. Flavored KitKats

These are great. Even when they are awful, they are great. The best flavor I’ve had was sugar cookie. It had to be baked. The worst one was sweet bean cake flavored. I never found the illusive wasabi flavored ones.

His job is to protect Kobe.

  1. Everyone is so professional

At some point in time, you’ve probably needed someone somewhere to help only to find that they don’t want to. It has nothing to do with you personally. They just don’t care that much about their job and helping you is part of that job they care so little about.

This rarely happens in Japan. So many people in Japan take pride in their job no matter what that job is, whether they hate their job or not. Clerks at 7-Eleven are always well groomed and courteous. Bank tellers are happy to help you understand the Japanese on an ATM. Even full-service gas station attendants, after pumping your gas and cleaning your windows will put their lives on the line to stand out in traffic to stop cars so you can get back on the road.

No matter what question, problem, or complaint I have ever had, and no matter where I go for help, I have always been treated like my needs are very important. The people helping me have always been polite and friendly. This really helps when living in a country where I don’t speak or read the language very well.

  1. Daiso

This is the best dollar store in the world! (Though, it’s not quite a dollar store.) Most things at Daiso cost 100 yen which is roughly 1USD. This is the first place to go if you need kitchen supplies, stationary, and even electronic accessories. You need a cute box, preferably one with a cat’s face? Go to Daiso. Do you want an HDMI cable? Go to Daiso. A bicycle bell? Daiso! The only thing I would not recommend getting from Daiso is food, but only because the unit price makes the food from Daiso more expensive than the same thing at a grocery store. They sell, for example a one serving package of spaghetti at Daiso for 100 yen. At the local grocer’s, spaghetti is sold in 4 serving packs for 200 yen. If you just want to buy a small amount of something like, let’s say, umeboshi to try it. Then go to Daiso. If you like it, buy a bigger package of the stuff from the grocery store.

Posted in Japan | 1 Comment »

Time to Leave Japan

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 22, 2017

Mark at the airport last December

If you asked Mark or me last month what our plans for the next year were, we wouldn’t have been able to tell you. We wanted to leave Japan and travel the world, but we had been offered positions with the Yokohama branch of our company. Yokohama seemed like a fine city. It’s an hour train ride from Tokyo. This would have been a great place for us to live and explore the top half of Japan.

We waited for months for our new contracts and information about where exactly in Yokohama we would be placed. We wondered if we would teach elementary school, junior high, or high school. Would we be at one school, two schools, …thirty? Would we take the train to work or could we walk? Our future was very uncertain.

Our current contract was coming to an end and we needed to make a decision. Our choice was an “Around the World Trip” for a year or to work another year teaching at Japanese public schools. We put up dream destinations and exotic adventures as reasons to go then tried to counter argue for staying with the implied assumptions and maybes of the new Yokohama jobs.

With three weeks left in our current contracts, we made a firm decision to leave Japan. The unknown of the positions in Yokohama were no match for a year-long vacation. We emailed the branch in Yokohama and told them that we had changed our minds. Two days later, the contracts came in the mail. We did not look at them.

So with less than three weeks left in our contracts, we had to prepare to leave Japan, for good. We had to schedule the cancellation of our internet and utilities. Change addresses on credit cards and at banks. And, we almost drowned in massive amounts of paper work.

The hardest part, though, is getting rid of our stuff. I’m writing this on my second to last day of work. We leave Japan in a little over a week. And, even though Mark and I put nine 30-liter bags of clothing in the bin before heading off to work this very morning, there is still way too much stuff in our apartment.

We have already given away or sold some of our things. The bigger items, like our fridge and washing machine we still use, but we have buyers waiting in the wings. They will be taken away right before we leave. I don’t care about most of our things; they are just things. I’m taking my best coffee tumbler, throwing away the rest, and I don’t even care.

But some items we own, I have grown attached to, like our camping gear. We gave them to a friend of ours and his family. I know it sounds silly, but giving our camping stuff to a friend who we know will enjoy camping with them felt a lot better than selling them to some stranger or abandoning them at a dump site.

Last weekend Mark and I did a mock-packing. That’s where we pack our bags with what we think we need, then carry our backpacks around for 10 minutes or so to see how heavy they are. I had to pack and repack several times to lighten the load. I still need to get rid of more stuff.

At the start of the mock-packing, Mark was sure he didn’t “have that many clothes.” But after putting all the clothes in a “to pack” pile, “to mail” pile, or a “to dump” pile it was plain to see that this was not true. It was also very disconcerting for us to realize how many “favorite shirts” we have.

It’s a little harder for us than for most travelers. Usually people leave for trips with the intent of returning home. There is no need, no matter how much a traveler would want to, to take everything. But for us, what we don’t take, other than a few things we will mail home, we have to throw away.

Some of these things were hard to come by. I love Arm & Hammer toothpaste, which is not sold here in Japan. I order them online from Amazon and pay the extra shipping. I have 2 extra tubes of the stuff, which doesn’t seem like much. But my pack is too heavy and I need to take only the essentials. Toothpaste, which can be bought anywhere (as long as you care little for the brand), is not essential.

In December, Mark and I went back home to visit family. I did pack light, but still, I didn’t wear half the clothes I brought. That was not so bad for that trip. We drove in cars the whole time. Our flight cost the same whether we took 2 check-in suitcases each or 1 combined. (We actually took one suit case combined and 1 carry-on each.)

This time, taking thing A means leaving behind thing B. It would break my heart to take a shirt I never wear after throwing away a tube of my beloved toothpaste. (Yes, I love Arm & Hammer toothpaste that much!)

And it’s not just me. This is hitting Mark hard too. He’s the king of “favorite shirts” and “favorite shorts”. I asked him the past weekend how many shirts and shorts he packed. “I have 6 shorts and 12 shirts,” Mark told me.

“Are you planning on not doing laundry for a whole year?” I asked with as much snark as I could put in my voice.

“That’s not too much. I have plenty of space in my pack.”

“Do you have a towel?” I challenged him.


“Do you have shoes?”

“Those will be on my feet,” he answered confidently.

“What about your sleeping mat, your toiletries, your computer, camera, charger, smartphone,” I went on listing things I knew we had to take.

Mark looked at his pack. He had most of the things from the list, but they were sitting next to his pack, not in it. The pack was almost full and would not hold everything. “So, you’re saying I should start over with less clothes?”

I looked at my own backpack. It looked like it had just finished its Thanksgiving dinner and it was still missing many of the things I listed for Mark. “Yes. And, I think I do too.”

“How many shorts do you have?” he asked me.

