Quite a while ago, I posted a bike ride on my journey to Shorenji-dam in Nabari and I called it “Nabari Dam” despite there being more than one…never mind. The argument for Shorenji-dam being called Nabari dam is a weak one for one simple reason- it doesn’t feed Nabari river- unlike Hinachi-dam (no more names now I swear)!
The journey to the second dam started bright and early on a cloudy day- which was great for lighting but no so great for capturing colours- but that doesn’t matter as much since it is winter.
The location is a brilliant one- at least on google Maps. If you are interested in going to the dam on foot, arrive at Kikyogaoka station and walk towards the Mega Don Quijote and continue walking- eventually you’ll find your way to the dam. Additionally, there is a bus- but busses in Nabari are a bit inconvenient.
The journey to the dam
Do you love cycling? Do you love cycling on a bike that has seen better days? How about one that is not designed for life in Nabari going up a hill for several kilometres? Sound fun? No- but strangely it was.
The journey to the dam is entirely uphill – which makes perfect sense (it’s a dam) and most of the way there are dedicated footpaths (or cycle paths in my case) which were extremely helpful as Japanese drivers in rural areas love to speed.
As the ascent continued, houses became infrequent and forests started emerging- most signs of urban life faded away into vast open countryside- an escape that was completely needed.
The journey at this point seemed a world away from Nabari- even with my slow ascent. The views were fantastic- but more importantly, it was brilliant exercise.
Upon arrival at the dam, you are greeted with the most fantastic views of the lake and of the surrounding countryside- with nay a person in sight.
The dam is slightly different from Shorenji-dam in construction but not use. The dam operates as a hydroelectric generation station in addition to providing water for household, industrial, and agricultural use. But the main selling point, similar to the other dam, is flood protection in times of heavy rainfall of typhoons. This is still a concern to many in Nabari which is one of the reasons for its constriction and for recent construction works happening along all rivers in Nabari- additionally a third dam is being built in the area set for completion by Reiwa.
The dam is 355 m long and 70.5 m high (or 14.2 Shinkansens long and 4.5 great Buddhas high according to the signs) and has a potential holding capacity for 20,800,000 m^3 of water but normally contains just 18,400,000 m^3 of water (or 1.84×10^7 m^3 of water- which looks so much better).
Similar to the other dam, the river it feeds goes through Iga, Nara, and eventually releases its’ load into Osaka bay- so it does help a lot of people by working.
It has the most fantastic road surrounding the lake and bridges along the way, with a car park and a small park- AKA a brilliant track for running and cycling (there were quite a few of us). The roads are brilliant and it is a fantastic journey- with few cars (except when I went through a tunnel and 5 appeared behind me) and a flat riding surface (the start notwithstanding!).
The journey back was a lovely way to cool down- it was mostly downhill again through the countryside. The signs of urbanization slowly seeped back into my journey until Nabari was unveiled- even with going a more scenic way along the river.
Final stats were a total journey length of 22.42 km, and an elevation increase of 280 m.
If you have been looking at your available vaction time in 2020 and have come to realise that attending the Tokyo Olympics will remain a dream, don’t worry Japan still has your back!
In 2021, the World Masters Games will take place in the Kansai region. This event will start on the 14th of May 2021 and will finish on the 30th of May 2021.
What is it?
The world masters games is the largest international multi-sports event which is open to anyone of “masters” age or 25 years old and older. Anyone can enter any even if it is NOT a world championship for that sport.
There are currently 59 events to take place in 35 locations in the 9 prefectures of the Kansai region, which is said to be the cultural heart of Japan.
What is the point?
Like any sporting event, the main 3 winners (first, second, and third) get a “beautifully crafted custom designed medals” and also and more importantly, the IMGA (the International Masters Games Association) state that “the real prize is exploring beautiful new locations, playing the sports you love and making lifelong friends!”
In other words, this is the Olympics that anyone can take part in.
How to take part?
The athlete is responsible for travel expenses, personal expenses, accommodation, spending money and participation fees. Included in the participation fees are “world class venues, officials and equipment in a number of sports” or everything you need to peform!
You may be wondering- why am I promoting this? As it is the start of 2020, many people will be looking to start a new challenge (or resolution) and many people become disheartened that they have no way to show how far they have come- and this is the perfect ‘measuring stick’ to show exactely that.
