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goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advice

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goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advice

Postby OrthodoxEaster on Mon Jan 15, 2018 5:20 pm

We're a couple of experienced independent American travelers heading to Japan for seven weeks, from late April to mid June. One of us speaks Japanese and used to live there in the 1990s. The other has visited a few times circa then, as well. And yes, we're aware that part of our trip will coincide with Golden Week.

We'll be visiting Tokyo and the Kiso Valley (where one of us lived decades ago), and exploring Kanazawa and Matsumoto for the first few weeks.

For the remaining four or five weeks, we want to head north, exploring Tohoku and Hokkaido by train and bus before flying back from Sapporo to Tokyo. We're particularly interested in rural towns (inaka) w/a slow pace of life, preferably places that won't be too crowded w/other travelers. But interesting cities are fine, too. Also less commercialized onsen and rotenburo experiences (i.e. not too resort-y). And long, scenic day hikes (strenuous is fine, but no camping and no multi-day journeys). Worthwhile temples, shrines, historic towns, and culinary things are cool, as well.

Given this, can you think of a trajectory that makes sense?

We'd appreciate thoughts on climbing Osorezan, which fascinates one of us. Is Sado ga Shima worth the trip? Is Matsushima Bay worth seeing? Do Hiraizumi or Kakunodate merit a detour? Is Sendai worth a couple of nights? Any other places we should go in the area?

In terms of Hokkaido, we'll obviously spend some time in Hakodate and Sapporo. What about Noboribetsu or Shikotsuko onsen? Are Rishiri-to or Renbun-to worth the boat ride? Any other ideas?

Feel free to recommend itineraries and destinations, share your experiences, or name any little-known locales that might suit us and help us plan our circuit.

We don't drive, so we'll be relying entirely on public transportation. We prefer not to join tours or to rely on guides.

About us: We're very much interested in good walks, day hikes, food and booze, local festivals, interesting architecture, marketplaces, fishing villages, non-touristy bars, temples and shrines, hot springs, and natural scenery. We're NOT interested in skiing, nightlife, heavily commercialized must-see sights, package tourism, most museums, etc.

We don't frequent hostels, campgrounds or fancy hotels, but better homestays, agrotourism, family inns, airb&b, and bed & breakfasts are very appealing to us.

We're not afraid of hitching (although I suspect this doesn't happen in Japan) and we enjoy going off the beaten path and meeting local people.

Feel free to recommend any exceptional restaurants or accommodations along the way, as well. Apologies that this post is so broad. We're just getting started in our planning for this portion of the trip.

Thanks very much!
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby cneutron on Mon Jan 15, 2018 9:27 pm

oh! Where's Evin Relocation? he should chime in on this.
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby gonzochicago on Mon Jan 15, 2018 11:14 pm

hollar at FM sleepkid (edit : Craig). he lives in Tokyo and may know all the things.



have fun!
Last edited by gonzochicago on Tue Jan 16, 2018 7:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby MatthewK on Tue Jan 16, 2018 6:46 am

gonzochicago wrote:hollar at FM sleep kid (andy klim). he'd know all the things.
just spent some time with him in Osaka. he is serious about the real deal shit.

ah, FM sleepkid is Craig Campbell and lives in Tokyo - wires crossed there?
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby gonzochicago on Tue Jan 16, 2018 7:19 am

MatthewK wrote:
gonzochicago wrote:hollar at FM sleep kid (andy klim). he'd know all the things.
just spent some time with him in Osaka. he is serious about the real deal shit.

ah, FM sleepkid is Craig Campbell and lives in Tokyo - wires crossed there?


:shock: :shock: :shock: :lol: :lol: :lol: Yes. Ahhhhh. My bad.

I saw Craig at OBITS / Mint Mile in Shindaita Fever...for some reason it stuck as Andy (who's a tour guide in Japan) for some reason. too many things. :lol:

He still may a good fella to shout at.
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby pwh on Tue Jan 16, 2018 9:15 am

Hi, mostly a lurker here but I live just outside of Tokyo. I can’t give much advice about Hokkaido, but here are a few things you can see in Sendai:
- Sendai Mediateque - designed by Toyo Ito, one of Japan’s most well-known architects.
- Zuihouden mausoleum. Shrine/tomb/museum dedicated to the family of Masamune Date, first ruler of Sendai.
- Aoba Castle ruins. The castle was destroyed in WW2, but there's a bit of its foundations still there. There's a nice shrine too. Also has a cool statue of Masamune Date. Nice view of the city at night.
- Osaki Hachimangu shrine. One of Sendai's bigger shrines. Nice to walk around.
- Sendai Daikannon - one of the largest statues of Kannon in the world.

All of the above should be accessible by public transport. Sendai doesn’t get big influxes of tourists, so it has that going for it. Areas near the coast are still recovering from the 2011 tsunami.

In terms of food, zunda is a slightly sweet paste made from edamame beans, local to the area. Lots of desserts (ice-creams, shakes, cakes, etc) get made with it. Also, gyutan - cow tongue - is a local delicacy. Sendai is famous for its miso ramen too, so lots of ramen shops around.
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby OrthodoxEaster on Tue Jan 16, 2018 6:24 pm

Thanks to all of you. Sendai certainly seems like a decent place for a night or two and we'll probably have to pass thru b/c of the nature of transit.