“Four, but I think I’m going to get rid of one pair to make space for an extra tube of toothpaste…”

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Travel List Thursday: Oita Prefecture

Posted by Heliocentrism on December 1, 2016

Download PDF Version

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Proving Ground

Posted by Heliocentrism on November 13, 2016

Sunday. October 23, 2016

All Pictures

One day Mark and I were lazing around the house watching old videos of Community Channel on Youtube (because someone hadn’t uploaded any new videos in weeks), when we saw a Facebook post of a friend in town. “Enjoying all this festival food at Miyoshi Park,” said the caption under a photo of our friend biting into some meat on a stick.

“There’s a festival in town? Why didn’t anyone tell us about it?”

In about 10 minutes we were showered and dressed and heading out the door. From our apartment it’s a 15-minute drive to Miyoshi Park. At the park entrance there was a long line of cars waiting to be ushered into a parking space.

We parked our car and headed to the community center in the middle of Miyoshi Park. We hadn’t even stepped out of the crosswalk linking the parking lot and the walkway to the main building when we were approached by someone with brochures.


Mark managed to sneak away from the solicitation leaving me on my own to turn down whatever was being offered. I put up my hands and started waving them to say, “No, thanks.” Then another lady spoke up.

Words in Japanese Mazda test track and back to Japanese again.”

Surprised, I asked in Japanese, “Right now?”

“Schedule,” the lady told me, pointing to a list of times. Speaking in Japanese, she said, “The bus leaves from here.”

How much?” In Japanese I usually use one or two-word sentences.

It’s free,” she replied with a smile. Then she pointed to the path to the community center and said something. But I couldn’t understand anything more than “Go over there…”

I smiled and thanked the lady for the information. Then I ran to catch up with Mark.

“What do you think this festival is all about?” Mark asked me. Nearing the community center, I could see many flags. There was some sort of caricature of a sea captain on them, which is odd because Miyoshi is a land-locked town. There was some Hiragana writing which said “Miyoshi,” the name of our town, some Katakana which said, “Festival,” and some Kanji which probably explained the purpose of the festival. But my ability to read Kanji is very limited.

Behind the community center was an unpaved lot. There were many emergency workers in the center of the lot. There was a tent of soldiers showing off their Hummers and rescue equipment. There was a tent filled with smoke demonstrating how hard it is to see in a house that is on fire. firefighters were standing at the entrance of the tent beckoning to passersby to go through. This was clearly some sort of safety festival… perhaps.

There was a truck with a room set up inside it. The room had only 3 walls, so that festival goers could witness the spectacle. One family was asked to go in and sit around the table to a pretend dinner. As they talked and pretended to eat, someone flipped a switch to start the simulated earthquake. The family had to show what they would do in an earthquake.

Nearby there was a crane manned by the coast guard attached to a stretcher. The crane lifted the stretcher off the ground simulating a helicopter rescue. There was a little boy strapped into the stretcher with a big grin on his face. He was having the time of his life. There was a long line of other little boys and girls waiting for their turn to be “rescued”.

There were cops barefooted and walking on a tarp laid out on the ground. There were several lines of kids. The police officers where showing them how to get away from someone holding on to them.

Then, seemingly out of place, were a bunch of Mazdas. Most of the police cars, Hummers, and firetrucks had kids climbing in them and their parents taking photos. “Can we get into a Mazda?” we jokingly wondered.

A man walked towards us and asked us something in Japanese. All I could understand was, “What time?” “Testing track?” I asked the man.

“Hai. So desu.”

“14:00,” I told him.

He handed both Mark and me tickets that said 14:00 on them. Then he said some other stuff, but all I understood was, “Go over there.” But, this time I knew exactly what he meant. We would “go over there” near where we parked by 14:00.

There were people selling homemade crafts on the parameter of the unpaved lot. We walked over to them looking at stuff no one wanted to buy. It was hard to pay any attention to the craft tents because opposite them, in the middle of the lot were the rescue workers. Alarms were going off, kids were laughing, and demonstrations were given. The crafts tents just could not compete with all that. They should have asked to be placed next to a room of old ladies knitting.

We ran into my Japanese teacher. It’s been sometime since I took lessons, but we still hangout every once in a while. She greeted me very cheerfully. She was with a group of friends and couldn’t talk long. She pushed a pair of tickets in my hand.

“What’s this?”

“Tea ceremony tickets. It’s held inside the main building on the second floor.”


“Enjoy,” she said as she and her friends headed to the Hummers.

Mark took the tickets and inspected them. They cost about 350 Yen each. “She just gives you tickets?” he asked.

“She’s always giving me stuff. It’s like I have 100 birthdays.”

We looked at the time. It was 13:30. “The tea ceremony booth closes at 16:00. We better do this before we do the Mazda thing,” Mark said. Half an hour seemed like a good amount of time to do an informal tea ceremony at a festival and make it to the bus in time for 14:00.

We walked to the main building by way of passing the food stalls on the side of the building. We were not hungry; we were just looking. Then from out of one of the stalls popped a man who grabbed Mark by the arm.

“Hello my friend!”

Mark was caught off guard. People in Japan don’t just walk up to Mark and start speaking in English, so I figured that the man knew Mark. But, Mark seemed to be side stepping any formal introductions.

“He doesn’t remember who this man is,” I thought. “How is camping?” the man asked Mark. “Oh yes. Camping is fun,” Mark replied.

“This is yakisoba. You try.”

Mark felt bad enough about not remembering who the man was or where they met that he bought the yakisoba. Mark sat down at a bench ready to dive into his food. “He must be a teacher at one of my schools from last year or the year before that. But, if he’s a teacher, why is he peddling yakisoba?”

“Less talking and more eating,” I demanded. I wanted to get to the tea ceremony before we left.

A few minutes later we made it to the main building. There was more festival going on in there. Though, the theme inside was not safety like it was outside. The theme inside was commerce.

“Well, now I have no idea what this festival is about,” I said as I scratched my head. There were many booths set up in a grid inside the auditorium. On the parameter, people sold baked goods and treats. All of the interior booths had someone showing off some products for sale. It felt like walking into 1,000 infomercials.

We walked past a man hawking ShamWows and turned at a booth selling green smoothies that looked like swamp water. We walked by two competing cell phone companies that were trying to attract new customers by giving out those awful hard candies that only old people like.

I guess if you made the mistake of trying a sample of swamp water smoothies you would gladly take the offer of free candy. After clearly showing your lack of good judgement, you would be preyed upon by the cell phone people and end up going home with a phone plan you didn’t need or want.

We ran up the stairs and looked at the time. It was 13:45. Mark whispered to me, “You think they could do a 10 minute quick ceremony for us?” “No,” I looked at Mark appalled. “Tea ceremony is about the exact opposite of that. Everything is done slowly.”

We thought back to the last tea ceremony we did. A bunch of ALTs from Miyoshi were invited to a lovely house to be served tea by a tea ceremony tea master. It took at least an hour.

