Winter Japan ideas for places south/west of Tokyo
January 4, 2011 8:58 PM   Subscribe

What are some good, less-well-known places to go west of Tokyo . . . this weekend?

I live in Kitakyushu, Japan (at the north end of Kyushu like it says on the tin). I have a friend coming in who I want to have an excellent 3-day weekend trip with. But it is January and I have no idea what to do in the winter here. Well, I could go to Hokkaido, but I'd really prefer to stay to the west of Tokyo, to keep travel and costs to a minimum.

I would love something that involves more nature than big city, and something that I haven't been to a number of times before (I have been to Kyoto enough times). I was looking at doing the Nakasendo trail from Tsumago-juku to Magome-juku, but don't know how feasible that is in winter, or if my travel companion will be up to it. I've been to Koya-san a couple times before, and would be happy to try it out in the winter, but I'd love some place new. If there's an awesome spot in Kyushu, I'd love to hear it, but I vaguely prefer Honshu (or Shikoku if it isn't too inconvenient to get to). I am kind of temple-d out although I could deal with a half-day or so of them.

Within 4 hours of Kitakyushu (Kokura station) by train would be a big plus, and one of the things making me ehh about the Nakasendo even though it sounds kind of awesome to me.

If you have any suggestions for wonderful hotels/minshuku/ryokan and good restaurants with vegetarian food, I'd love to hear them!
posted by that girl to Travel & Transportation around Japan (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I liked Shikoku when we went there, we took the Sunrise express train to Takamatsu (with private sleeping room) which was an experience on its own. But you can also Shinkansen to Okayama and take the Marine Liner over the bridge. (we did this on the return journey - I just happen to know trains as the kids love them). There is a special valley (I wish I remember the name) in Shikoku that I have been told must been seen, and is supposedly a nice trail to wander and quite "remote".

In Matsuyama (I believe), on the other end, there is a famous bath house, which was used as inspiration to Sen to Chihiro / Spirited Away.

There is a amusement park "near" Takamatsu (New Reoma World)

We stayed 3 days/2night in Shikoku, wished we'd stayed longer.
posted by lundman at 9:20 PM on January 4, 2011

Shikokuwise, Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu is lovely generally... not sure about in the winter, though. In the Kochi area, I bet Chikurinji would be amazing in winter and the nearby (across the road) Makino Shokubutsuen is probably also ok in winter. (Again, not sure about that...) Chikurinji is worth it even if you're templed out. But Kochi does involve a 4+ hour train trip from Okayama! There is a ferry from Kyushu to Ehime-ken though, you might want to check that out. Not sure where it departs/lands exactly.

And this is also far away, but SNOW MONKEYS?! At Yudanaka Onsen in Nagano-ken, there are Japanese macaques in hot springs! Extra cool in winter! Plus there's a people-onsen at the Korakukan ryokan, with outdoor bath just across the valley from the monkeys. (I've stayed there, and it's pricey but delicious traditional food and nice oldschool atmosphere.)
posted by equivocator at 10:15 PM on January 4, 2011

I used to live in Kitakyushu, and one of my favourite places to visit is Yufuin.
It is a little onsen resort town, and all of the ryokan I stayed at were fantastic.
Just wandering around the town always made me happy, in particular visiting the shrine with the really big tree which I think was called Ogosha 大杵社.
In addition, to get there, you have to ride on the Yufuin no mori train which is gigantic and green and all wooden inside, and my absolute favourite train journey ever.

If you are really lucky, you may be sitting in an onsen, and the clouds will part briefly and you will see the might of yufudake, the local peak, also known as bungo no fuji.

Whether or not you go, thanks for asking - I was just considering last night whether we could afford to go back to Japan this year, and whether or not I do, the natsukashii is pretty awesome.
posted by fizban at 2:16 AM on January 5, 2011

Sorry, I forgot to mention, vegetarian food is about as available as it is anywhere, especially if you are flexible on the dashi.
This was the place I stayed most recently, in April 2008, ホタル, and the owners son was fluent in English, having done a geology degree in America somewhere. This also catered to my vegetarian and dairy intolerant wife very well, although her meal was a bit smaller when I had sukiyaki.

Finally, if you want a proper vegetarian feast in the Kitakyushu, you cannot do better than 梅の花, although it will need some phone negotiation to clarify exactly what you mean by vegetarian. If you go for one of the extremely fancy meals (rather than the standard eightish courses) you can make your own tofu or yuba. Of course, if you are not a fan of tofu, you should steer well clear, as it is a tofu speciality place.

I am starting to just go on about the place now, so let me know if you want more recommendations. I didn't do much proper walking whilst there, but wish I had done more.
posted by fizban at 2:29 AM on January 5, 2011

I jumped in thinking you were talking about western Tokyo, which I guess you're not, but, say, if it was doable, there's a lot to be seen and done in the Ookutama area in western Tokyo, especially in the mountain top temple/ryokan area on Mitake-san, or right around the lake, even in winter.

Other than that, in a Kanto-esque way (sadly, it's all I know) the Izu-hanto is beautiful, has an amazing coastline, and a metric ton of good onsen.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:20 AM on January 5, 2011

There's quite a lot in Kyushu itself:
Beppu is great for a shot trip - wacky hot springs. Aso-san is a huge caldera in Kumamoto, has some quite nice trails that are easy enough to walk. Alternatively, in the volcano theme, there's Kagoshima city, with its active volcanic companion, Sakurajima - there's a neat half buried temple along the path from a previous lava eruption. Less natural than those, Nagasaki has the historical atomic bomb park as well as Dutch town stuff.
Also in Kagoshima prefecture, there's Yakushima, which is a ferry ride from the city, but which has Joumon Sugi, as well as tons of natural beauty.
Miyazaki is the only prefecture I haven't been to in Kyushu, but it looks to have some natural attractions as well.
posted by birdsquared at 6:24 PM on January 5, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the Kitakyushu recommendations, fizban! I think I'd like something a little bit more active than Yufuin this time around (also going with an opposite-sex friend makes onsens a little less fun, I think). The restaurant also sound interesting, but if you have any other Kitakyushu recommendations, please MeMail me! I am only here for a few more months, but that is still enough weekends for some good local adventures.
posted by that girl at 6:24 PM on January 5, 2011

Although it's been snowing a lot lately, I recommend you visit Shimane prefecture -- specifically, Iwami Ginzan, a silver mine that once accounted for 30% of world production. It's a World Heritage Site, but since it was designated so recently (2007) it is still largely undeveloped, and there is a mix of small-town ambiance and nature.

It also happens to be around four hours from Kitakyushu by a combination of Shinkansen (Kitakyushu to Shin-Yamaguchi, 20 min), limited express train (Super Oki to Oda-shi Station, 3 hours), and bus (25 min). Leave Kitakyushu by 8 AM and you can be at the mine by lunchtime.

Since spending both days at the mine would be a bit much, spend the rest of your time at Omori wandering the streets and then enjoy an onsen at Yunotsu.

It's bound to snow this weekend, judging by the forecast, but it shouldn't be nearly as bad as the massive snows over new year's.
posted by armage at 11:35 PM on January 5, 2011

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