Koshu Highway, or Route 20, in Hachioji is famous for its street lined on both sides with ginkgo (or ichou) trees, which turn bright yellow in the fall. For one weekend each year in late November (16-17 Nov 2013), the city holds a festival to celebrate the colorful leaves, the changing of the season and the vibrant town of Hachioji. We arrived on the Saturday of the festival, at around 2pm, and it was surprisingly quiet. The trees were beautiful, the festival atmosphere was lacking. We did stop and get some food from several restaurants, we found the Ginga Kogen beer tent, and we enjoyed talking to several friendly locals.
The Sunday of the event, which features a classic car parade is surely a better event.
The main areas of the festival are between Nishihachioji Station and Takao Station on the JR Chuo Line.
Each September Hachioji holds a series of Geisha Parades on the streets just north of Hachioji Station. These women, dressed in traditional kimonos, dance and play music as they weave through some of the small streets in town. In 2013, the geisha parades covered four small streets from about 6pm to 9pm with each parade lasting about 30 minutes.
Hachioji lies on Koshu Highway, which was a busy transportation route to the city of Edo, now Tokyo. Like other busy cities of the day, entertainment was necessary, and a small geisha industry grew up here. By some accounts, at it peak, there were 200-300 geishas in Hachioji working at more than 30 restaurants. Today it is estimated that Hachioji has less than 20 geisha, but I have seen online advertisements asking for women 24-35 years old to earn 3,000 Yen per hour by dancing or playing the traditional guitar-like instrument called the shamisen.
Geisha, also known in Kyoto as Geiko, are traditional hostesses and entertainers for Japanese men. They are perhaps best known for their elaborate kimonos and white face paint, though geisha apprentices, called maiko, more commonly wear the bright white paint. While many observers believe geisha are prostitutes, traditionally geisha and prostitutes were different and distinct professions in Japan. While Japan once had an estimated 80,000 geisha, today the number is down to 1,000 to 2,000 geisha, most famously in Kyoto, but also in other cities including Tokyo.
In Kyoto, the Geiko districts are called Hanamachi, or flower towns. There are five distinct Hanamachi in Kyoto, Gion Kōbu and, Miyagawa-cho, Kamishichiken, and Ponto-chō. Four of these five areas are located around Gion Shijo Station on both sides of the river. Kamishichiken is the only area outside of the city center, but it is small with only about 25 geisha and maiko.
While Kyoto is famous for its geisha districts, Tokyo also had a number of geisha areas of its own, called "Tokyo Roku Hanamachi." Tokyo's traditional geisha districts are Shinbashi, Asakusa, Yoshicho, Kagurazaka, Hachioji and Mukojima.
I took two videos during the Hachioji Geisha Parades in 2013:
Each year in early to mid August, the small town of Fussa, in Tokyo's far western nether regions, holds its Tanabata Festival. This festival was established in 1951 to support local businesses, and it has been held annually ever since. The main attraction of the festival is, of course, the fantastic Japanese festival food like squid, grilled mochi, teriyaki chicken, fried chicken and much more. The Fussa festival also has live music, art contests, children's events and much more.
The festival is held on the west side of Fussa Station throughout the main streets and numerous side streets.
Kamakura is a city of under 200,000 people, located just 30 miles from central Tokyo. From 1185 to 1333 Kamakura was the de facto capital of Japan. During this time, known as the Kamakura Period, the shoguns, or military leaders, and their regents, or political rulers, led the country from Kamakura. The valley was a natural fortress, surround on three sides by steep mountains, and on the fourth, by the sea.
Today, Kamakura has a number of cultural relics, a nice modern city center, and beautiful beaches. The main attractions include the famous Kamakura Daibatsu, as well as numerous temples and shrines such as Engakuji Temple, Hachimangu Shrine, and Hasedera Temple.
Kamakura has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but only a few artifacts are the originals. Much of the history of the area was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and later rebuilt.
The Great Buddha of Kamakura (Kamakura Daibutsu) is Kamakura's most famous landmark. It stands 13.35 meters tall, making Daibutsu the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan. Cast in 1252, and constructed of some 30 separate pieces, the statue was originally inside of Kotokuin Temple. The temple was repeatedly destroyed by storms in 1334, 1369, and 1498. The base was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, but soon replaced, and the statue's neck was strengthened in 1960-1961.
Entry to see the Buddha is 200 Yen per person. The Buddha is impressive, but it stands alone, with no gardens, buildings, monuments or other objects of interest. Massive crowds gather around the Buddha, even in rainy weather... we even saw a group of monks from Cambodia or Thailand in the orange robes.