2021 is far enough away to become good at a new sport but close enough to be something to motivate you to get there.
There is a base entry fee which will allow entry in up to 5 disciplines. From the 6th onward, there is a fee of 2000 JPY per discipline. Additionally, some sports will require an additional fee for either more specialized equipment or for World Championship entry.
The base entry fee for overseas participants is 24,000 JPY which includes a Kansai travel pass and for domestic participants (including foreign nationals living in Japan) is 15,000 including a Kansai travel pass.
The 2 quick notes I’ll add on are: there is limited insurance coverage during the event for participants and all events will conform to World Anti-doping code.
Early entry opens on the 6th of January 2020 and will close on the 31st of January 2020. General entry opens on the 1st of Febuary 2020.
The list of events and locations have not been finalized but the current list, as printed in the Asahi newspaper on the 30/12/19, are listed below. Please note, dates are not listed- for further information, please check out the official website at: https://wmg2021.jp/en/
Please note, I have not listed all events
Archery (indoor and outdoor)
cycling (track and road race)
Tando, Yabu, Hyogo
Tennis and baseball
Basket ball, swimming, baseball etc
Volley ball, sailing etc
Long distance relay race
Golf and weight lifting
Bowling and golf
Awa City and Kamiyama-cho
Nagahama City and Maibara City
track- 10 km road race
Higashiomi City and Moriyama City
Canoeing and boating
Opening ceremony, Track and field, Karate etc
Katsuragi City and Kashiba City
Are there any events that you would like to take part in?
Thank you for reading and happy exploring and training!
This month the Tokyo Olympic Torch relay timetable had been released. The relay will go to all 47 prefectures, starting in Fukushima-cho on March 26th and Finish in Shinjuku, Tokyo on July 24th- an event which will last 121 days and see 858 villages, towns, cities, and wards.
Additionally, it will visit several world heritage sites throughout Japan including Mt. Fuji (富士山), and Himeji Castle (姫路城).
The following article is a list of where the torch will be day-by-day and I highly recommend planning an Olympic trip to at least feature part of this country-wide relay!
Please note, due to the length of some place names I have romanised the Japanese with the following rules:
If the place name starts with a direction, I have placed a hyphen between the direction and rest of the name
I have ignored the kanji “町” meaning town and the kanji “市” meaning city except in cases where the Prefecture shares a name with a city. I have translated “村” as village but this doesn’t need to be included.
For Tokyo wards, some include the ending “ku/(区)” and others do not.
Place names in bold are the prefectural capital.
Fukushima Prefecture （福島県）
Naraha, Hirono, Iwaki, Kawauchi Village, Tomioka, Okuma, Katsurao, Namie
Soma, Shinchi, Iitate, Kawamata, Fukushima City, Inawashiro, Kikatake
Chofu, Miyake Village, Kozushima Village, Niijima Village (Niijima and Shikinejima), Toshima Village, Oshima
Mikurajima Village, Hachijo, Aogashima Village, Ogasawa Village (Chichijima and Hahajima), Mitaka, Musashino
Suginami, Nakano, Nerima
Toshima, Itabashi, Kita, Adachi
Katsushika, Edogawa, Sumida, Arakawa
Taito, Bunkyo, Chiyoda, Chuo
Koto, Ota, Shunagawa
Meguro, Shibuya, Minato
There is no prefectural capital as Tokyo is the capital of Tokyo. Ward or “区” meaning special district in Japanese just translates to city in each official English translation. Every place from the 18th is a ward in Japanese. Finally, Chiyoda could be considered the “capital” of Tokyo if such a thing were to exist.
I hope that this information is useful in planning your Olympic trip to Japan.
Firstly- Hi eveyone I’m back!! On the 16th of December, while updating my laptop, the update broke my laptop and it is stuck in boot-loop (it still is) and I was left with a rather bad phone to try and type on.
I did try to post during this time but what once would take an hour, took over 2 days to research and type, so this post is still to come, along with several others.
So what to do? My first thought was to back up and restore my laptop and while all files and everything else still works, I could not open the recovery options. Additionally, my back-up hard-disk would not work and finally, there was no recovery save on the hard drive.
At this point, I decided to buy a Windows 10 OS disk to wipe my laptop and reinstall windows. The problem with this is that it costs 20,000 JPY and that was unacceptable. I then decided to look at buying a new laptop and this is what I decided to do.
