My honest-to-goodness reason for liking Akama Shrine? Because it was red. Not that red shrines were a rare sight in Japan but my journeys had brought me to visit many shrines decked in earthly colours prior to this. So, it was one of the first red shrines that I had seen and it made for such a nice change to visit something that was bold and attention-arresting.
Sorry for being so shallow. To redeem myself, I will stress how it offered a good view of Kanmon Strait. Also check out the 13-storeyed pagoda in which each storey is dedicated to a God (or so my limited Japanese informs me)
Kaikyo Yume Tower--a 10-min walk from JR Shimonoseki station--is the tallest building in its vicinity and hence, you can't miss it. Pay 600 yen (adult rate) to get to the 30th floor where you can enjoy a fantastic panoramic view of Kanmon Straits. Very clear signposting is available, so take your time to familiarise yourself with the orientation of Shimonoseki and identify important landmarks like Akama Jingu Shrine and Shimonoseki Aquarium. Personally, I was rather taken in by Kanmon Bridge and spent a good amount of time just marvelling at how one huge bridge could connect the two islands of Kyushu and Honshu.
What was interesting for me was how this place doubled up as a Lovers' Sanctuary. Go two floors down to the 28th floor where you can pray to some God of Love and express your undying devotion to your partner through a tablet. And you gotta hand it to the Japanese for being thorough, for they helpfully provided a poster of ALL the Lovers' Sanctuary in Japan so that you can plan where to go next to reaffirm your love!
The Kanmon pedestrian crossing tunnel was memorable as it helped me travel from Kyushu to Honshu without breaking a sweat and all within 15 mins to boot!
Sounds too good to be true? Well, I entered the tunnel from Kitakyushu (which was in Kyushu) and exited in the city of Shimonoseki (which was in Honshu). The whole journey lasted 780 metres and was made more fun by the fact that I was parting the sea while walking. Well, kinda. It was an underground tunnel through the Kanmon Strait after all. I also half-wondered if the walls would just suddenly give way, causing me to suffer a Titanic-like death. Me and my melodramatic nature. LOL.
By the way, you can break a sweat if you want to, for some Japanese use this tunnel as a running track. How clever. Now, regardless of rain or shine (or bitter cold, as in the case of winter in Japan), one can exercise to his heart's content. Or a good place to people-watch for the determined couch potato.
Couchsurfing is a website where one offers his couch to backpackers, in hopes that others will open their doors (literally!) to him when he travels. Hence, I had the good fortune to couchsurf with a family at Yamaguchi city. The first thing my host father asked me was whether I had already visited Kintaikyo bridge, to which I regretfully shook my head. He then offered to drive me to Kintaikyo bridge the next day. I reckon that this spoke volumes about how highly regarded Kintaikyo bridge is in Japan.
Kintaikyo bridge is the only wooden bridge with 5 arches and its page at Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintai_Bridge) will shed more insight into its history and construction than my inadequate words ever could. A few pointers to add on to the discussion:
1) Visit it in spring because the cherry blossom trees lining the sides of the river will bloom. I visited it in winter, so the scenery wasn't exactly jaw-dropping *grins*
2) Bring along a camera with good zoom function so that you can ask someone to take a photo of you with Iwakuni castle clearly distinct in the background. And yes, my host father has such a camera. Plus, this is when I learnt that my camera sucks.
3) As you cross the bridge over to the other side, you will notice some benches placed on the river banks. Well, take the hint, go down the stairs and take a moment or two to admire how intricately crafted the bridge is. And explore the underside of the bridge and cam-whore if you are feeling genki enough.
And oh, the entrance fee is an affordable 300 yen.
I had read beforehand that Akiyoshido Cave is known as the largest limestone cave in East Asia but I realised that I had underestimated its scope and majesty as I stepped into the cave itself. It was so huge, so wide that I felt like I was entering an underground city instead. Although many visitors were touring the cave at the same time, it could offer me some peace and quiet since I was the only person around at various parts. This could either be a relief or somewhat unnerving, depending on how much you liked solitude. Heh.
The notable highlights include One Hundred Plates and Golden column. For once, I regretted not taking Advanced Level Geography, for it would have been cool to understand how these "plates" and column were formed. The Underground Fuji also captivated me, for I was intrigued at 1) whether it did resemble Mount FujiI and 2) how I could take a photo at the best possible angle to record this feature for posterity. I also chuckled at a jellyfish waterfall near the end of the sightseeing route, for indeed, there was no more apt way to describe it!
