Our Top Places in Japan

WomanGoingPlaces has chosen some of the places we saw as first-time visitors to Japan that became our Top Places in Japan.

Tokyo the capital, of course has many attractions and must be visited, but we would like to present some places outside Tokyo, some lesser known, that made a special impression.

These are to be found on 4 different islands of Japan – Honshu, Miyajima, Hokkaido and Shikoku. The choices are arranged according to islands and not in order of favourites.

We would also like to recommend the following local guides whom we found to be excellent – knowledgable, pleasant and reliable:

Ms. Atsuko Inuzuka   Areas guided include Tokyo area, Yokohama, Hakone, Nikko, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Himeji, and Kobe.

Ms.Chiwako Mukai   Areas guided principally Hokkaido, but also from Tokyo to Kyoto including Takayama, Kanazawa, Hiroshima and Miyajima.

Mr Masaaki Hirayama  Area guided – Hiroshima

HONSHU

KYOTO

Don’t rush through Kyoto. You need to spend time in this city that has more World Heritage Sites than Rome. Plan time to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of the temples and shrines. Allow time to wander through its distinctive districts, extensive gardens and wide boulevards. Eat Shabu Shabu sitting on tatami mats and other traditional food in its excellent restaurants.

Kyoto’s historical importance as Japan’s capital and the Emperor’s residence from 794 to 1868 spared it from air raids in WW2 and the mass, unattractive post-war development of many Japanese cities.

Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)

Golden Pavilion Kyoto

The glittering gold Kinkaku-ji Temple and its reflection in the pond is stunning and yet serene. The two top floors of the temple are covered in gold leaf.  Built initially by a shogun as his personal villa, it became a temple in 1408. The original building has been burnt down several times, most recently by a fanatic monk in 1950, but each time, like a gold-plated phoenix, it has arisen splendid from the ashes.

You cannot go inside, but must admire it from the outside only. On rare occasions, heads of state and royalty are permitted to enter and see the beautiful interior. Perhaps the luckiest are the cleaning ladies who get regular access to every part.

 

 Fushimi Inari Shrine

 

This is the head Shinto shrine of 30,000 shrines in Japan dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Since 711 A.D., people wishing to give thanks have each donated a torii gate and now there are over 10,000 of these dazzlingly beautiful gates. You walk inside vermillion avenues formed by these torii, each with different inscriptions in bold black.

It is the most popular site in Kyoto and extremely crowded, so try to get there as early as possible in the morning.

 

HIMEJI CASTLE, HIMEJI

HIMEJI CASTLE

UNESCO describes Himeji Castle as “ a masterpiece of construction in wood”.  Sitting on top of a hill, it is a luminous white, particularly brilliant after its recent restoration, and appears to float on its fortified foundations. It is considered Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size and beauty and its well-preserved complex of 83 buildings. Begun as a fort in the 14th Century, it was remodelled and expanded in the 16th Century. Despite war, earthquakes and fires, it remained intact, making it one of Japan’s twelve remaining ‘original castles’. It is also one of only four castles in Japan that has been designated as a National Treasure and has also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A superb example of typical Japanese castle architecture, the intricate detail of every feature from the immense trees used as pillars to the feudal family crests in the tiling reflects extraordinary craftsmanship and ingenuity. Himeji Castle combines the strength of an immense fortification with the lightness and beauty of traditional Japanese aesthetic.

 

KOYASAN, Mount Koya

    If you would like to stay in a Buddhist monastery and practise meditation, Koyasan, is a beautiful, if  remote place to do it – in thickly forested mountains at an elevation of 900 metres. Considered one of Japan’s most sacred sites, it is the world headquarters of the Shingon School of Esoteric Buddhism and was established in the year 816 by Kobo Daishi. He is considered by many to be the most influential religious person in Japanese history and his mausoleum is there in the sprawling Okunoin cemetery.

    Koyasan has 117 temples. The Garan Temple complex in particular has very intricately designed, remarkable temples set in extensive gardens. Koyasan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For over a thousand years, pilgrims have made the lengthy journey here. You see them still, wearing white cotton jackets, with conical hats on their heads and wooden staffs in their hands. Like every place in Japan that attracts many visitors, there are shops, restaurants and even cafes to cater to guests. More than 50 of the temples and monasteries also offer lodgings, known as shukubo. See our post about Ryokans in Japan for more about shukubo and how to contact them.

    HIROSHIMA

       

      The destructive power of the the first atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 obliterated nearly everything within a two kilometer radius. It was decided not to rebuild the blast area, but to turn it into Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park. You may be disinclined to visit a place of such harrowing memories but it is very worthwhile to do so. Hiroshima itself has been rebuilt into a thriving attractive city.  The memorials to the terrible events of the war are thoughtfully and sparely presented. Through personal belongings, clothes and stories they evoke the impact and consequences of that fatal day.

      The Museum on the site focuses on August 6 – the day the bomb was dropped and its outcome in human suffering. Scorched items of clothing, personal effects and buildings that survived the 3000 degree heat generated by the bomb make for a devastating display.