Directions: The Great Buddha is about 10 minutes north of Hase Station, and it is worth stopping at Hasedera Temple on the way to the Buddha. Hase Station the third station from Kamakura along the Enoden Electric Line, and old streetcar like train system. Hase Station is just about an hour from downtown Tokyo's Shinjuku Station.
Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park is a 1250 square kilometer park that straddles the borders of Saitama, Yamanashi, Nagano and Tokyo Prefectures. The park features eight peaks over 2000 meters (6,562 feet) including Mount Kobushi (2,475 m) and Mount Daibosatu (2,057 m). The park also features a number of ancient shrines including the 2000-year-old Mitsumine Shrine and the Musashi-Mitake Shrine, established around the year 90 B.C. The park also has several major rivers including the Arakawa River, Shinano River, Tama River, and Fuefuki River. Lake Okutama is a huge reservoir in the park which supplies much of the drinking water to the city of Tokyo.
Lake Okutama, formed by Ogochi Dam, lies at the far western edge of Tokyo in the town of Okutama, Nishitama District. The large lake was constructed from 1938 to 1957, and it is the largest source of water for the city of Tokyo. At the time of its completion the Ogochi Dam was the world's largest, with a dam height of 149 meters and a length of 353 meters. The construction of the dam displaced 6,000 people and submerged nine shrines, which were replaced by Ogouchi-jinja Shrine, located on a peninsula jutting into the lake.
The north shore of the lake is famous for its Some 10,000 cherry trees which bloom during mid-April each year.
The lake is accessible by car from Tokyo with a two hour drive. You can also take the Chuo Line JR train to Tachikawa, then switch to the Ome Line to Okutma or a number of other stations near the lake.
In Sayama Hills there are many kilometers of hiking and biking trails where people can enjoy cherry blossoms, picnics, and exercise surrounded by nature on the Western side of Tokyo. While most people seem to flock to the open fields and scenic vistas for picnics, I enjoy biking Sayama Hills.
My favorite place in this huge park is a bike trail that follows and abandoned rail line from the Tama River, across the American Air Base and east into Sayama Hills. Between the air base and Sayama, the trail crosses through residential areas and busy streets, with signs marked by giant beetles. As soon as the trail hits Sayama Hills, it enters an abandoned rail road tunnel, then passes through several more tunnels before dwindling at a blocked tunnel. Around this point, you can find a small trail that heads to the village of Nakato.
My video of biking in the abandoned rail tunnels is available here: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/vv/6be1/
The Tama River flows 86 miles from Mount Kasadori in Koshu in Yamanashi Prefecture to Tokyo Bay next to Haneda Airport. The river begins outside of Tokyo, forms the western boundary of Tokyo in places, then flows through Tokyo on its way to the bay. In the city, its banks are lined with parks, bike paths, and sports fields, making the river a popular and scenic picnic spot. Some stretches of the Tama River have good kayaking, and the banks of the river offer great climbing opportunities in a number of areas.
....Every year in late April/Early May, the 1300-year-old Shiofune Kannon Temple's grounds come afire with brilliant azaleas blooming on a stadium-like landscape that is focused on a huge standing Buddha. It's worth the hour train ride out to Kabe Station on the Chuo-Ome line and the 25 minute walk that follows. unfortunately, I went on the second weekend of may, so i missed the peak of the azaleas and the fire-walking demonstration the previous weekend, but it was still beautiful.
.....I could write more, but it's probably more amusing to share the description of the place i got from the brochure when i paid my Y300 entrance fee: "Shiofune Kannon Temple is the old historic temple which can stream down the history for 1300 rest of life in now. It is wide, and Shiofune Kannon Temple is known as a temple of the flowers that a flower (an azalea, a hydrangea, a bush clover, a cosmos) of four seasons blooms, and many tourists visit it. In Shiofune Kannon Temple, Saitou-Goma Attendant Walk over firing asceticism ascetic practices are performed on May 3. In addition, the scene that about 20,000 azaleas filling up the precincts became in full blossom is the best... The hiking course is suitable for families, and how will about these institution circulation in the one of the courses when You can gain the favor?"
About one hour west of Tokyo on the JR Chuo is a town called Ome, that really gets decked out for plum blossom season. The most popular spot in Ome to view the blossoms is a hillside park called Yoshino Baigo, and its 25,000 white and red plum trees are a must see if you're in the Tokyo area between 25 February - 17 March. Even the town itself goes plum crazy, with flowering trees lining the streets, adorning the shrines and peppering the landscape as you walk from Hintawada Station to the park. Thousands of locals will be out viewing the trees, so you won't be alone!
Once again because we had limited time to analyze how to go around Tokyo (our first-time), we just lazily had Sunrise Tours pick us up for a tour of Nikko which is a day trip from Tokyo. We only paid about $160 each for this whole day tour 9also includes visit to the Kegon Waterfall and lunch before that).