“Well,” Mark reasoned, “This is a festival. This can’t be meant to last for hours. We’ll stay for as long as we can.” Then he whispered, “We’ll stay for 8 minutes then slip out like we would from church.”

I handed our tickets to a lady in a fancy kimono. She bowed and showed us to a padded bench. I was grateful to not have to sit on my heels, a position I can only hold for a few seconds.

We were given beautiful sweets that, as usual, tasted too sweet. Then we were served thick green tea from tea cups that looked like small bowls. As we drank we watched a man teach his student how to serve tea. She was practicing opening the lid of the tea container over and over again.

I sipped my tea and watched the lesson. I leaned over to Mark, “She’ll never get around to making tea at this rate.” “Less talking, more drinking,” Mark responded. I looked at Mark’s bowl. It was empty.

“Did you drink all of this in one gulp?”

“I don’t mess around!”

I sipped at my tea as fast as I could. It was still very hot. Mark looked at the time and fidgeted impatiently. Another kimonoed lady came by with a tray to take our cups. I quickly finished my drink and placed my cup on the tray next to Mark’s.

Then we sat there awkwardly wanting to go, but not sure how to do that without being completely rude. After a few minutes a family was ushered to the bench next to ours. As the ladies fussed over them getting them sweets and tea, there was a perfect moment when both the student and the teacher were looking down and the two ladies had their backs to us. We seized the moment and quietly slipped away like ghosts.

We ran down the path to the bus. We were the last people to get on, but we were in time. The bus sat there for about 5 minutes before firing up the engine and setting off for the Mazda Proving Grounds.

Shortly after moving to Miyoshi we found out that there was a test track in town where Mazda puts their cars through their paces. Whenever I drive past the Mazda gate, I try to peek in. There are guards at all the gates with very high walls and it’s fenced all around. Until this day, I was not entirely sure how big the Mazda Proving Ground was.

At the front of the bus a lady in a suit gave the passengers information about the testing facilities. It was all in Japanese, so I couldn’t understand most of it. Then a man sitting in the row in front of mine turned around and asked in English if I understood what she said. “She said she can’t paint a picture… I think,” I answered the man. That didn’t really make any sense to me.

He smiled and corrected me. “She said you can’t take photos during the tour. But, when they stop the bus you can take photos if you like.”


“If you want, I can translate for you when you don’t know what she says.”

“Yes, please,” I told him. Then throughout the tour he would turn around and whisper the important and interesting facts the lady told everyone.

We drove over many of the test tracks. There were roads that simulated various real world driving conditions. There were roads with potholes, roads with bumps, roads made of dirt. They had roads made with cement and ones made with tar.

We made a turn and everyone wooed and awed. “The bus driver doesn’t turn here. This is an American turn. The road tilts so the bus driver can go straight. The road turns the bus,” Our new friend told us. I learned quickly that Japanese roads lacked this feature. Exiting from a Japanese freeway requires sudden deceleration to avoid everything in the car pitching to one side. The road does not bank enough to give a driver time to slow down without sickening amounts of inertia. It’s a rather disturbing experience for the uninitiated.

We drove on several types of American-styled paved roads. When the bus drove over the segmented cement road, everyone laughed at the clicking clacking sound the bus made. Then we tried a French road along with a German one.

Then we drove on a Belgian road. The guide said that unlike the American, French, and German roads that were made here in Japan using the same methods as in those countries, the Belgian roads were made in Belgium. In fact there were actually Belgian roads that honest-to-god Belgians drove on. Mazda ripped it up piece by piece, numbering each section as they went. Then shipped it to Japan and reassembled it at the testing facility. It was very expensive.

The Belgians roads were not smooth at all. Honestly, I could feel no discernible difference between the German, French, and American black top roads. (The America cement road clearly caused the clicking-clacking sound.) The Belgium road felt like a bad massage. It was a terrible road.

We drove passed a track with a very steep bank. A car would have to go very fast on a turn to stay on that track. Then the lady announced that the bus driver wanted to try it out… with this bus. I was wary.

I didn’t know this bus driver. I didn’t know how skilled of a driver he was. I buckled my seat belt and hoped he knew what he was doing. The driver accelerated the bus in the furthest left lane. It was a big bus filled with lots of people so it took some time to build up speed. This did not instill my confidence in the plan.

Eventually we got up to a speed fast enough that the driver could switch to a middle lane and then the most right lane with the almost vertical bank. We were flying around the corner. It was disconcerting looking out the windows and seeing sky on one side and black top on the other, all while still being in a big ungainly bus that would normally never go over 80 kph.

I did want to try out this test track and this steep bank in particular. I just wanted to do it in a sports car, something small or sleek. A cool muscle car maybe? Not a bus.

The bus stopped at another curve. We were all let out to inspect the steep bank ourselves. Many people tried to cross the road. Once you passed the second lane, the crossing became exponentially difficult. Once on the other side, people had to hold onto the guard rails to stay up there.

Everyone took as many photos as they could before getting back on the bus. We were then taken to more tracks that simulated various driving conditions. We drove past the crash testing area and a parking lot for new cars waiting to be tested. There were either no prototype cars for us to see or they were kept in doors in the aerodynamics lab building.

The proving ground was a lot bigger than I thought it was. The whole tour took roughly two hours from pick up to drop off. There were more roads, lots, lakes, and buildings than I thought were behind any of those gates.

5,000 Candles in the Wind

I still have no idea what the overall theme of the festival was, but I enjoyed it.

All Pictures


How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.







  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • International ATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask what ATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Miyoshi Mazda Proving Ground
(Matsuda Miyoshi Shikenjō)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°47’49.4″N 132°51’56.0″E


  • 551 Higashisakeyamachi, Miyoshi, Hiroshima Prefecture 728-0023





  • Unless you get a job here or you’re on a tour, there is no entering the facilities.



Posted in Hiroshima 県, Honshū, Japan, Miyoshi 市 | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Looking for Mt. Ozuchi

Posted by Heliocentrism on November 6, 2016

Saturday, October 8th, 10th, and 22nd, 2016

All Pictures

Having so much fun “hiking” up Mt. Sanbe and Mt. Misen, I decided to try some real hiking. I would go up the little mountain that the Koriyama Castle Ruins sits on and the baby mountain that is Mt. Ozuchi. Mark was out of town so this would also be a solo hiking trip. While doing research on the trails and just hiking in general, I found out that hiking rule number one is NEVER HIKE ALONE.

But… These weren’t big hikes. I would totally stick to the trail. And I would bring my cell phone with me (a thing I am famous for not doing). Plus I would let someone know where I was going, when I was going to be there, and when I got back. Okay, I forgot to do that last thing. No one knew what I was doing , when I was doing it, or that I got back okay.

I’ll just pick up an English guide. No English guide? Well, I’ll just look at the pictures.