      The Children’s Peace Monument was built to commemorate the death of children in the atomic blast, and in particular the death of 12 year-old Sadako Sasaki. She was 2 years-old when exposed to the radiation of the blast, but grew up healthy until 10 years later when she was diagnosed with leukaemia. There is a Japanese legend that if you fold 1000 paper cranes, your wish will come true. So Sadako began to fold paper cranes hoping to become well. Some of these cranes can be seen in the Museum. The Children’s Peace Monument  has a bell you can ring in commemoration and it is ornamented with colourful paper cranes sent from all over the world.

      The A-Bomb Dome, also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. When the bomb exploded, it was one of the few buildings to remain standing, and remains so today designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

      Between the Museum and the A-Bomb Dome is the Cenotaph. This is an arched tomb for those who died as a result of the bomb, either because of the initial blast or exposure to radiation. Below the arch is a stone chest holding a register of these names, of which there are over 220,000. The grandfather of our guide when we visited Hiroshima, was one of them.

      NIKKO

       

        The lavish beauty of the buildings, temples, shrines, gates and bridges in Nikko is extraordinary. This area enshrines the power and wealth of the first Shogun of the Edo Shogunate – Tokugawa Ieyasu. As such, it is a UNESCO World Heritage centre. Pathways through giant trees lead to very long and steep flights of steps into most buildings. There is a feeling of having to ascend into the presence of the all-powerful Shogun. Nikko is 2 hours from Tokyo by train, so a day-trip is possible but would greatly limit what you could see. The area is also a mountain resort.

        MIYAJIMA ISLAND


          Miyajima Island is considered one of the top three scenic sights in Japan. This island sits in the western part of the Inland Sea of Japan, in the northwest of Hiroshima Bay. It is popularly known as Miyajima, which in Japanese means Shrine Island. There are shrines, temples and historical monuments such as the famous vermillion torii gate that appears to float in the water. Most visitors make a day trip by ferry from Hiroshima. Don’t. It’s worth a longer visit because even if your interest in visiting shrines has waned, it is one of the prettiest and most peaceful places in Japan. Miyajima has retained its traditional character and avoided the high-rise development of most Japanese cities.

          Walking through its charming streets you are often accompanied by wild deer, who either ignore you or try to nibble any paper you have in your pockets. There is a challenging but beautiful walk through primeval forest up (and/or down) Mt. Misen. Spectacular panoramic views over the sea await you. You can take the cable car up as well. The specialties of Miyajima are the oysters and the freshly baked, custard-filled sponge cookies. Excellent accommodation is available at all levels of comfort. See our Ryokans in Japan post for more about the Miyarikyu Ryokan.

           

          HOKKAIDO

          NOBORIBESTSU

            Noboribetsu is famous for its hot springs and volcanoes. A small town in the south of Hokkaido, it is easily reached by train from Sapporo. Set in volcanic mountains, it attracts those who seek the healing and relaxing waters of some of the best onsen in Japan. Noboribetsu Onsen is one of the most popular and famous hot spring resorts. See our Hokkaido post for more about Noboribetsu.

            The stark yellow, pink and green-clad landscape is beautiful. Taking a walk along the many pathways through the Shikotsu-Tōya National Park, including the one to Jigoku-Dani (Hell Valley) a huge geothermal crater, is exhilarating. There are cauldrons of bubbling, sulphurous liquid. Geysers periodically erupt in a shower of boiling water.

            HAKODATE

            Goryokaku Fort Hakodate

            Its chief attraction is the five-pointed star shaped Goryokaku Fort modelled on 16th Century European citadel towns and completed in 1864. Its thick stone walls are surrounded by a moat and the 1,600 cherry trees planted in its grounds make it an extraordinary sight in spring. It’s an impressive sight in any season and can be best appreciated from the observatory in the Goryokaku Tower nearby.

            The new Goryokaku Tower was built in 2006 as an observatory in order to give visitors excellent perspectives onto the Fort from a height of almost 100 metres.

            Hakodate is famed for excellent seafood. This bounty can be seen in over 300 stalls in the morning market (Asaichi).

            See our Hokkaido post for more about Hakodate.

            SAPPORO

            Sapporo Beer Museum

            Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, is probably best known around the world as the original home of its eponymous brand of beer. It is a thriving pleasant city of almost 2 million people set on a grid pattern that is easy to navigate. Below the city centre, there is a network of underground shopping malls, plazas and public transport that make it possible to live and go about business in the city without suffering the extremely cold winter.

            Winter is still an important season in Sapporo because of the annual Sapporo Snow Festival held in February and its astonishing mammoth ice sculptures.  Skiing is also an attraction because of the availability of ski jumps in the city and its proximity to the Niseko ski resort. For more about Sapporo see our Hokkaido post.