Hard-off is a second-hand electronics store that offers laptops, PCs, Macs, new and old games and hardware (Xboxes, PS4s, Switches, Femicons, N64 etc) at a very reasonable price. I had bought a half decent laptop with 500 GB HDD, 4Gb (dual core), windows10 (32 bit) etc for 16,500 JPY including tax. The cheapest new notebook at a similar spec costs at least 60,000 JPY- but anyway I am very happy with my purchase.
My recommendation, therefore, is to go to hard-off for all your technology needs. If you are wondering/ worrying about buying something used in Japan, please don’t worry- a used product is like new in any other country.
Thank you for your patience during my period of silence.
It occurred to me that I have spent a lot of time looking into the Iga and Nabari areas and I have seemingly ignored the rest of the Mie. So I decided to explore somewhere I have passed while changing trains but never looked around and I got to say I’ll be back. But on with the review.
I arrived at Matsusaka train station on the Kintetsu line and I headed out of the JR exit and headed out into the wide world. My first point of call was 継松寺 or Keisho-ji temple.
When entering the grounds of Keisho-ji, it as if you have entered another world. The temple is well maintained, with a candle burning in the middle to allow people to buy incense and offer prayers for the dead, but there was no-one there. I was alone while visiting this large, historic center with the world passing all around me.
I ascended the wooden staircase to make an offering and pray and the temple is fantastic.
The rope hangs down attached to a gong to allow the gods to know you are there. But for visitors, there is so much old art, shrines, artifacts to look at that will grab you and make you appreciate them.
The best thing about this temple was its’ construction. So many temples in Japan feature concert staircases or use more modern building techniques but the main temple rejoices in old-world construction techniques. The other building are what you usually see- a mix on traditional and modern architecture.
The next stop on my journey was Matsusaka visitors center- which surprisingly a good stopping point. The staff do have some limited English but if you can (like always) please speak to them in Japanese. The center functions as the Matsusaka museum and information center which has an entire floor dedicated to the history and importance of Matsusaka- which is extremely interesting and worth the price of entry (it’s free). There is also a film about key events and people from it’s history and, more importantly, it has subtitles in English and Japanese and is worth a watch.
The gift shop offers 名物 or famous products from Matsusaka which ranges from flavored green teas (I may have bought a few), traditional お土産 or souvenirs which are usually a sweat treat for people to enjoy, and of course they have 松阪牛肉 or Matsusaka beef- of of the 3 greats of Japanese beef.
Surprisingly, the beef theme continued at the museum of history and folklore. The museum, which I was going to visit on my next trip was only 80 (that’s eighty- 8 0) JPY- it was a price I could not resist and indeed I did not. The current special exhibition is on Matsusaka beef and the museum features this quite heavily.
First note, the price- it’s exceptionally cheap which is brilliant. But there was a downside, the special exbition took center stage. The museum can be split into two parts: general history and the exhibition. Put it this way: I learnt more about the history of Matsusaka from the brochure with the ticket than I did at the museum. General history and information on the city is almost overlooked. The musum is keen to highlight the famous products that are prodiced here- rather than the history and culture surrounding it.
I did learn that the city had a thriving cotton trade and is one of the green tea centers of Japan along with its’ beef. I do recommend checking it out, but please wait until the next exhibition. It’ll make it a more enjoyable visit.
Now the main reason for my trip the castle. Matsusaka castle (ruins) is one of the 100 famous castles and the second one located in Mie-prefecture. To see the first check out: Iga castle.
I will not go into the history of Matsusaka castle (your safe for now) instead please enjoy the following photos:
After seeing the ruins of the castle [built in Tensho (天正)16年 or 1588 and originally consisted of the 本丸 (castle walls), 天守 (inner keep), 二の丸 (outer citadel ) and 石垣 (stone walls)] I continued onward to the former Ozu residence which for non-Japanese speakers is just a portal back to Japanese life during the Edo period (江戸時代). Interestingly enough, the Japanese just states “built after 1700”, which is extremely descriptive.
THe building is over 1000 meters squared, and has many different rooms of many functions along with small gardens dotted around- which is typical of Edo construction (for the wealthy of that time at least). It was an interesting side-note to my first official tour of Matsusaka and for 160 JPY it is worth the price. But if you are not interested in Japanese history, please don’t waste your time.