Perhaps I'll PM Evin or Sleepkid if they don't weigh in on this thread during the coming weeks.
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby Evin Relocation on Wed Jan 17, 2018 6:53 pm

I have a lot of love for Sapporo because I appreciate its design as well as its gridded layout. The architecture is really great, too, and it's a gorgeous town.

Unfortunately I really haven't explored a lot of Hokkaido, but I did make it to Wakkanai, which was lovely, and the train ride from Sapporo -- which was a really slow, old school, "can I smell kerosene? Is that kerosene burning?" -- type of joint made for beautiful window viewing. I wish I had been in a position to march to up to the mountain there, which is apparently the "end" of Japan (Sakhalin / Karafuto dispute notwithstanding).

Either way the food is good and the sky is beautiful there, so you're in for a treat by heading up north. Sleepkid recommended a great hike to me outside of Tokyo, although I'm yet to experience it. It's on my summer itinerary though!
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby OrthodoxEaster on Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:27 pm

Evin Relocation wrote:I have a lot of love for Sapporo because I appreciate its design as well as its gridded layout. The architecture is really great, too, and it's a gorgeous town.

Unfortunately I really haven't explored a lot of Hokkaido, but I did make it to Wakkanai, which was lovely, and the train ride from Sapporo -- which was a really slow, old school, "can I smell kerosene? Is that kerosene burning?" -- type of joint made for beautiful window viewing. I wish I had been in a position to march to up to the mountain there, which is apparently the "end" of Japan (Sakhalin / Karafuto dispute notwithstanding).

Either way the food is good and the sky is beautiful there, so you're in for a treat by heading up north.


Thanks, Evin. Any thoughts on Tohoku? Or did you merely go thru it w/o stopping on your way to Hokkaido?
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby Antero on Fri Jan 19, 2018 7:00 pm

Are you guys going to hike the Nakasendo Trail at all? Absolutely a blast. We stayed in two ryokan, one of which was eh and one of which was really lovely and not at all expensive, I can look up the names later.

Also, if you're going to Kyoto at all get at me so I can tell you where to find Our Secret Bar.
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby OrthodoxEaster on Fri Jan 19, 2018 8:23 pm

Antero wrote:Are you guys going to hike the Nakasendo Trail at all? Absolutely a blast. We stayed in two ryokan, one of which was eh and one of which was really lovely and not at all expensive, I can look up the names later.

Also, if you're going to Kyoto at all get at me so I can tell you where to find Our Secret Bar.


Hah! You're a smart dude. This is exactly what we plan to do. MrsEaster lived in one of the old post towns on the trail during the late '90s. One of the schools at which she taught there actually closed b/c the student body dwindled to a grand total of six kids. She used to walk parts of the Nakasendo quite often. I've never been. Really psyched for this.

Would absolutely love the name of the better of the two ryokan at which you stayed. And, perhaps the not-so-great one, as well, so we don't stay there by accident. PM or post, whatever works.

Kinds thanks for the offer but we're not going to Kyoto this time. We both visited long ago and have opted to head north instead.
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby Antero on Tue Jan 23, 2018 10:26 pm

OrthodoxEaster wrote:
Antero wrote:Are you guys going to hike the Nakasendo Trail at all? Absolutely a blast. We stayed in two ryokan, one of which was eh and one of which was really lovely and not at all expensive, I can look up the names later.

Also, if you're going to Kyoto at all get at me so I can tell you where to find Our Secret Bar.


Hah! You're a smart dude. This is exactly what we plan to do. MrsEaster lived in one of the old post towns on the trail during the late '90s. One of the schools at which she taught there actually closed b/c the student body dwindled to a grand total of six kids. She used to walk parts of the Nakasendo quite often. I've never been. Really psyched for this.

Would absolutely love the name of the better of the two ryokan at which you stayed. And, perhaps the not-so-great one, as well, so we don't stay there by accident. PM or post, whatever works.

Kinds thanks for the offer but we're not going to Kyoto this time. We both visited long ago and have opted to head north instead.

This is the one that was awesome!

http://www.yamakanoyu.com/english.html
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Re: goin' to Japan: Northern Honshu and Hokkaido travel advi

Postby OrthodoxEaster on Wed Jan 24, 2018 8:49 am

Antero wrote:
OrthodoxEaster wrote:
Antero wrote:Are you guys going to hike the Nakasendo Trail at all? Absolutely a blast. We stayed in two ryokan, one of which was eh and one of which was really lovely and not at all expensive, I can look up the names later.

Also, if you're going to Kyoto at all get at me so I can tell you where to find Our Secret Bar.


Hah! You're a smart dude. This is exactly what we plan to do. MrsEaster lived in one of the old post towns on the trail during the late '90s. One of the schools at which she taught there actually closed b/c the student body dwindled to a grand total of six kids. She used to walk parts of the Nakasendo quite often. I've never been. Really psyched for this.

Would absolutely love the name of the better of the two ryokan at which you stayed. And, perhaps the not-so-great one, as well, so we don't stay there by accident. PM or post, whatever works.

Kinds thanks for the offer but we're not going to Kyoto this time. We both visited long ago and have opted to head north instead.

This is the one that was awesome!

http://www.yamakanoyu.com/english.html


Thanks so much. Looks pretty damn great.

Alas, it is booked for the dates we are considering. Although it seems we will get to crash then w/friends in Tadachi, not far from Nagiso.
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