            SHIKOKU

            RITSURIN GARDEN, TAKAMATSU

               

              The city of Takamatsu is located on the northern shore of Shikoku, the smallest, least populated and least visited of the four major islands of Japan. Ritsurin Garden is thought by many to be one of best gardens in Japan. It was designed by generations of the local feudal lord and took over 100 years to be completed in 1745. The more than 1,400 twisted and contorted pines set this garden apart from other gardens. Every single day, gardeners hand-prune each of the pines in turn until they complete the 1,400 trees and then start again, removing withered needles and shaping the growth according to a well-defined aesthetic.

              The teahouse in the gardens is exquisite with magnificent views over the lake and mountain. Dating back over three centuries, Ritsurin Garden earned the highest rating of 3 stars from the Michelin Green Guide Japan.

              MATSUYAMA

              Matsuyama Castle

              Matsuyama Castle on the island of Shikoku is another of Japan’s twelve ‘original castles’ which have survived the post-feudal era since 1868 intact. It is located on Mt. Katsu, a steep hill in the city centre providing visitors to the castle with a bird’s eye view of Matsuyama and the Seto Inland Sea. The castle was constructed between 1602 and 1628. The current three storied castle tower was re-constructed in 1820 after the original one was destroyed by lightening.

              Related posts:

              Onsen in Japan

              Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

              Autumn in Japan

              Notes on Japan

              Ryokans in Japan

              Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan

              Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

              The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet

               

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              乌鲁鲁(艾尔斯岩石)— 澳大利亚的红色中部

               

              At the end of May 2017, Uluru stood as a silent sentinel over an historic summit of the First Nations of Australia. They had come from across the continent and the Torres Strait Islands, 250 community leaders. At the end of 3 days of deliberation, they issued a powerful and beautifully crafted document, entitled Statement From The Heart. It rejected symbolic recognition. Speaking from the “ torment of powerlessness” it demanded a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice in government decision-making. It also called for a Makarrata Commission to supervise agreements with government and lead the way to a treaty.

              And so another dimension was added to the political, cultural and spiritual significance of Uluru.

              Uluru is one of the few places in the world to have been awarded dual World Heritage recognition  – for both its outstanding natural values and outstanding cultural values.

              On our trip to the Red Centre of Australia, we found extraordinary beauty, cultural richness, and new perspectives on this iconic Australian landmark.

              We began with the perspective on Uluru from the distance,  at both sunrise and sunset. In the darkness of early morning, we watched as a dark shape outlined by the first rays of the sun began to loom over the flat plain. By day, we saw a monolith, 9.4k in circumference, rising up 348 metres from the semi-arid desert that surrounds it. Both the rock and the sand are stained a deep red by the iron oxide in the earth. Late afternoon, we watched from afar as the sunset coated Uluru pink, then rich purple colours.

              But nothing really prepared us for the shock of seeing Uluru up close.

              It is not a uniform lump of rock. As you walk into it, you discover oases with vegetation, waterholes, waterfalls, caves with rock art, gullies and rocks sculptured into remarkable shapes. Changes of light, shadow and perspective bring with them continuous shifts in appearance, an impression of movement at odds with the idea of a stolid monolith.

              In the tranquility of the Kantju Gorge, we were enclosed by towering rocks that spectacularly changed from yellow to gold, orange to ochre, pink to purple, and brown to grey.

              This breathtaking physical perspective is only a part of Uluru. We began to see that there is another more compelling perspective. We began to learn about the Anangu, the Aboriginal people who are the traditional custodians of Uluru and the country around it, and we pay our respects to them.  Their traditional languages are Pitjantjatjara and Yankunitjatjara. Carbon dating on caves, shows that indigenous people have lived in this area for at least 22,000 years, and possibly 30,000. Elsewhere in Australia, there is evidence of Aboriginal habitation dating back to around 60,000 years, making them one of the oldest human societies on earth.

              Traditional custodianship is quite different from our concept of land ownership. It is not personal possession, but public, common responsibility to care for the land, its flora and fauna, and to carry on that care from generation to generation.

              For thousands of years, the indigenous people have passed down the knowledge of how to survive on the land and how to survive as a community. But they have not written it down. There are no written texts. There is no sacred literature. They have no Bible, Koran, Sutras, Vedas or Chinese Classics that have guided the survival of other peoples.

              It is an oral tradition that has sustained the Aboriginal people with a strong culture in Australia for 60,000 years, in some of the harshest terrain on earth.

              The landscape is their sacred text.  The land is endowed with sanctity. Aboriginal spiritual heritage, history, laws, culture, knowledge, geography are all embodied in the land.  They read their land – its shape, its contours, its plants, animals and birds. And they express this connection to the land through songs, stories, ceremonies and art.

              The foundation of the culture is called Tjukurpa – Creation – when the ancestors, changing shapes between humans, animals, birds and spirits, roamed the formless land. Their travels, battles and experiences gave shape to the land and created its distinctive topography and all life. As well as  creation stories, Tjukurpa is a body of knowledge governing human behaviour and care of country.

              According to Tjukurpa, Uluru was formed by Two Boys. They were playing at the Kantju waterhole, piling up mud until it was the size of Uluru. The long channels and gullies on the southern side of Uluru were formed when the Two Boys slid down from the top on their bellies, dragging their fingers through the mud.