I got to the parking lot of the Koriyama Castle Ruins. I found a post with some guide books inside. I picked up several booklets looking for one in English. Finding none I put all the booklets back and walked to the entrance.

What are you trying to say?

At the entrance to the trail I found a “Do Not” sign under the torii. I can’t read Kanji and I had no idea what the sign said. I stood in front of the torii thinking about what the sign was trying to tell me.

I could tell, from the last line, that the sign was put here by the city of Akitakata. One of the Kanji in the second line could also be found on stop-signs. But that kanji could also mean, “don’t” or “stand”. So the sign could mean, “Don’t Enter”, “Don’t Litter”, “Don’t Leave the Trail”, or “Don’t Enter without Standing and Admiring this Awesome Torri first”.

I figured that if they didn’t want me to enter, they would have put a chain gate across the path. They would have also not had free hiking guides. If the sign was about littering, there would have been a picture of a silhouetted person next to a train can. So, maybe it said something about not leaving the trail.

I looked around for other hikers to see if the sign turned any of them away. My car was the only one in the parking lot. There were only 6 or so parking spaces. I was all alone. I turned back to get a guide booklet. Even though I couldn’t read it, the guide had lots of photos of things to see along the trail. That would at least help me know where I was.

It is kind of spooky being the only person on a hiking trail. I knew I was hiking alone, as in I brought no one with me, but I didn’t think that I would be alone on the trail, just me and the bears. I passed a cemetery which only added to the creepiness.

This must be were all the forest folk hang out.

Twenty minutes into the hike and I found some moss-covered ruins. This moss gave the area a carpeted look. It was so beautiful. I walked around taking photos without having to wait for other hikers to move out of my shot. I took this as a sign of more picturesque things to come.

Suddenly hiking alone didn’t seem like such a potentially bad idea.

I continued along the trail to head up the mountain and bumped into these two signs. I’m not sure what the second one is all about. “Snakes in this forest love teddy bears. Wild boars love ladybugs. Monkeys have clean faces. And, deer love green tea.” That sign made no sense to me on any level.

The first sign, however, was very clear. “Watch out for pit vipers.” I have been bitten by a pit viper once already. It was not in anyway fun. It was very painful and I lost my vision. For about two months I could not read or ride in a car without wanting to throw up.

I started to wonder what I would do if I got bitten by another mamushi, the type of pit viper from the sign. I’ve had several people tell me that one cannot survive a second pit viper bite. I don’t know how true that is. But then I saw this…

Another pretty thing in the forest, pushed thoughts of snake bites aside. I would just watch my steps, keeping an eye out for snakes and other wild life. I headed up the trail hoping for more great photos.

I should have just stopped near the mamushi sign. There was nothing of interest further on the trail. I spent 30 minutes climbing up to the top. The ruins of the castle on the peak were a rock here and a rock there. Plus there was no summit view. There was no clearing at the top to look out from.

I’m sure this is important somehow.

I did manage to find 2 snakes. One was very tiny. I thought it was a worm at first. It was kind of cute. The next one, I found when I was about to go off the trail to see if I could get a view of the city. I was about to step over a pile of leaves when something moved from under those leaves. Out popped a full-grown mamushi.

“Nope, nope. Nope, nope, nope!”

I headed back down the mountain watching every step with heighten vigilance. I was the only person on this mountain. There was no relying on kind hikers to find me or by snake bitten body.

This seems simple enough

Next I drove to the base of Ozuchiyama. I parked my car at, what I think is, an abandoned campsite and followed the trail. The hike to the top of Mt. Kori and back took about an hour total; it was around 11:00 in the morning when I started this new hike.

Something about this trail made me think that not too many people hike up this mountain. But as long as there was a clear  trail I would climb over fallen trees and keep going further. After 30 minutes of hiking I got to the first reference point, the Takamagahara shrine.

As I came out of the forest, to start my climb to the yellow torii on the hill, I found a startle buck. I looked at him and he looked at me. I thought, “One of us should be running away from the other. I hope it’s not up to me; I’m tired.” After a few seconds of this stare down, I pulled out my camera. The deer was a little camera-shy and ran away before I could take his photo.

Many times on a hiking trail, I would come across hikers with bells tied to their bags. I found these people to be very annoying. The bells can be heard even when the hikers are far away. When hiking with a person like this 15 minutes away it can disrupt a quiet peaceful hike for hours.

But at this moment, I understood what the bells are for and I wish I had one. If I were hiking with someone I would be talking with that person. Our voices would alert us to nearby wild life who would keep away. But, hiking alone, I was too quiet.

I tried to make noise. I started talking to myself, but that felt too weird. Without thinking about it, I went from shouting to whispering within a few sentences. I started to clap. I would clap every now and then on the trail for the rest of the day.

After the shrine I followed the sign back to the trail of Mt. Ozuchi. The trail was literally a long mound of dirt that had trail markers and pink ribbons to show the way. I walked for about 20 minutes on the mound trail when I found the next reference point, the turn near a water shed.

You can’t really see what type of water shed it is. There is just a sign for the trail pointing left, a bend in the mound of dirt I was following, and a tiny sign on the ground with the Kanji for water on it.

I kept on keeping on. This time, I had to walk next to the mound instead of on it. There were trees growing on the mound, but there was a somewhat clear path next to it.

Well, there was, until there wasn’t.

There was no easily seen trail anymore. I only knew I was still on the path when I found markers, like the one in the photo above or a tree with a pink ribbon around it. When I had gone about 5 minutes without seeing a marker I looked around for one. I felt like I was just walking aimlessly in the woods. It was too easy for me to leave the trail  and not realize it at this point. I headed back to my car. I would come back when I found a better trail to the top of this mountain.

That night I found a new trail. There was a blogging hiker who made a drawing of the trail. From the drawing I learned that not only was there another way up the mountain, but I could drive to the hill-top shrine. It was a 3-day weekend, so I spent Sunday resting up and tried the hike again on Monday.

That Monday, I parked my car near where the smaller car on the drawing is placed and tried once again to get to the summit.

The trail was fine for walking. Most of it was black top that had been reclaimed by the forest. Everything was going well until I came to a fork in the road. “Which way should I go?” The drawn map didn’t mention anything about trail options. It looked like there was only one path to the top.

I picked the way that looked less jungly. I happily walked up the mountain contented that I had made the right decision. Then it happened again; another fork. I chose one at random then made an arrow in the ground with my foot to mark where I had come from. I continued my hike until the trail just ended into untamed forest.

I turned around and walked back looking for the dirt arrow on the ground. Then I went on the other path. It too didn’t go anywhere. I found my arrow again and went back down to the first fork then up the other path.

