Posts Tagged ‘Japan Tours’

Party time at Yaesu

April 12, 2017

The scene outside the Yaesu Terminal Hotel at the weekend as the blossoms peaked

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Sakura in Ueno Park

April 11, 2017

Ueno park, Tokyo

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Private tour of Japan at Kiyomizudera, Kyoto

October 5, 2016

I was fortunate enough to meet up with one of our private tours of Japan a couple of days ago at Kiyomizudera in Kyoto.  A very nice afternoon out, thanks guys!

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Silver Week lights up Japan

September 19, 2016

Silver Week: it sounds like a celebration of old people, but is actually the less blingy sibling of Golden Week.

Golden Week, as you know, is a special time in spring when a number of national holidays fall together to make one big holiday. In silver week, two holidays fall close to each other, and when you factor in the proximity of weekends, you have another shining chance to get out of the office and enjoy Japan’s many delights.

And it gets better because there’s a little-know law in Japan that says if two holidays fall together with only one day separating them, then that in-between day becomes a holiday too, which means that from time to time, silver week becomes even shinier. (Unfortunately, this year is not one of those years.)

But if the name suggests senior citizens to you, you are not way off because the first of the two holidays is Respect for the Aged Day — so, yes, Silver Week actually does contain a day in honour of our silver folk. The other day is Autumnal Equinox Day — not the most evocative of names, but significant to the nature-loving traditions of Japan, and very significant to those of us who are ready to get over Japan’s persistently hot summer and get into cool and atmospheric autumn.

By happy coincidence, another association with silver comes with the proximity of the harvest moon (this year the 16th of September), a great occasion to get out and enjoy the season with friends and a drink under the open sky.

When the summer heat burns off, Japan’s mountains and historical sites beckon the visitor to tour Japan. Taking off into the cooler weather, into the lush greenery and atmospheric and mysterious temples and shrines, not to mention the paradise of fine places to eat and drink, is one of the special thrills of this time of year, and silver week is a bright opportunity to indulge.

If you want to make the most of this time of year with a guide, Dragonfly offers its Heartland Tour, Kyushu Gateway Tour, Ancient Highway Tour and Crimson Leaf Tour through the autumn.

The Heartland Tour

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Huganbana, the red spider lily, in bloom at silver week.

Matsue Castle in Shimane

September 9, 2016

One of 12 original castles still standing in Japan today having survived war, earthquakes and fires for 4 centuries.

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Matsue Castle in Shimane

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Matsue Castle in Shimane

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Matsue Castle in Shimane

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Matsue Castle in Shimane

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Matsue Castle in Shimane

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Matsue Castle in Shimane

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Matsue Castle in Shimane

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Matsue Castle in Shimane

Some like it steamy — Japan’s hot spring onsen

August 24, 2016

For those of us from less geologically excitable regions, the Japanese fondness for stripping off and boiling themselves in volcanic water may seem positively eccentric. But, it’s a real thing.

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As we all know, and the Japanese people experience every day to their own peril, this archipelago is located on one of the most active geological fault systems in the world. Japan is being literally pushed out of the sea by colliding tectonic plates.

This means lots of volcanoes and earthquakes and attendant hazards like tsunami and landslides, but it also means lots and lots of geothermal energy, which means lots and lots of bubbling hot springs to splash around in. And these springs are everywhere.

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bubbly hot spring

Does this abundance of hot water explain the Japanese fondness for hot liquids, from piping hot green tea on a summer day, to the nightly tub, to communal food dishes like hotpots? It’s hard to say, but it’s clear that the more something steams, the more likely it is to catch the attention of the people here.

 

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night spring

Of course, throughout history and in a great many cultures, people have been extolling the benefits and pleasures of geothermal springs. The heat and the abundance of minerals in the water lead to claims of life-enhancing, health-improving, longevity-stretching qualities. The Romans loved them, even Britain’s overly modest Victorians flirted with them, and you can’t get the Icelandic people out of them. But in Japan the hot spring has long been elevated to the status of high culture.

 

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morning spring

There are several kinds of spring. There are specialist bathhouses and you’ll find them in Japanese-style inns (ryokan and minshuku) and even some modern hotels.

You’ll most often meet the indoor bath, but the keenest bathers seek the ultimate delicacy: the outdoor hot bath.

 

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afternoon soak

Yes, before you ask, many of the baths are communal, which, the Japanese people maintain, is good for social bonding. However, private options are generally available.

Bathers first scrub themselves meticulously in more conventional showers. You never put a dirty person or soap into the hot spring — it’s absolutely not done.

Having scrubbed yourself, and protecting your modesty with a small towel, you’ll slip into the hot spring water with the other bathers.

The bath might be designed to look like a rock pool or something more like a Roman bath: the aesthetics are part of the appeal of the experience.