              The python woman, Kuniya and the poisonous snake man, Liru, are other ancestors who shaped Uluru and left visible marks. Signs in the rock chronicle their struggle and the places where the grieving Kuniya struck Liru dead in vengeance for spearing her nephew.

              When visiting Uluru, you are not just walking amongst boulders and rocks. You are following the path of the creation stories that the Anangu continue to celebrate. The spirits of the ancestors are believed to still dwell here so it is considered sacred, and parts of Uluru are closed to the public.

              The initiation of the young into the complexities of Tjukurpa continues. And in caves in Uluru, grandfathers pass down knowledge to young boys, drawing on the cave walls as a teacher in any other classroom would illustrate on a blackboard. In separate caves, women elders pass on women’s business to young girls.

              It is an ancient culture that is still alive and still defines the indigenous people.

              Another new perspective we had on Uluru was looking up to the desert sky – the stark blue of the sky by day and the sheer brilliance of the night sky. Since tourist and local accommodation is concentrated in a particular area, the township of Yulara, electric lighting does not blot out the stars as it does in cities.  You can look up and clearly see endless swathes of stars shining directly above you.

              Uluru is within the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park which covers 327,414 acres of Australia’s desert outback. In 1985 title deeds to the land were handed back to the Anangu, and it is managed jointly by the traditional owners and Parks Australia.

              The Cultural Centre in the National Park is very beautiful. Built from mud bricks, it represents the two ancestral snakes, Kuniya and Liru. Inside, there are outstanding exhibits about Anangu culture, and you can purchase original indigenous artworks. The bookshop also provides information on a variety of walks around Uluru. Different tour companies also offer tours.

              Since Uluru is a sacred site, climbing the rock is disrespectful. It is also dangerous, so visitors are requested not to do so.

              The best times to go are during the Australian winter and spring, when the nights may be freezing, but the days are mild. In summer, temperatures can be extremely hot with outdoor activity limited to the morning hours.

              The hotels all belong to one group so there is not much competition, but there is a range of accommodation from camping to 5-star tents and hotels.

              Our photos were taken only where permissible. To see each photo separately go to our Gallery page.

              Photography – Rosalie Zycher & Augustine Zycher

              Video editor – Augustine Zycher

              Music – Albare  CD  ‘The Road Ahead’  title track www.albare.info

               

               

               

               

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              Susan – Women of Oz

              I learnt to be on my own later, travelling as an older woman, because I think I have been left alone as an older woman in a way that I never was when I was younger. I used to be followed. Spain was a nightmare. You couldn’t be on the street in those days in the sixties. You could not go to Spain alone, under Franco. I was there. You could not go to Greece alone. And you could not be in Italy unless you wanted to be followed all the time. Now I feel very free because no-one even sees me! No-one sees me. They’ll help. I can ask questions and they’ll come to my aid, but no-one wants to follow me and touch me.

              Oh, it’s great! It’s fabulous!

              THE KIMBERLEY, AUSTRALIA

              One memorable trip for me is going to the Kimberley a few years ago with my husband. And I feel like I’m a millimetre high when I go into that country, Australia. I feel like I don’t exist. I’m so insignificant. I always feel that when I go into that sort of country here. And the Kimberley was just extraordinary because of the colour, and the vastness, the silence and just so much going on. But you need a guide. You need to be shown how to look. Whereas, you go to Europe, you know how to look. I don’t know how to look in my own country. It’s fabulous.

               

              THE NAKASENDO WAY, JAPAN

              The Nakasendo way (Japan) was an ancient road that linked Tokyo with Kyoto, and it was controlled by the old warlords. Along that way there are stations like forts and they controlled who went on that road and it was for their own survival. It was a very violent time in the 12th and 13th centuries. So this road goes through the mountains, literally through the mountains behind Kyoto.

              It’s a 10-day walk, and you walk from Ryokan to Ryokan (traditional Japanese inns). You stay in tiny, tiny little ancient Japanese Ryokans. You have to just carry a little day pack. You’ve got to be fit enough to walk up to 8 hours a day. But you go in the autumn or the summer. And the road can be hilly, very steep or it can be quite flat. And little paths, little beautiful tiny mountain paths. You’re surrounded on all sides by trees, bamboo. It was autumn so all the leaves are changing colour, and in that 10 days, the leaves went from green to brown to scarlet to yellow. And it’s meditative because the only thing you need to do is concentrate on your feet – that’s it! I tried one or two times…, things came into my head but I had to push them away. So you basically just get up in the morning, have a divine Japanese breakfast, and you put on your shoes and your jacket, take your walking sticks, and walk – until dusk.

              It’s very spiritual. It’s very ancient. And it’s a challenge beyond. There are some days when you are walking on the original bluestone. They’re like 500 years old and you’ve got to walk on them in a certain way and you’ve got to be very, very careful. You’ve just got to plod. They’re sort of sticking up. It might only go on for half a mile because a lot of them are not there. You’ve got to plod. You’ve got to walk as slowly as your heartbeat. And what’s the challenge for me, is slowing down. You can’t run because you won’t make it.

