// MY NAME IS DANIELAnd after years of dreaming I've sold everything I own and set off on the open road. I've made this site as a sort of photo journal of my travels. The map shows where I've been (red), where I've stayed a month or more (yellow), and where I plan to go (white). And so, armed with little more than a backpack, a camera, and a dream, I now take the road less traveled by. So it goes.
TOKYO I arrived in Tokyo and stayed a month in the city, in a small apartment near Shinjuku, before purchasing a train pass and exploring a great many other parts of the country. Japan was exactly as beautiful, fascinating, and bizarre as I had expected. It is a country of ancient history and traditions, of many sacred religious sites and temples, of breathtaking landscapes, and of course ... Godzilla.
KAMAKURA Kanagawa Prefecture Kamakura is a seaside town and an easy day trip from Tokyo. Here are a great many ancient temples. Two religions dominate Japan: Shinto, the indigenous religion of the island which is focused on the worship of Kami, which are supernatural beings inhabiting various natural places and objects, and Buddhism which was introduced in the 5th and 6th Centuries AD. It is not uncommon for people to follow aspects of both religions.
MATSUMOTO Nagano Prefecture After a month of living in Tokyo, I bought a train pass and my first stop was the ancient castle town of Matsumoto, where a very kind local family hosted me (you can see photos of their house below). The castle, known as the Crow Castle, as it's one of the few black castles in the country, was built in 1594. While Japan has a lot of castles, many have been destroyed and rebuilt over the years. Matsumoto Castle is one of the few castles to have survived in its original condition. You'll also notice that in Japan every town has custom sewer cover plates... you'll see more of those later.
TOYAMA Toyama Prefecture Heading north from Matsumoto, I went to Toyama, which has a smaller castle. This one is a 1954 recreation of the original castle. Below you'll also see some temples, shrines, and Toyama's custom sewer plate.
TAKAOKA Toyama Prefecture Not far from Toyama is the smaller city of Takaoka, famous for its Daibutsu (Giant Buddha). In all I visited four Giant Buddhas in Japan (including one above in Kamakura). Also of note, the ubiquitous vending machines found all over Japan, even in small villages.
KANAZAWA Ishikawa Prefecture Though the Kanazawa Castle is largely a modern-day reconstruction, the city itself was one of the few fortunate historic cities to have avoided being bombed during WW2, and for this Kanazawa is a beautiful example of ancient Japanese timber architecture.
TAKAYAMA Gifu Prefecture Takayama is another well preserved ancient city. Somewhat isolated in the mountains it's also developed a very strong local culture. The bottom few photos (the really green ones) are an ancient folk village, now a living museum, where village homes between 100 and 500 years old were moved here for the sake of preservation.
NAKASENDO TRAIL The Nakasendō was one of five medieval highways in Japan, and one of two connecting Kyoto to Tokyo (then called Edo). Sixty-Nine Post Towns were built along the 332 mile (534 km) Nakasendo highway, each with a lodge for the elites and samurai, another hotel for the commoners and squires, a restaurant, a town office, and a signboard where proclamations were posted. Today that ancient highway is a national hiking trail, which still connects many of the small post towns together, which you'll see later, as I hiked between three of them. Every kilometer is a bear bell, to scare off any curious bears that might be around.
TSUMAGO Nagano Prefecture Tsumago is one of the best preserved of the 69 post towns built along the medieval Nakasendo highway. I hiked from here, through beautiful, undeveloped countryside, to Magome, which you'll see later.
MAGOME Gifu Prefecture Magome is the forty-third medieval post town along the Nakasendo highway, and like Tsumago, one of the best preserved. The hike between the two towns takes several hours (but totally worth it). In the spirit of historic preservation, you'll notice in the last photos that the (very modern) fire hydrants are hidden under the historic fire buckets. All power and phone lines are hidden from view in the town as well.
MIYANOKOSHI Nagano Prefecture Miyanokoshi, the thirty-sixth post town on the Nakasendo, is actually where I stayed while here in the Kiso Valley. I rented a very traditional timber house, which you can see in the photos below. You'll also notice the trains that brought me here. One thing I love about Japan is the amazingly well developed train system and pedestrian friendly towns, meaning you can get just about anywhere in the country quickly and conveniently, even small villages like these.
GIFU Gifu Prefecture Many of Japan's castles were destroyed by bombs during WW2. Gifu's Castle was originally built in 1201 AD, destroyed in the 1600s, rebuilt, then destroyed again during the war. Today's castle is a 1950's recreation, which is common to see in Japan. Gifu is also home to a great many temples and shrines, a few of which you can see below. Many are built on mountains, in complete harmony with the nature around them.
KATSUYAMA Fukui Prefecture I continued to Katsuyama, which was home to another Daibutsu (giant buddha), this one housed in a massive Buddhist monastery which you can see below. The Katsuyama castle is a 1992 recreation. The prefecture is quite famous for dinosaur fossils, something the city definitely wants you to know (notice the sewer plate covers, for example). Also notice the Zelda-inspired local map at the train station.