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steamy soak

If you are at an outdoor onsen, you might have a splendid view of mountains or lakes to enjoy, and people make great claims about bathing naked under the open sky. Whatever kind of bath, once you are in, you just sit and steam. You might ponder the imponderables of the universe, daydream, or chat with the other people in the bath.

Variations might include drinking hot sake right there in the steaming waters, the bottle on a little floating tray; or whole oranges might be added to the water, suffusing the experience with citrus odours.

The winter experience is especially valued, soaking in that hot water while snow piles all around.

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Snowy onsen

Even Japan’s indigenous monkeys love the hot waters, and some onsen operators have to go to extravagant lengths to keep our simian cousins out of the pools meant for people.

Those geothermal properties are not to be taken lightly. While different baths offer different temperatures, from the mild to heat that will turn you the colour of lobster, some of the hottest waters are diverted for cooking food, especially onsen eggs. Yes, eggs boiled slowly in the natural heat of the water as it comes out of the ground. These eggs are very soft boiled and silky of texture, and are to be found at all real hot spring resorts. Yes, eggs cooked in the same sort of water you bathe in: there’s food for thought.

No tour of Japan would be complete without a visit to an onsen and Dragonfly Tours makes sure you have plenty of opportunities to get wet.

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onsen, Japanese hot spring

One of the main resorts is Hakone, near Tokyo, and four of Dragonfly’s tours call in here — the Cherry Blossom Tour, the Crimson Leaf Tour, the Ancient Highway Tour and the Takayama Tour (Takayama, separate from Hakone, is blessed with an abundance of its own springs). On the Cherry Blossom and Crimson leaf tours, Dragonfly uses a beautiful ryokan call Aura Tachibana, with suite rooms and baths on the balcony – and which is blessed with amazing food too. On the Ancient Highway and Takayama tours, you may also have a private bath on your balcony while you stay at the resort. The Kyushu Gateway tour takes you to Beppu, one of the most dramatically active of Japan’s resorts. All tours visit Kyoto, which has its own spa options. And if you are interested in any spot not on the itinerary, you have the option of the private tour visit.

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Hotel hot spring

Japan’s geologic heritage has provided us with a vast network of free hot baths, and it’s a great shame to visit Japan without availing yourself of nature’s steaming largesse.

Dragonfly Tour Japan

Omimaiko summer fireworks

July 26, 2016

It was the Omimaiko fireworks at the weekend, Lake Biwa, Shiga. Love the summer.

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Omimaiko Fireworks, Shiga, Japan

Dive in! It’s Marine Day in Japan

July 18, 2016

It makes sense that Japan has a national holiday dedicated to the ocean.

This is an island nation in which almost all the population live along narrow coastal strips, mostly on the Pacific; the country is an archipelago stretching from the frigid north to the sweltering south; the favourite food is fish; seaweed is eaten like lettuce.

And so the third Monday in July is Marine Day.

The holiday stands in memory of a voyage by the emperor Meiji in Japan’s first iron steamship in 1876 but has since become a celebration of ocean-going culture and the central place of the sea and its bounty in the life of Japan.

July is hot with the temperatures climbing into the high thirties almost every day, so what better time to cool off in the ocean waves?

This Monday holiday makes for a very welcome three-day break near the hottest time of year, and Japan’s population, taking the hint, will be heading for the beach, or out on the waves or under them.

Okinawa is well known for every water sport and diversion you can think of, from water skiing to diving to jet skiing to banana boats to fishing to parasailing while Wakayama offers both diving and surfing, and there are many other spots on the never-ending coast to catch big Pacific rollers.

Not all of us are so active or adventurous in the heat but there’s always the beach, and in this country, even when you are on the sand, you are never more than arm’s reach from a cold beer.

Japan’s sea-soaked history means the coastline is home to uncountable little fishing villages, lodged in the hills above the water, and whose lifestyles have barely changed in generations. These are fantastic places to explore and cultural treasures in their own right.

When you tour Japan, you are very aware that the life on the ocean wave (or next to it) shapes the spirit of the country. We should take advantage of it too, and even if you get only as close as the sushi you are reaping the bounty of Japan’s marine heritage.

Dragonfly Tours Japan

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Marine Day, Sunset, Japan

Suntset from office – Dragonfly Tours Japan

July 15, 2016

The view from the office just now as the sun sets.

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Dragonfly Tours Office View – Shiga, Japan

Nagahama, raw beef, craft beer and architecture

July 14, 2016

Some pics from a private tour visiting Nagahama situated on the south side of Lake Biwa, not far from the castle town of Hikone (not to be mistaken for Hakone!).  For me, I associate Nagahama with some excellent craft beer, IPA in particular.  There is also a nice historical area with atmospheric old Edo and Meiji era buildings. It’s off the beaten track in regards to foreign visitors, but definitely worth stopping by if you’re in the area and want to drink some yummy beer with Omi-gyu sashimi beef as a side dish!