              And the other challenge was just to know I could get there. Because on about the third or fourth day you think, I’m not putting my boots on again.

              We probably ended up walking 300 kilometres.

              So, I know lots of people that are doing that right now. People of my age, women who are feeling – if I don’t do it now, I’ll never be this fit again. Because you must be reasonably fit.

               

               

               

               

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              Ningaloo Reef

              澳大利亚尼加卢礁


              在澳大利亚的海域里我们可以寻找到这些壮丽的珊瑚礁。不过它们不是来自我们所熟知的澳大利亚东海岸的大堡礁,而是来自西海岸的尼加卢礁。着实奇怪的是,虽然这片礁脉在去年被评为世界遗产,但是却鲜为人知。

              尼加卢是世界公认的最壮观的珊瑚礁群之一同时也是最后一片依旧保持原生态的珊瑚礁群。在尼加卢栖息着220种珊瑚以及500种热带鱼类。我对于这样一片拥有富饶的独特海洋生物并鲜为人知的地带充满好奇。

              带着这份好奇,我潜入海底与它的鲨鱼,大海龟,黄貂鱼,儒艮以及无数令人惊艳色彩斑斓的鱼群一起畅游。

               

              事实上,尼加卢是世界上最长的近岸礁之一。因为它怀抱澳大利亚多岩的西北海岸线远郊一角,所以乘船观赏实为上佳之选。

              我在尼加卢航海(Sail Ningaloo)处为自己订了一个为期5天的52英尺双体船航行。这次旅行我偶遇了一位来自英国的独立航海探险者—凯特。她是唯一的一位同行者,也是一名女性,她航行经历广泛,足迹遍及北极、南极以及加拉巴戈斯群岛。她此行的目的就是在珊瑚礁中潜水。
              我选择了用通气管潜水。在此之前我从未尝试过通气管潜水,不过这并无大碍。潜水教练指导我穿好潜水服并教会我使用通气管,然后我便滑下轮船跟着他们潜入海底。

              青绿色的海水通透无比,峡谷中精巧玲珑的珊瑚霎时映入我的眼帘。与此同时,我的周身也游弋着一群形态各异五彩斑斓的鱼群,它们的队形千变万化令人称奇。

              一直以来,我都迷恋在自然纪录片中看到的那些绿色的大海龟。现在我万分激动因为终于有幸可以在他们中间畅游一番甚至可以和他们中的一些近到咫尺。直到他们发现了我,拍打着鳍肢匆匆游远。这时有两头儒艮慢慢游近,我异常兴奋,因为这些体型奇特的生物真的是难得一见。
              nigaloo reef sailing

              不过鲨鱼、黄貂鱼就可怕多了。虽然他们告诉我珊瑚鲨对人不感兴趣,但是当几头珊瑚鲨急速向我游来的时候我还是不禁屏息凝神直到他们游走。而黄貂鱼则是非常难觅的,因为他们会躲藏在海底纯白的沙子中,然后突然跃起,抖落身上的沙子,如离弦之箭般迅速游远。

              当我们在甲板上闲逛时,我们就会看着鲸鱼游过,看着它们从呼吸孔中喷射出水柱。此时正值白鲸和座头鲸在6000平方米的尼加卢海域进行他们一年一度的迁徙。一天,一头母座头鲸和她的孩子靠近了我们的船。凯特和我立刻停止了讲话生怕把他们吓跑,而事实恰好相反,我们越对着他们说话,他们就越靠近,最后母座头鲸游到她孩子的身下将他驼在背上让他更好地看看我们。真是一群高智商又充满好奇的动物呵。

               

              每天我可以用通气管潜水两次,每天我都看到完全不同排布的珊瑚丛,甲壳类动物,哺乳动物和鱼。

              当我不在海底时,我就躺在甲板上读书,时不时地看看有没有鲸鱼,蝠鲼鳐,海豚或是海龟。

              躺在我船舱床铺上最美的事便是看着初升的旭日慢慢点亮舷窗外的大海。

              这是一次适合女性的旅游。即便我做的是以前从未做过的事,但是我感到安全、舒适而且也不感觉别扭或者感觉像是一个女人自己出游。这是一个去亲近和享受这个世界的这份独特美丽的绝好方式。

               

              备注:最后一刻订的确认航程有的时候会被取消。

              尼加卢航海(Sail Ningaloo)最近刚获得了由西澳旅游局颁发的生态旅游银奖和探险旅游铜奖。

               

              潜水中看到的珊瑚丛中的儒艮、海龟、黄貂鱼、鲨鱼以及色彩绚丽的鱼类,请在影片中欣赏。

              感谢尼加卢航海(Sail Ningaloo)和Prue Johnson的海底照相及摄影。Augustine Zycher编辑


              更多信息:http://www.sailningaloo.com.au
              查看大地图

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              Karyn – Women of Oz

              CAMBODIA

              Every time we build (as part of the Tabitha Foundation Cambodia), it’s a challenge because 40 to 50 people build 40 homes in 3 days. It’s heads down, bottom up, hammer away. It’s always a physical challenge.