KYOTO Kyoto Prefecture My train journey across Japan brought me to Kyoto, the beating cultural heart of Japan. Kyoto was made capital of Japan's imperial court in 794 and controlled the country for 1100 years until the capital was moved to Tokyo. Here are a great number of Buddhist Temples, Shinto Shrines, and palaces. The city was spared large scale bombing during the war, making it one of the most well preserved major cities in Japan. A few things to note below (besides all the temples) are the Bamboo Forest, the wild monkeys, and the apartment I rented, which was a converted video game and anime bar.
NARA Nara Prefecture Nara was the imperial capital of Japan in the 700s AD, before being moved to Kyoto. For that reason, it also has a great many ancient temples and shrines (and another giant Buddha, which you can see below). A legend says that a Japanese god arrived here on a deer and vowed to protect the city. For this reason, deer are sacred and protected. Today there are over 1000 deer freely roaming around the city, with the majority near the temples where tourists buy deer crackers to feed them. Such is Japan.
OSAKA Osaka Prefecture With more than 20 million people, Osaka is Japan's second largest city. As early as the 300-400s AD it was already an important port city. Like many castles in Japan, Osaka's castle was destroyed in WW2 (where it was an armory employing 60,000 workers). The modern day reconstruction was finished in the 1990s. You'll also notice my Japan Rail Pass, which I used to explore huge parts of the country. I bought a 21-day unlimited pass, which arrives like a passport. With it, one can board nearly any train at any time. The magic is that most trains run every couple of minutes and most train stations are in the town center and include electronic lockers (which you can see below)--- meaning it's quite simple to get off in a town, put your luggage in a locker, walk around, take some photos, then grab your luggage and board the next train. All with no need to plan ahead because the next train is never more than a few minutes wait. Also of note, Japan has a lot of animal cafes. Below is a hedgehog cafe..
HIMEJI Hyōgo Prefecture Himeji Castle is perhaps the most famous in Japan, and sometimes known as the White Heron Castle. Original construction began in 1333 AD and amazingly the castle survived extensive bombing during WW2 as well as an earthquake in 1995. Today it is a UN World Heritage Site.
HIROSHIMA Hiroshima Prefecture Hiroshima, on the other hand, was not so lucky. At 8:15AM on August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was blasted out of existence, the first city in human history destroyed by a nuclear bomb, killing 90-160,000 people, mostly innocent residents. The domed building in the first picture was one of the few buildings left standing and has been kept as a memorial to the bombing. The castle further below is obviously a modern-day reconstruction. Today the city is home to nearly 1.2 million people. If you're curious (as I was) how people could live there, the nuclear bomb (known as Little Boy) exploded quite high (600 meters) above the ground, causing a cataclysmic downward blast but most of the actual nuclear radiation was dissipated by the wind (and blown into the ocean or into the stratosphere) before it was able to sink into the ground and cause long term contamination. As such, people began to resettle Hiroshima almost immediately after the war.
TOMONOURA Hiroshima Prefecture Though small, Tomonoura is an port city dating back to ancient times and is considered one of the most scenic towns in the country, built on a crescent shaped bay surrounded by green hills. Miyazaki set the movie 'PONYO' here and Wolverine visits the town in the movie 'THE WOLVERINE'.
FUKUYAMA Hiroshima Prefecture Another day, another castle town. Fukuyama was founded as a castle town in 1619. Just two days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, 91 American B-29 Bombers targeted Fukuyama, destroying most of the city with conventional bombs. The castle was obliterated, being rebuilt in 1966 out of concrete.
OKAYAMA Okayama Prefecture Another day, another castle town. Like Fukuyama, I was able to use the rail pass to just jump off the train for an hour or two, take some photos, then jump on the next train. The castle was built in 1597, destroyed by American bombers during WW2, and rebuilt in concrete in the 1960s. Today only a few of the details are gold-plated, but historically, as one of the country's rare black castles, Okayama Castle was known as the "Golden Crow Castle" and much of the roofing was plated in gold.
KURASHIKI Okayama Prefecture Kurashiki is a well-preserved historic city with several beautiful canals and waterways and temples. Like Fukuyama and Okayama, I jumped off the train here, tossed my bags in a locker, and walked around for an hour or two taking photos before catching the next train.
KOKURA Fukuoka Prefecture Until now, I'd been traveling entirely around on Honshu Island. But Japan is made up of several thousand islands (6852 actually, with 430 being inhabited). The main islands are Honshu in the center, Hokkaido in the north, Kyushu in the south, and then the much smaller Shikoku and Okinawa. I crossed by train over a bridge, from Honshu to Kyushu, and arrived in the castle town of Kokura. Kokura was the backup target for America's first nuclear attack on Japan incase Hiroshima was too cloudy that day. It was then the primary target for the second nuclear attack, but was saved when itself was too cloud and the attack bombers were diverted to Nagasaki. The castle is recreation, completed in 1990.
FUKUOAKA Fukuoka Prefecture My rail pass expired the day I arrived in Fukuoaka. Twenty-one days I had traveled across the country, visiting twenty-three cities and towns over two islands. Needing a rest, I rented an apartment in Fukuoaka for two weeks. (I also spent the day I arrived in a pod hostel, which you can see below in the last photo, these are quite popular in Asia). Fukuoka was a pleasant coastal city, home to many beautiful temples and shrines but alas, it was time to move on... to Korea.