From the Hamamatsucho train station, we rode a deluxe to visit the Toshogu Shrine, which dates back to 1617 and has been named a World Heritage Site. The site had amazing wood carvings, copious gilding, and brilliant colors throughout along with elaborate architecture and the omnipresent mythical beasts meticulously carved on the various structures and watching over the grounds. I went specifically to the wood carving of the famous “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys at the Sacred Stable.
We also saw the place where the famous Shogun was buried - you have to climb up a little hill and I think only my sister and I were able to go up because we left the tour for a little while (time was of the essence!).
We also learned how to properly pray using the sacred waters and those little cups with long handles. This shrine is a must-see when in Nikko!
Ashi-no-ko or Lake Ashi was part of the tour that we took with Sunrise Tours for the Mt Fuji day-trip. This lake was created during an eruption of the volcano over 3,000 years ago, and it rests calmly in the shadow of the great mountain. You will see Disney-like boats (like a 17th century ship which you can ride), and also little swan-like mini-boats for going around the lake.
But we just took the simple boat which brought us in a few minutes to the Mount Komagatake Aerial Cableway. The view was spectacular at the top- the beauty of Hakone National Park can be seen and also Mount Fuji on a clear day, Lake Ashi, and the surrounding mountains. However, the cable car does not seem to be restored and it has been in use for several years - but it still ran okay (but I think it might need some renovations). At the top, there is also some kind of dwelling or museum, but we did not walk up to it but just spent time taking pictures.
Of course, our trip to Tokyo would not be complete if we did not see Mt Fuji (or Fuji-san since san means mountain). Fujisan though is actually a volcano and I think it was formed about 8000 years ago.
I was intent on seeing this mountain and so I booked it for our first day activity. I was a little worried though because Mt Fuji sometimes cannot be seen when the clouds are covering it (fog). And during this February 2010, Mt Fuji had been elusive and visitors only got up to Level 1 which is the lowest level of the 5 level heights. (Note: Fuji is 12,388 ft or 3,776-m)
While in USA, I booked a Mt Fuji Tour which also included a tour of Hakone and a bullet train ride later (through Expedia through JTB for Sunrise Tours) for only about $160 each.
Sunrise Tour has a list of hotels where they pick up guests and so I chose a hotel where they picked up - Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo. We were picked up at promptly 730 at the lobby by a HATO Bus which brought us in about 30-45 minutes to the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal in Minato-ku, Tokyo. The ride was pleasant and you get to see a view of the Tokyo Tower which is like a Japanese version of the Eiffel Tower (you can go up there for views of the city).
The tour officially starts at 9 AM and once at the Bus Terminal, you are asked to go to your counter to get your tickets and tour stickers (ours were at counters GHI). The bus was almost full and our guide was Harry who told us the good news - we can go up to LEVEL 4 on Mt Fuji!!!!
Level one is at the gate, then the following levels are at the following meter elevations:
Level II at 1000 m, Level III at 1201 m, Level IV at 2020m and Level V at 2305 -- the fifth level was inaccessible at the time due to snow, but in the whole month of Feb, they had only been able to go up Level 4 up to 4x only. This was a good day!
And once at the Fuji Visitor Center, we saw a great view of Mt Fuji! So lucky! There was still some snow on the ground, and don't forget to go up the second level of this Visitor Center to see the magnificent view. I jumped of course, hehehe.... The center provides info on the nature, culture, and artwork of Mount Fuji that demonstrates the tremendous historic and religious significance of this mountain to the Japanese.
Then we rode the bus to go to Level IV, and once there we went out and took pictures at the signs indicating the height of the mountain we were at. A man was selling grilled corn for 500 yen (about $5 each), but food was more affordable in the little store a few feet away (hotdog for just 250 yen) - and you can also buy little souvenirs there.
If you do not wish to take the tour, there are buses (from Go-gome or Shinjuku) or trains (faster way and gateway stations are Atami, Odawara, kawaguchi-ko) available - but I will just refer you to guide books for directions since I did not do this personal trekking. You can also climb the mountain if you are adventurous and I do hear that if the weather is right, climbing is not too bad and July 1 to Aug 26 is the official season for climbing with 200,000 people doing so. Climb from Go-gome takes 5 hours up and 3 hours down. From Shin-Go-gome is longer and stonier, but the descent is faster.
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Fujisawa is the sister city of Florida's Miami Beach. It's about 30 miles south of Tokyo and very entertaining. Long beaches, surfers, suntanners.
Also right there, the island-mountain of Enoshima which is famous for it's temple and nice village.
Go see my Fujisawa page for more details !
ChuckG's Fujisawa page