              And what do you do?

              Build. Hammer.

              When we go there, there’s usually a cement base that’s already poured and a frame and a roof. And we hammer floorboards. They can be bamboo or timber. And we basically hammer. One project, I think we did 3000 nails in 2 floors and also we used corrugated iron around the external walls. It has a cut out door-frame and a window, and I guess it doesn’t sound like it’s a beautiful luxury framework in which people live, but it’s dry – Cambodia has so much rain – and it’s a protection for their property and anything that’s precious. It’s a safe place for them.

              I’ve been doing it for 9 years. I took my daughter last year, for her birthday, for her 21st. We went to visit Sue Huxley’s school, which was amazing. And I took my 21 year-old daughter and a friend of hers. I wanted to take them to Siem Reap because Siem Reap is one step away from heaven. That’s the temple area. It’s beautiful. That always overwhelms me because that’s so amazing. So taking Jessica last year was really important. Rather than her just being involved in the build, I just wanted her to get a sense of the country, just to understand why I just keep having to go back, why it’s just in me. It’s almost like I feel, it’s one of those places that you become so involved in it, that it’s almost hard not to go back.

              It’s like watching the twin towers fall. It’s like you watch something horrific or you understand the circumstance of something and you think, I’ve seen this same picture, I’ve seen this same circumstance again and again and again. The footage just keeps coming, the environment is still there. But it’s like, do I have enough? Do I just go to bed now because I’ve already seen it? It’s like you can’t give yourself permission to step away because it’s like a responsibility. That’s how I feel. It’s a bit of a responsibility.

              So that’s why I keep going back. But it’s so much fun. I love it. It’s so energising. It’s such a remarkable experience. As I said, it’s a way for me to go very safely into a country, really make a contribution. You see that. We drive through all the areas. We see all the Tabitha houses. They’re so well recognised. Each time we build, it’s usually 40 houses in a province. So maybe we do 4 houses amongst my team of 8 people. That’s a lot of houses. But there’s a lot of people that don’t have a shelter.

              There’s no mucking around, let’s discuss it. It’s like: there it is, there’s the materials, the floor’s in place, start hammering! The most important thing is: where is the sun and how do we put up what walls to protect us from that beating? Because by the time you’ve been out since 8 o’clock in the morning and it’s 38 degrees and it’s 1 o’clock, wow, that heat! It’s the only place that I ever feel that complete, not dehydration, it’s different. Something happens to your body, it’s completely spent.

              We had the opportunity to visit the site of a school being built in honour of one of the leaders and organisers of the build initiative Sue Huxley. I happened to go into the building to take a photo when the teacher came in. She had probably 60 or 70 students with her and they all walked in. I was sort of stuck in the middle of the room thinking “Ok, might be time for me to go now,” I was disturbing them by being in their space. So I was saying “Excuse me, I’m sorry I’m in your little space,” and she said “No, no, no.” And they started to sing. And all of my colleagues in the build team were outside the frame of the building looking in, and I was just in the middle of these amazing children singing, singing, singing. And that was a really overwhelming experience. I felt like a giant as I’m so long-limbed. And they were so open-faced and everyone participating, just singing their little hearts out. I felt like Maria out of The Sound of Music.

              *           *

              And oh, this Cambodian man, came out of the lush undergrowth and he looked like a warrior, bare-chested, strong, physically strong, I mean, these are people who work hard and he just looked like a warrior. And he had something (in his hand) like a spear or utensil he must have been working the ground with.  He obviously couldn’t speak English but his eyes were wide and white and he gathered the children up. We thought wow, that’s amazing and our interpreter got out of the van and went and spoke with him. And he sort of then settled down. And when the interpreter came back to the van he said that these people were targeted, the children were going missing because there were people coming from Phnom Penh to take children, for them to be taken back to the city to be prostituted. So that is an issue too, if you’re living in isolation, that’s what can happen. Children walk long distances to get water, or they walk between villages. So they have an unsupervised period of time. And that was very frightening, and obviously for that gentleman as well. And he had never seen people with white skin, so we’re talking a remote area.

              For me, my travel is always to have an experience, to immerse myself in a culture, to understand the history. And I hope that makes me a more interesting person. That’s what I’m hoping.

               

               

               

               

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              Susie – Women of Oz

              MT. KILIMANJARO, KENYA

              The most outstanding trip I ever undertook was with a group of 5 women and we climbed Kilimanjaro. It was an amazing, emotional experience. We trained really, really hard. We trained together. We made a schedule. We trained at least once a week, sometimes twice. And we’d go up a thousand steps, and we’d do 5-hour hikes, and we went and did altitude training. So we were really probably the fittest we’d ever been in our lives.