This time the way looked promising. The trail even opened up a bit like it was expecting lots of hikers to come this way. It zigged and zagged like one would expect a mountain trail to. I  looked at my watch; I had been hiking for about 2 hours and at least one hour on this specific trail. Surely, I was near the top.

I came to another disheartening fork. I had to choose which way to go. I looked at both my options. Then I saw something familiar. “Damn it! Is that my dirt arrow?”


I was defeated for the day. I did not want to keep going in circles. I would try again, but I would take Mark with me. That way, if I died lost in the forest, I wouldn’t die alone.

So that the day wouldn’t be a total loss, I when back to the Takamagahara shrine and ate my lunch. As I sat there eating what was supposed to be my celebratory apple, I noticed that I could see the tower at the top of the mountain I could not find.

Twelve days later on a foggy Saturday Mark and I set out for the summit of this stupid frustrating mountain. We drove to the bottom of the hill the shrine sits on and climb to the top. It was a 5 minute hike and at the top, Mark took out his apple and was about to bite into it.

“Stop! What are you doing?”

“I’m eating my celebratory apple.”

“But you haven’t done anything.”

“We’re here, right?”

I turn around and pointed to the tower on the top of Mt. Ozuchi. “That’s where we’re going.”

Mark was not happy.

I took Mark to where I had lost the trail the first time. I also brought with me a picture by picture view of the trail posted online by some Japanese blogging hikers.

With two people looking out for trail markers we easily stayed on the trail. The pictures help a great deal because there are times when the trail doesn’t look like a trail at all.

There is a section where the trail is right next to a fence giving hikers very little space to move. I would have thought that I lost the trail, but according to the Japanese hiking bloggers that’s the way to go.

There were a couple times when the thought of turning around danced in my head. But that started about 1.5 hours into the hike. I also knew that there was another way to get from the summit back to our car. So, overall, pressing forward was the better alternative to turning back.

We kept on the path looking out for a faded sign pointing the way to Buddha rock, a monolith in the forest erected for some reason. When we found the sign it ambiguously pointed to a clearing off the trail. The sign looked like it had been there for a long time. Who knows if it was even still pointing to its intended direction? But we knew we were on the right trail and that the path to Buddha Rock was somewhere to the left.

We went left and couldn’t find a thing. There was no path. Mark thought he saw a monolith and ran down to check it out, but it was just some other huge rock.

I walked around until I found a tree with a pink ribbon. “Hey Mark, I found something!” The pink ribbon led to another pink ribbon and another that led to a rope. I held on to the rope and climbed down the step path.

From Buddha Rock it looks like you are in the middle of thick forest. There is no evidence of any hiking trails or civilization near by. If you stand still and are absolutely quiet, you can hear nothing but the faint forest noises. It’s very creepy.

“Do you think there are any Totoros around, Mark?”

“No. I think they only live in forests in Miyazaki Prefecture.”

It’s that fog that turns people inside-out

Once back on the trail, the tower was only 10 minutes away. We found it and walked past it. The trail picks up on the other side of the tower. We started to walk along the black top road near the tower, when I noticed the bloggers in the photos were not on a paved road. We went back to the tower and walked along its fence to get back on the trail.

We found Kuguriiwa, Passable Stones. Supposedly, even though the gap is very tiny, a full-grown human should be able to fit in the passage. My 5’9″ frame could not. But, the hiking bloggers could.

Then Mark tried his hand at Nariiwa, Sounding Stone. Nariiwa is the stone caught in a gap. It is said that if you can move it and get the stone to make a noise in so doing, you will have happiness. Mark tried with no luck. But, Mark seemed pretty happy just trying.

The top of Kuguriiwa was the highest point on our hike, so we sat down and ate our celebratory apples. Then is started to rain, so we got down and looked for the other trail down the mountain.

This is where it would have helped if I could read Japanese. There is a written explanation on how to find the other trail down Mt. Ozuchi given by the hiking bloggers, but no pictures. There was a sign, but we could not find that particular sign.

Mark was so convinced that the black top road we almost took earlier was the way down, I just followed him. I didn’t think it was right, but he was so sure, I second guessed myself. Besides, walking on black top is so much easier than walking on the obstacle filled path.  That’s when we found the Bear.

On our walk down the mountain we spotted a blue truck. Then we found a man working in a machine moving giant mounds of dirt around. We were going to just walk pass him with a simple, “Kanichiwa!” But, he seemed so surprised to see us.

He stopped us and asked us where we had come from. “Ozuchiyama,” I told him. He still acted like we had just materialized right before his eyes. I pointed down the road we were on and asked, “Takamagahara?” I wanted to know for sure if this road would take us to the shrine near where we parked our car.

He had never heard of it. I showed him my map and then the pictures of the blogging hikers. He kept shaking his head. “Oh well,” I thought. I told Mark that we should just keep heading down the mountain and hope for the best. Surely, this road would lead to our car eventually.

The man would not let us go though. He got out of his dirt-mover and started his blue truck. He called for us to join him inside. We didn’t want to bother him or waste his time. A part of us wanted to tell him, “It’s okay. We’ll figure it out.” But, it was cold and rainy and we were very tired from all that hiking.

He drove us down the mountain partway. Then we stopped and changed vehicles. We drove the rest of the way in a black kei-car. The drive down the mountain was long and arduous. I don’t think Mark and I would have made it off the mountain by nightfall if we had kept walking.

The road dumped us out at some random place in town that I did not recognize. We hit a main road that looked sort of familiar. Then we passed a turn that I thought was the way we took to drive to the shrine, but I was not sure.

The man took us to a lady’s house. She had an i-Pad and looked up this shrine we told the man about. She had never heard of it either. Sure enough, there was a shrine called Takamagahara up in the mountain. “Well, I’ll be!” the man said in Japanese. He spent another 10 minutes looking for a road to get us to our car.

“He is a kind man,” the lady told me. “He is,” I agreed. “Do you know his name?” She asked me.

“No. I don’t know.”

She told me his name and she added “Kumoyama”. She switched to English. “Nickname… Mountain Bear.” She smiled and put her hands up curling her fingers imitating a bear. She laughed, “Nice Bear.”

After driving around some more, we came to a place I recognized. I gave the Mountain Bear directions and he took us to our car. Mark and I were very lucky to find this Bear on the mountain.

All Pictures


How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.







  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • International ATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask what ATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Koriyama Castle Ruins
(Yoshida Kōriyama Jōato)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°40’24.9″N 132°42’34.3″E


  • 〒731-0501 広島県安芸高田市吉田町吉田郡山


  • 0826-42-0070



  • Free


  • 9:00 – 17:00
  • Closed Monday


  • There are free guide maps available in the little hut. (Picture to the right.) The information is all in Japanese, but it comes with pictures of stuff to look out for.