I had wanted to visit Akiyoshidai as well but I ended up spending 2-2.5 hours at the cave itself. You have been warned--visiting this cave will introduce some chaos into a well-planned itinerary!!
1) Be reminded to bring along a camera that takes good photographs during night time, for you wouldn't want to curse yourself for only bringing along your iPhone that (alas!) won't function very well here.
2) Also, don't get too caught up by the tranquil cobalt-blue waters such that you neglect to make use of the information panels strategically located alongside the key features. Press a button to listen to an explanation in your desired language and merrily snap photos away as you add some interesting nuggets of information to your knowledge bank of physical geography.
I currently live in Kumamoto City, where one of Japan's top three castles--Kumamoto Castle--is located. Hence, while I was intrigued by how Iwakuni Castle was the only castle that was built on top of a mountain, I quite arrograntly thought that it would not offer me anything spectacular. Boy, was I wrong.
Immediately, after stepping off the ropeway, my companions and I were cheerfully greeted by a volunteer guide who led us to the way to Iwakuni castle. Along the way, he explained various things which included an explanation of the function the castle served and how its foundations were built. In fact, the original foundations were used as a prop to add some oomph! into his speech.
We soon reached the inside of the castle that comprised interesting exhibits and I dare say that the real swords displayed on the first floor alone was well worth the buck I spent. Rather exciting! I also enjoyed the pictoral illustration of the top castles and bridges in Japan, which allowed me to see at one glance the myriad tourist attractions that a prefecture offers. Kumamoto castle does give a very comprehensive description of Japanese castles but doesn't provide information about the bridges.
And I haven't been to many bridges myself but I would venture to say that Iwakuni castle offers the best view of them all. Come on, what could beat a panoramic view of Iwakuni city (and Kintaikyo bridge) from Mount Shiroyama? I was truly humbled and resolved never to belittle any other castle again.
Yuda Onsen located in Yamaguchi-city, is said that was discovered when a white fox was seen bathing its wounds here during Muromachi Period (approximately 800 years ago).
There are about 50 accommodations such as modern hotels and old style Ryokan in total along the Route 204.
You can take an Onsen without staying an accommodation.
This simple alkaline hot spring is said to help ease such ailments as rheumatism, neuralgia as well as dermatitis.
[Back to Yamaguchi-ken]
If you are near the town of Hofu then this garden which I can't as yet remember the name of, is beautiful. It's relaxing has grass (flat and green!) and ponds and is big compared to most Japanese gardens. The other tourist places in Hofu are temples which I would say take it or leave it. If you have the time it is a nice place to explore. The city itself was fairly big and ugly but we were only there for a very short time so my impresesion could be wrong.
St. Xaviers Catholic Church in Yamaguchi city.
If you have an interest in or are religious then attend a mass at St. Xaviers. The inside is beautiful with white walls and bright coloured stain glass windows. The church is only a few years old. The mass was conducted mainly by singing and the voices of the regular congregation were beautiful to listen to even if you couldn't read the Japanese and sing along.
Theres a small museum under the church and outside of mass times you can look inside the church. On Sunday morning when I went the mass time was 9:30am.
THese dinosaurs along with a view over all of Hagi can be seen if you take the ropeway up the side of the hill to a look out point. There are 2 onsens on the way up, one for men one for women or you can go straight to the top in a gondola full of people wearing bathrobes and just see the view and play with the dinosaurs.
The main picture above was taken in this gorge and to date (obviously after NZ of course!) it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.
There is a couple of hour walk through the gorge which leads you along the river. We came across this gorge on our way from Tsuwano in Shimane Ken down to Yamaguchi city along route 9.
It's an old castle town and has a lovely atmosphere. Behind the ruins of the castle is a hill which is not a difficult climb and has ruins at the top and a nice view. There are temples, nice restaurants, a nice beach and small old samurai area to explore.
I spent a gorgeous weekend here.
Akiyoshi limestone cave. (Akiyoshido)
It's a big cave with some cool staligtites and other rocky things. Way more natural than many others I have seen in parts of Japan however still has the loud speakers and condrete path running through and at times probably tour guides with microphones! But if you hit a quiet day like we did it will be a good experience!
The cemetary at the back of the temple is lovely. We went just before closing and the setting sun and moss covered, treed cemetery with hundreds of stone lanterns had such a peaceful atmosphere.