              We arrived there and we were at the bottom of Kili, and we’re having a group hug, and of course, I burst out crying because it was so momentous. We got to the top, I burst out    crying. It was an emotional experience because it was really, really tough. The altitude was horrendous. We had really bad weather – it rained, it poured – so much so, that the 4-wheel drive that was supposed to take us to the bottom of Kilimanjaro couldn’t make it. So we had to walk an extra 6 or 8 kilometres before we even began.

              It was just amazing. When we got to the top, it was the most amazing experience – the camaraderie, the fact that the 5 of us started and the 5 of us finished together. We were always together. If someone was feeling a bit bad, you would help them to put one foot in front of the other. It was just the sheer exertion of getting there. It was the physicality as well as the emotional experience. So physically it was really tough. It took us 5 days up and 11/2 days down or 41/2 and 11/2. It was 6 days, 5 nights.

              Was it the most difficult thing you’d ever done physically? Emotionally?

              Both. It’s almost like the 9 months of carrying a baby and then finally having the baby. And just being so elated at the top that you forget about all the problems that you had getting there.

              Why do it?

              Because it’s there. And it’s a challenge. We all love a challenge, and that was my physical challenge. It was a now or never. We were all in our early 50s. I think you need it because you need it for the mental aptitude and the ability to do it mentally ‘cause it’s a head thing. Apart from it being physically difficult, it’s really hard to keep yourself going. There were nights when we didn’t get into to the camp until well after dark, exhausted, fatigued, not even wanting to eat. And you know you’ve got to force yourself to eat. You’ve got to force yourself to do everything because you’ve got to get up the next day and do it again.

              Do you think you were mentally and emotionally stronger now than when you were younger ?

              Yes, absolutely.

              I did a marathon when I was in my early 40s and I only believe I could do it because I had the mental attitude to keep going. When you’re young, it’s not that important, give up, who cares?

              Why is it important now?

              Because if you don’t do it now, when are you going to do it?

              Did it in anyway change your relationship with the other women?

              Yes. We’re best friends now, we’re all friends.

              Yes, absolutely. We’re really close friends. We’ve accomplished something together and experienced something together that is really inexplicable and you can’t take that back. So now even if we don’t see each other all the time, they are counted amongst my best friends.

               

               

               

               

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              Elizabeth – Women of Oz

              I’d never been out of Australia until about 6 years ago. Well, I thought, it’s now or never. And now I’ve been to over 30 countries.

              I say to people who say -“I can’t afford to travel” – I tell them: “Go to the travel agent and book it – and then the money seems to magically appear. That’s how you do it, otherwise you can’t afford to go anywhere.”

              THAILAND

              The first trip ever was to Thailand. I back-packed north and south with my daughter. We did a trek through the jungle. We rode elephants, and we went down the river. We went to a Thai wedding and I got into the Thai wine and got a little bit merry. Phuket was like    paradise for me. That was probably the happiest trip, with my daughter.

              IRELAND

              I always wanted to go to Ireland because of my ancestors. Absolutely loved Ireland.

              They had the singalong in the pub until 11:00 at night and then the old people would go home and us youngies would stay for the nightclubs.

              ENGLAND

              I used to look at England on the TV and never wanted to go there, always wet, always raining. And yet when I arrived there, that was my most favourite. When I got there, I had a strong sense of coming home.

              NEW ZELAND

              In New Zealand, in the morning, they picked me up and I jumped out of a plane. And then I did Level 5, white-water rafting.

              USA

              In America, I went to LA, went to Las Vegas, and as I’m a marriage celebrant I loved all the corny little wedding chapels. I went to Washington and because I’m a detective, I went to the spy museum, and Maxwell Smart was there. I found that rather amusing.

              AUSTRALIA

              I’ve also been a scuba diver here in Australia. I’ve dived Mount Gambier – the caves and I’ve dived the Great Barrier Reef, plus the coast of W.A.

              I’ve been around Australia twice.

              I’m going to Vietnam, Cambodia next.

               

               

               

               

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              亚瑟港, 塔斯马尼亚 – Port Arthur, Tasmania

               

              亚瑟港是一个充满矛盾的地方。

               

              当你第一眼看见它时,它给你的印象也许是那些伫立在起伏山峦上的英式豪宅和在错落在田园诗画般海港边郁郁葱葱的花园。但事实上,亚瑟港是英格兰最可怕的罪犯流放地之一。这里被它的建造者副总督乔治•亚瑟(George Arthur)刻意营造成为一个恐怖的地方。这里是一个对反动者进行强迫劳役和严厉惩罚的地方,那些违反规定的人在这里要受到不间断的监视。罪犯们奴隶般的劳动不仅仅是要建造亚瑟港的公共设施,更是为这个新殖民地建造一个制造大楼。

              同时,亚瑟港也是基于闻名遐迩的监狱改造家杰里米•本瑟姆(Jeremy Bentham)的理念而实施创新型刑罚试验的先驱地。这包括通过教导罪犯贸易或者耕种来努力改造他们。

               