How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°38’31.6″N 132°46’07.2″E


  • 〒739-1102, Kodacho Kamiobara, Akitakata, Hiroshima Prefecture 739-1102



  • Free


  • 24hours


  • Gods are said to descend from heaven to this place.


How to get there:

  • Coordinates:
    • Campsite parking 34°38’31.9″N 132°45’41.0″E
    • Parking near the Shrine 34°38’31.6″N 132°46’07.2″E



  • Free


  • 24 Hours
  • Can, but shouldn’t hiking here at night.


  • I rate this hiking 3 out of 10. I don’t recommend this hiking.


Posted in Akitakata 市, Hiroshima 市, Honshū, Japan | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Heliocentrism on October 30, 2016

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

All Pictures

Mark and I had so much fun hiking up Mt. Sanbe (with the help of a chair lift) that we did it again a few days later. Wouldn’t you know it? There are a few other mountains in Hiroshima prefecture with a ropeway or ski lift ride close to the top. Mt. Misen is one of them.

Mt. Misen is on Miyajima, that island that people think about when they think about Hiroshima. Well, people who aren’t from Hiroshima. When a Hiroshiman thinks about Hiroshima, they think of the Carp. (Did I ever mention how much I hate baseball?)

Mark and I have been to Miyajima once before. We went there on a New Year’s Day when our friend Tom visited us. New Year’s Day is not a day for sightseeing near shrines or temples, especially if one is not Buddhist or Shinto.

We spent the whole day being forced into one line after another. The crowds were so massive and so determined on its path. There was no way to go against the tide once we were sucked in. We just had to follow the crowd until everyone disbursed.

Not much of a crowd because someone scares many of them away.

This day, there was still a crowd, but a manageable one. It was too small to kidnap anyone. You could still flow with the crowd if that’s what you’re into, but there was freedom to move independently.

It looks like it came from Miyajima.

We ate before buying our tickets to the island. “Last time we ate at some restaurant I didn’t like and we paid way too much for our meals,” Mark complained. So we ate at a diner in the building with the souvenir shop.

Once on the island we were scandalized by the exorbitant meal prices. We joked, “Plain soba noodles for 1,600 yen and it only comes with one jumbo prawn! Is that prawn battered in gold?” We did waste our money on some overpriced maple leaf shaped, cheese flavored fish cakes. How could we not? We were on Miyajima. They were delicious, by the way.

As a side note, if you are ever on Miyajima and you don’t want an unreasonably priced meal, move away from the main street. Get away from all the tourists and move more inland. Even going closer to the 5-Story Pagoda, you’ll find 800 yen ramen, which is about how much ramen would cost in most ramen shops.

The first thing we saw was the giant rice paddle. It’s the biggest rice paddle in the world, which is easy to believe. Asia for one, is the only part of the world that uses a special utensil for serving rice. So, you’re not going to find too many rice paddles, big or small in places like Europe or Africa. Second, I’ve been all over Asia and I have never seen a bigger rice paddle. So that proves it.

Should I go for a goofy smile or a nice smile? Damn it!

We walked on over to the 5-Story Pagoda. It was a fine pagoda. We took lots of photos and thought about going inside the temple next to it. Toyokuni Shrine was filled with pious looking Buddhists. Because of me being a camera wielding tourist, I didn’t think I should enter and disturb their worship. Mark and I only looked at the numerous tatami mats and moved on.

We walked up the hill to wait for the free shuttle to the Miyajima Ropeway. As we got there a shuttle was just leaving. There was a 20 minute wait for the next one. Since the walk was only 15 minutes, we walked.

The path led through Momijidani Park and across Red Bridge. It was a beautiful walk. It must be especially scenic during spring and autumn.

When we got to the Momijidani Ropeway Station, Mark moaned about the price for 2 round trip tickets. “Mt. Sanbe only costs $12 for two people. This is almost $40!”

“Well, this is a lot bigger than Sanbe,” I tried to explain. We paid for two tickets since neither of us wanted to do a 2 hour hike.

Once in the ropeway car, we both realized that the ropeway ticket was worth every yen. The ride took about 15 minutes with a short stop in the middle to change gondolas. “There is no way we would have made it up this mountain without this ropeway car,” I said. “Look,” I pointed out the window. “That’s where I would have given up and turned back around.”

From the Shishiiwa Ropeway Station near the top of Mt. Misen we took in a quick look from the Shishiiwa Observation point. “Very nice,” Mark said, “But where’s the magic stuff I was promised?”

I handed Mark the brochures I had collected. It had a list of all the power spots on Mt. Misen and what to do there. All the spots required a hike further up the mountain. “Why can’t Buddhists have magical rocks and stuff at sea level?” I asked Mark. “I think the lack of oxygen up in the mountains is what makes the magic,” he answered. That seemed about right.

We climbed down from the Shishiiwa Observation point and passed the ropeway station again. We found a sign pointing to the second floor of the ropeway station for “Fire of Oath”. “Let’s make an oath!” Mark shouted.

“I don’t know,” I said hesitantly. “I married you and all, but a Fire Oath seems quite serious. I don’t know if I’m ready for that level of commitment.”

There was an unlit lantern sitting on a long column. Across from it was a stand for cameras and smart phones. I put my camera on the stand and set the timer. Then Mark and I stood by the lantern and posed. The photo was taken but something felt off.

“Where’s the flame?” Mark asked looking around.


“We are trying to take a fire oath, but where is the fire?” Mark looked around the column and found the buttons. “Oh, here it is,” he said answering his own question. “We both have to press these buttons.” We did and the lantern was lit. We took another photo and made a fir oath, whatever that means…

Some Jizos are just too cool for school.

We hiked up the mountain to find a flame that has been burning for 1,200 years. We found a sign to put us in the right direction and set off. After a few minutes of walking we got to a spot where the real hikers meet the ropeway passengers.

They all looked so tired and sweaty. We over heard a conversation between a mother and daughter. “No. No. You go on. I think I’m done hiking for the day,” the mom said.

“Are you sure, mom?”

“Yes. I’ll just sit here and wait for you to get back. Maybe by then my shirt will be dry.”

“What a shame,” I thought. “The best parts of this mountain are past the spot where the mom gave up. They should have taken the ropeway…”

About 10 minutes after leaving the mom behind we got to Reika-do and its eternal flame that was used to light the Flame of Peace in Hiroshima Peace Park. Supposedly, water boiled with the eternal flame cures all diseases. I looked for someone selling boiled water.

There was an old man selling green tea. There was no indication that the tea was made with magic water. I thought about buying the tea anyway and just saying it was made with magic water. I don’t really believe in the water’s healing properties, I just love a good tale. But, when I walked over to him, I saw that the tea was all sold out.

There was a sign that stated that this was the last opportunity near the summit to buy water. “Does water bought from a vending machine next to the temple of the eternal flame cure anything?” I asked Mark.

“Umm… Thirst?”