There was also a leaflet in “American” as they called it. I was not amused. The last thing of note I saw (which was closed but did make me chuckle) was a cafe called “Merry England”- which offer conversation in English as a selling point.
That was my first quick trip to Matsusaka, the next will be a 集印の観光旅行 or a shrine stamp tour of Matsusaka.
Thank you for reading and happy exploring.
Matsusaka Visitors Centre
Price: free entry. Be aware of the gift shop (I spent a lot)
As I live in the area, some of the nuances that tourists seem to love are a bit lost on me. Nevertheless, I was a tourist but 5 years ago when I visited the city as a foreign exchange student. But, new age I hope comes experience and today, we’ll look at my journey through Iga city.
Firstly, here’s a bit of cute- which was advertisement for the ninja costumes you can rent while touring the ninja city (mostly popular with young children and families).
Upon exit from the Ninja train station I was greeted with this cute sight- which doesn’t happen when commuting to work. These 3 are adorable and even the taxi driver (there is a taxi rank located behind me) got out and took a picture.
But onward I went, until I came to the main reason for my visit: the NINJA experience. Firstly, the downside: when I last came I only took part in the Ninja experience and museum and this is exactly the same: from the actions taken to the displays. However, this does not mean that it is not worth doing.
Firstly price: to visit Iga castle, take part in the Ninja experience and visit the lantern hall (called the だんじり会館) it is 1750 JPY- which is the combined ticket price. Buying this is easier and it does save a bit of money. But, If you only want to visit 1 or 2 of the sites, pay for a single entry- it is cheaper. Firstly, we’ll look at Iga castle.
伊賀上野城 or Iga castle has been present on the site in some form since it was built. The castle dates back to 1585 or 天正15年 when the ruling family started to build it. The site once held smaller building surrounding the castle and it was once a hive of activity.
Just north-west of the castle is the ruins of the castle hall- which served as the living spaces for the castle helpers, the attendants and everything else which the main castle would have needed including housing the kitchen area, the tax office, and other offices a head of state needs to have.
The site of the castle office, now seems to be ignored by locals and tourists alike as just a part space. The boarders you can see marked out show where each room once stood and markers name the rooms both in English and Japanese. but still people walk on past.
In 1611 or 慶長16年 building work gor underway around the castle and 30 m 本丸 or walls were erected- which was and still is the tallest of any castle in Japan, making Iga castle one of the “100 most famous castles in Japan”, one of the reasons for a high volume of Japanese visitors.
The castle was once a central part of nationwide defense as there was a high risk of rebellions due to the climate at the time and after the erection of the increased defenses in 1611, on the 2nd of September 1612, the Tenshu (天守 or castle tower was destroyed in high winds. The decision to not rebuild the castle was made in 1615 at the start of Genwa 天和元年.
Fast forward to 1935, 320 years later, Katsu Kawasaki (川崎克) started restoration/ rebuilding the castle out the tensho was created out of wood- which is what can be seen today.
The castle is a fantastic thing to explore but it is NOT accessibility friendly. There are no lifts at all and all stair cases are extremely steep, but it is worth it. The castle has almost become a community center, showing the history and culture of Iga and of the Iga district. In addition to this, the castle hosts many artifacts from the castle era, showcasing the strange articles of war, war time documents and art and poetry created by the castles inhabitants.
There are many things I could point I which I liove when I visit but I will do but 2. Firstly, on the top floor, there are 46 individually created from many different people. Secondly, the view of Iga- take a look for yourself:
The next stop was the ninja experience, and I got to say it was a bit of fun. Admittidaly I did end up speaking to a Japanese professor and we did have a bit of a laugh, mostly at my height and being in a tradational Japanese house. Nevertheless the tour. There are 2 types of tour on offer: with or without the ninja weapons exbition- I went for without (but I went with previously).
The attendant who guided the group around, explained that the roof was so steep by design- it made it harder for enemy ninjas to enter the property. Which bring us nicely to the first point- the fist part of this is a group guided experience and it is wheelchair friendly.
Upon entry, you must take off your shoes (it is Japan), you are guided into the living room where some ninja tricks are performed- along with the explanation of how and why. There are tours in English, but there are a lot more in Japanese.