At the time, I was suffering from thirst. So I bought a bottle and guess what… Cured!

We went back on the trail to the summit and passed our next magic spot. Sankido is a temple where people worship a type of demon called a Tengu. Well, sometimes he’s called a demon and other times he is referred to as “a long-nosed goblin”. He is said to keep the mountain safe. Some claim that he is the one making noises like that of wooden clappers at night near the summit which frightens overnight hikers. He keeps the mountain safe, not necessarily the humans on the mountain.

At Sankido, the only place in Japan where people openly worship a demon, you can pray to the Mt. Misen demon-goblin. He’ll help you with success in business and happiness in family matters. I don’t know if he does this by making clapping noises.

Next we passed Kannondo and Monjudo where, according to our brochure, people pray for, “safe delivery and success in school”. I don’t know what “safe delivery” means here. I can hardly expect to see a pregnant woman hiking up here to pray for a safe delivery. But I also can’t imagine anyone feeling overly concern about an Amazon.com package and running up Mt. Misen to cover all bases. Either way, Mark and I asked for “safe delivery” so, hopefully we’ll have a year where everything arrives in the mail on-time and in pristine condition.

We stopped for photos at Kanamn Iwa or Ebb & Flow rock. It’s a rock with water in it. The level of this water changes with the tide. We looked at the water wondering if we should touch it. “It doesn’t exactly look clean,” I said adding, “What if this is that demon-goblin’s drinking water. He’ll probably get mad if we stick our hand in it.” We left the water unmolested.

We took a long time getting to the summit from that point. Mark took photo after photo and then took some more photos. “Didn’t you already take a photo of that rock?” I asked snarkily.

“Yes, but not from this angle.” He seemed completely unaware of my impatience. He took a million more photos of that rock then moved on to the adjacent rock.

“This is the sort of thing that would piss off a mountain goblin!” I told Mark.

“What’s that?” He hadn’t heard me. He stopped taking photos and looked up at me.

“Oh, good. You’re done. Let’s go to the top.”

“I got another apple for hiking.” – Mark

At the top was a rest area. There were 3 tiers. The first level had bathrooms. The second level had tatami seating, shade, and a view. This would have been a great place to take a nap, but we were not that tired; a benefit of taking the ropeway up. The top level had pretty much the same view as the second, only slightly higher up and with the full glare of the sun. We sat at the second level until we couldn’t stand the view any more.

From there we headed down, but by a path different from the one we came up. We passed a rock shaped like a boat and another rock that gives scabies to some and cures scabies in others.

We stopped at Mizukake-Jizo to pour water on some Jizo statues. They are supposed to give you children when you do this. Where the statues get these kids to give you, I’m not sure.

We stood in front of the statues not knowing what to do. “Were we supposed to bring our own water?” Mark asked. I looked at my water bottle; it was almost empty.

Then a couple showed up. They looked like they would know what to do so we stepped out of their way. The lady reached to the side and picked up a ladle. Then she scooped up some water from a ditch to the right. She poured water on the Jizo statues and said some words in Japanese. Her partner did the same.

Once they were gone we copied them. Mark took a photo of me pouring water. “Would you like me to take a photo of the two of you?” I was startled to hear English even though Miyajima is overrun with tourists. “Yes, please.” I handed the man my camera. I poured more water on the statue as Mark stood by trying to look helpful.

The man and his accompanying lady friend gave us a few pointers on photo taking before heading down the trail to descend Mt. Misen. “Real hikers, you think?” I ask Mark.

“They seem too dry. Maybe they took the gondola up and will hike down.”

“That sounds easier that hiking both up and down, but still…”

Mark ended my sentence for me, “too much needless walking.”

We had one more rock to see. This one was shaped like a whale. “The first guy that saw a whale when looking at this rock had more imagination that I have,” I told Mark. “To me, it just looks like a rock.”

The last thing on our list to see was Miyama Jinja. It was described as, “a shrine in the sky”. This sounded awesome. I was even willing to let Mark take as many photos as he liked without uttering a single complaint or wise-ass comment. But when we got there, the shrine was under repair.

From there we made our way back up to the eternal fire then down to the ropeway station. As we were climbing down we heard an announcement. We couldn’t make out what was being said until we got a lot closer to the ropeway station.

Apparently, the wind was expected to pick up so they would be closing the ropeway station 20 minutes earlier than usual. This new development did not affect us at all. The new closing time was a good hour away and by that time we would be in our car driving home.

All Pictures


How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.







  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • International ATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask what ATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)


How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°16’49.0″N 132°18’40.6″E


  • Miyajimacho Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture 739-0588




Giant Rice Paddle

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°17’56.6″N 132°19’18.5″E




  • free


  • 7.7 meters long
  • 2.7 meters wide
  • 2.5 tons

5 Story Pagoda

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°17’50.0″N 132°19’14.7″E


  • 〒739-0588 Hiroshima-ken, Hatsukaichi-shi, Miyajimachō



  • free

Miyajima Ropeway
(Miyajima Rōpu Way)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°17’35.8″N 132°19’36.3″E


  • 〒739-0588 広島県廿日市市宮島町紅葉谷公園
  • (Send questions to:) Momijidani Park, Miyajima-cho, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima-ken 739-0522





  • ¥1,800 round trip
  • ¥1,000 one way


  • 9:00 – 17:00
  • Hours vary from season to season and with the weather.
  • Check the times before buying your ticket.


Things to see on Mt. Misen:

  • Fire of Oath
    • This up stairs of the Shishiiwa Station (the ropeway station on Mt. Misen).
    • The start the flame, two people must push the buttons on either sides of the pillar.
  • Eternal Fire
    • This fire has been burning for 1,200 years.
    • Water boiled on this fire is said to cure all diseases.
  • Sankido
    • People worship a demon here.
  • Kaiseniwa
    • If you’re a bad person, this rock will give you scabies. If you’re a good person, this rock will cure your scabies.
  • Mizukake-jizo
    • You will have children if you pray while pouring water on the Jizo statues.


Posted in Hatsukaichi 市, Hiroshima 県, Honshū, Japan, Miyajima 町 | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Travel List Thursday: Miyajima

Posted by Heliocentrism on October 27, 2016

Download PDF Version

Posted in Hatsukaichi 市, Hiroshima 県, Honshū, Japan, Miyajima 町 | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Mt. Sanbe

Posted by Heliocentrism on October 23, 2016

Thursday, September 22, 2016

All Pictures

Mark and I had a day off in the middle of the week. Japan likes to give its citizens these mid-week holidays. Long weekends are rare and we just can’t have too many of that sort of thing. People might go on a trip somewhere and, god forbid, stop thinking about work.

What made this mid-week holiday worse was the half-assed rain. I am an adamant believer that it should either rain or it should not. It shouldn’t sort of rain for five minutes, then let the sun shine for ten minutes, only to turn into a monsoon fifteen minutes after that. How does one dress for this type of weather? Whether the sky wanted to smile, weep, sob its heart out, or all three, Mark and I were determined not to stay home and sleep, which is the usual past time for mid-week holiday makers in Japan.

Non-petrified Wood

We drove to the Hiroshima adjacent prefecture of Shimane to the little town of Oda. Our first stop was at the Sanbe‑Azukihara Buried Forest, where some really old trees were discovered. I was hoping to find petrified wood, but this forest has not quite gotten there yet. The wood of the trees looked more like charcoal rather than stone.

We were given many opportunities to learn how and why this underground forest was found and dug up. However, the explanations were only given in Japanese. We had to make our own story. It’s a story about a man named Jed. He was a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed. One day he was shooting at some food and up through the ground come an old tree, coal that is. (I watch too much television.)

We walked through the two underground bunkers then gazed at the trees above ground. After 15 minutes of not being able to read anything, we got back in our car to go get some breakfast.

Everything is better with an added egg

Sanbe Burger sells only products made with local ingredients. When you’re eating a Sanbe-Burger Burger, you are eating Shimane Prefecture. The cows for the beef graze on Mt. Sanbe. The tomatoes were grown in, maybe, Matsue City. The cheese was made in, maybe, Izumo. I think only the ketchup is imported, but what kind of cretin puts ketchup on a burger!?

We ate our burgers and enjoyed the view. There was a building across the street that was attracting a lot of tourists. I had a brochure of Mt. Sanbe; its pages had no information on what the popular building was. We would have to walk over there to check it out in person.

We crossed the road and before we even got up the steps we saw a poster that said, “Jurassic Sea”. “That could only mean good things,” Mark said. We went inside to find the Natural History Museum of Mt. Sanbe.

We saw Mt. Sanbe’s evolutionary history. Not only were there old trees found here, but old animals too. I really liked this museum. I would have loved it if there were more information in English. Mark and I had to reply heavily on scientific names being written in Romaji or at the very least Katakana or Hiragana.

We did get to see lots of fossils and a skeleton of a plesiosaur. There is also an observatory, but we would need reservations and to stay in Oda City overnight to enjoy that. Maybe in the future if I can figure out how to make reservations…


Next we headed for the main feature of this day trip, Mt. Sanbe. From the base of Mt. Sanbe, there are many courses to get you to one of the many peaks. Courses take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 2 hours to hike up.

I knew that it was unthinkable for Mark to spend hours hiking up a non-famous mountain. Once he left Korea, he hung up his hiking boots and never looked back. I, on the other hand, really wanted to go hiking even though I’m completely out of shape.

So, the course we took to get to the top of Mt. Sanbe first involved buying tickets for a chair lift. From there the biggest peak was a 20 minute hike away and the closest was 2 minutes.

He’s happy. He thinks he has finished hiking for the day.

Mark happily climbed to the 2 minute peak. He smiled and took photos. “I’m going to tell everyone I hiked up this mountain. Look how high up I got!” He seem very joyous as he took selfies this way and that way.

“Do you see that over there, Mark?” I pointed to a lookout platform higher up than we were. “That’s what’s at the end of the 20 minute course.” I looked at Mark waiting for him to understand what I was trying to get him to do.

“But this peak is really nice, Josie. There are picnic tables, a sign. And look, a plaque. I like this peak.”

“Maybe that higher peak also has another plaque…” It didn’t.

“But, who needs to see more than one plaque in a day. Nope. I’m a one plaque a day kind of guy, Josie. Besides, isn’t this view just as good as that one?”

“I don’t think so, Mark. That view is higher up. It will probably let you see more stuff.” In the end I got him to go up the 20 minute trail by bribing him with an apple. This is Japan, you can get people to do what you want by handing out free fruit.

The 20 minute trail took us a little over 20 minutes. It rained off and on throughout the day making the ground muddy and slippery. There were several near falls and almost slides, but we got to the top without anyone taking a tumble.

Imagine the view if it weren’t rainy!

“Wow, this is great!” Mark walked around taking more selfies and panoramic photos. “This is way better than that crummy 2 minute peak.”

60 Minutes? 75 Minutes!? I don’t think so.

I saw a sign post. Said that the next peak was a mere 60 minute hike away. I had no interest in that trail. 60 minutes there and 60 minutes back plus another 15 minutes to get back to the chair lift. I have an adventurous spirit, not a death wish!

All Pictures


How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.







  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • International ATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask what ATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Sanbe-Azukihara Buried Forest
(Sanbe Azukihara Maibotsurin Koen)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°10’37.1″N 132°36’02.6″E


  • 〒694-0003 Shimane-ken, Ōda-shi, Sanbechō Tane, ロ58−2





  • ¥300


  • 9am-5pm (Last Entry 4:30pm)
  • Closed 1st Monday to Friday of December, New Year holidays


  • This museum is not very big.

Sanbe Burger

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°09’13.1″N 132°37’17.7″E


  • 1125-2 Sanbecho Tane, Oda, Shimane Prefecture 694-0003
  • 〒694-0003 島根県大田市三瓶町多根1125-2





  • 10am-5pm
  • Closed Tuesday


  • Only local ingredients are used at this burger shop.

Natural History Museum of Mt. Sanbe
(Shimane Ken Ritsu Sanbe Shi Zenkan Sahimeru)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°09’09.9″N 132°37’15.0″E


  • 島根県立三瓶自然館サヒメル, 〒694-0003 Shimane Prefecture, Oda, 三瓶町多根1121−8
  • 1121-8, Tane, Sanbe-cho, Ooda City, Shimane Prefecture, Japan 694-0003


  • +81-854-86-0500 (Overseas)
  • 0854-86-0500 (Domestic)



  • Adults 400yen (special exhibition cost extra)
  • Children (6-18) 200yen


  • 9:30-17:00
  • Closed:
    • Every Tuesday (next weekday is closed when Tuesday is a holiday)
    • 5 consecutive days from the first Monday of March and December and the next day when a special exhibition was finished
    • winter holidays from December 29 – January 1 inclusive


  • There is very little (almost no) information in English.

Mt. Sanbe
(Mt. Sanbe Chair Lift)
(Sanbe Kankō Rifuto)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°07’42.0″N 132°38’26.5″E


  • 〒694-0222 Shimane Prefecture, Oda, 三瓶町志学1640−2





  • ¥670 round trip


  • 8:30-16:30
  • April to November
  • Closed on Tuesdays


  • From where the chair lift leaves you:
    • It’s a 3 minute hike to the nearest peak.
    • It’s a 20 minute hike to the nearest high peak.


Posted in Honshū, Japan, Shimane 県, Ōda 市 | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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