The guildes explain quite a bit about the way of the ninja and what precaustions they took to ensure everything remained safe while ensuring that everything was done to amaze and amuse.
Following this, the tour leads onto the museum where exhibits are presented in English and Japanese which show ninja artifacts and tell you how many things were done. As this tour is designed for children and adults in 2 different languages, the explanations given are more of an overview but helpful never the less.
There is just one artifact that I will talk about in more detail: the 4 sided shrunken. What I will say is that there is no problem with the Japanese side- there is a problem with western cultural knowledge. This shuriken is known as a Manji-shriken and is written with the kanji: 卍手裏剣, see the problem. To make matters worse, the translation of 卍 or まんじ is swastika which really does evoke any positive feelings to a European’s ear.
Finally, there was but more more building which housed further information and a gift shop with some brilliant books about the history of ninja and plenty of general ninja merch including T-shirts, rubber kunai, pens, etc.
The last stop was the lantern hall- argubuly the least impressive of the 3, especially for any non-Japanese speaker. However it is from here were ninja costumes may be rented for your grand tour of Iga.
This hall houses the large lantern floats used in various festivals happening in Iga (all of which I have missed or am unable to attend….). Each display has been painstakingly created to best highlight it’s beauty and artistic style. All explanations are given in Japanese and while it can be enjoyed without, it does make the experience longer.
Upon entry, you are told that there is a 12 minute starting at the start of the hour on the second floor and to be honest, even with this, you are only going to be here for about 30 minutes to an hour.
At the end, there is a large gift shop with ninja anything and everything: sake, rice, chocolate, alcohol, ice cream, t-shirts etc. If you love ninja, this is not to be missed.
All in all, it was a brilliant way to spend a day. There is a lot more in Iga to explore (the main city for example) but spending a day looking more into Iga’s history was well worth itだってばよ！( BTW that was painful to write but if you don’t get that reference, do you even ninja?)
I went shopping, like many do on their day off, and after buying my weeks produce, I suddenly discovered that the Aeon supermarket was more of an Aeon mall- which sells a large variety of products. The embarrassing thing about this is that I have lived in Nabari for quite a length of time and I had never noticed this before…..never mind.
On discovery of this, I ascended the building and on the 3 rd flood (UK 2nd floor) I discovered the gaming centre. Unlike the Sega gaming center, it offered a variety of games, prizes and seemed to attract more people to it.
The first “strange” game I discovered was the raffle ticket style claw machine. First thing to note, because getting a prize is not guaranteed, the claw is extremely strong. Secondly, you must open each ticket to check if you have won. Finally, is it 100 JPY for 2 plays- which is an exceptionally cheap price.
I spent 200 JPY (4 plays) and the results were:
2 winning tickets which were marked C賞 and numerous tickets marked はずれ. Winning tickets went from C to special (C, B, A, and special) and the rarity increases as the prize improves. I won twice and came away with Disney erasers, so I am quite happy with that.
In addition to this game, they have numerous UFO machines with official products including Anpanman, Disney, Doraimon etc.- which attracted the attention on children, and strange adults alike.
There was a small selection of more adult machines including pachinko and slots (only 10 in total). This game center is definitively more catered towards children rather than adults but was still extremely bit of fun and not too expensive as long as you keep a strict budget.
The other game strange game on offer was a ping-pong ball drop, if it entered the Takoyaki cooker with the colored spot, you can choose with prize you want of the corresponding color. I did not win as it is mostly down to change.
Please do checkout this arcade, or similar ones located around Japan.
When exploring Iga, I came across this little slice of heaven located opposite city hall. Warashibe Taiyaki is an extremely small store but its’ merchandice is fantastic.
Taiyaki are small pancake like treats in the shape of a fish often with runny center. Some of the flavors they offer at this store are red bean paste (あん), Chocolate cream (チョコクリーム), and green tea (抹茶). For those that are looking for an additional treat, they also have たい焼きアイス takiyaki ice-cream as well.
Each taiyaki is sold separately, with the taiyaki being 170 JPY (other flavors are about 20 yen either way) and the Taiyaki ice-cream is 360 JPY- all prices include tax.
I definitely recommend this shop and if you visit Iga, please do check it out.
For telephone orders (you will have to pick it up yourself), please call 0595-24-8818.