              亚瑟港本来是用来对付那些最不容易屈服的累犯,那些别的监狱无法制服的犯人。但是只有9岁的小男孩们却也被送来了这里。你也可以参观普尔角(Point Puer),这里是大英帝国建立的第一座青少年监狱。在这座半岛上,年纪小的男孩和成年男性是分开关押的。这些男孩会接受一些教育,学习贸易,但也还是要做体力劳动。

               

              建成于1830年,亚瑟港在当时被认为是无法逃离的地方。它坐落于塔斯曼半岛上一处完全与世隔绝的地方,位于霍巴特的主要聚居地的南面,它是由仅仅不到50米宽的带状土地连结到大陆上的,况且这条唯一可能让人逃离的带状土地还被饿坏了的疯狗们所占领。亚瑟港也是完完全全的被海水所包围,只有很少的罪犯懂得如何游泳,并且他们还被告知周围的水域里面有鲨鱼。尽管如此,还是有几个罪犯成功逃脱了。

               

              这里曾经是澳大利亚最难进入的地方,现在却成为塔斯马尼亚州最受有课欢迎的地方。

               

               

               

              亚瑟港还是一座试验新惩罚措施的监狱。除了一般像鞭笞和节食之类的体罚之外,这里还引进了一系列心理上的惩罚方法。

               

              当你步入教堂时,你会被那些木质长椅和洁白的墙面的美丽所震撼到。你不会轻易发现,那些长椅之所以被设计成这样是为了让罪犯在祷告的时候看不到其他人,也不会被别人看到。尽管这些监狱的长椅本该是让罪犯们在精神层面上有所提高,可是他们还是被用来让罪犯们受罪了。

               

              这里有一个被叫做“沉默疗法”的感官剥夺体制。罪犯的头上会罩上一块头巾,并且他们不能说一句话,这里的地板和墙壁经加工后也隔绝了一切声音。罪犯还会被长期囚禁在完全黑暗的单间里。许多被关在单间里的罪犯后来都因为缺少声音和光线而被逼疯了。这么看来,旁边的屋子就是精神病院还是很方便的。

              A convict ploughing team breaking up new ground at a farm in Port Arthur. Created circa 1838 by an unknown artist. Reprinted as a postcard circa 1926. State Library of Victoria

              A convict ploughing team breaking up new ground at a farm in Port Arthur.
              Created circa 1838 by an unknown artist. Reprinted as a postcard circa 1926.
              State Library of Victoria

               

               

               

               

              亚瑟港现在已经被列在了世界遗产名录上。这里的花园和森林里有超过30栋建筑。

              花点时间好好的参观一下这里,因为这里有太多可以看的东西了。你需要花时间来感受、欣赏这里的美。去欣赏大自然的美,也去欣赏由罪犯建造的雄伟建筑的美。这里有按原貌忠实还原的建筑,也有一些定期粉刷的建筑,比如像监狱长的住所,医生的住所,监狱以及教堂。穿行于这些重建的建筑你可以身临其境地感受这段历史,因为你不仅可以想象到这些囚犯们的生活,还可以想象到这里军官以及他们妻儿的生活。

               

              游览这里有个新颖的方式,那就是当你到达亚瑟港时,你会拿到一张带有真实罪犯姓名的卡片。这样你就能通过这种互动展览的方法来追溯犯人身上发生的故事和体验犯人的命运。这种联系将那些这里居住过、受过苦的以及其他可能被遗忘的人都以独特的方式记录了下来。

               

              亚瑟港于1877年关闭了,它所拥有的超过一个世纪的悲惨历史也随之逐渐消失在周围景物的美丽与祥和之中。但是正好20年前,这个田园般地方的平静再一次被暴行和悲剧所打破。

              亚瑟港变成了一场大屠杀的发生地。包括游客和员工在内的35人被杀,23人受伤。塔斯马尼亚人马丁•布莱恩特(Martin Bryant)被判有罪并被判处35次终生监禁,不得假释。这场屠杀促使澳大利亚政府随后即颁布了更加严格的枪支管理法令。

               

               

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              Claire – Women of Oz

              MEXICO

              The trip I most remember was to Mexico, about 4 years ago. My daughter was working there with Cirque du Soleil. Flying into Mexico City was just unbelievable – flying in and seeing all the poverty That huge population, all living on  the hills with virtually no shelter. I just found that quite incredible. And the experience of being in Mexico city – it was amazing and how they all survived, I just found that quite incredible. I stayed with my daughter for about a month. She was working but we did a few trips around Mexico. But just Mexico city was amazing. The fact that you could get around so easily even though they didn’t speak much English, and I felt safe, and I love the culture, the dancing, the music the whole history of the Aztecs, going to the pyramids and just the people. I just loved it.

              What was that the happiest trip you had?

              ENGLAND

              My mother took me away when I was 17, on a ship over to England for 6 months and then we had a trip around Europe – that was pretty amazing. I guess that was the happiest. It was special because it was the first time I’d been out of Australia. And the fact that Mum did that for me, I thought that was pretty amazing. We met another lovely mother and daughter who were doing a similar thing. I had my 18th birthday in London and we went to see Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev at Covent Garden doing Swan Lake. That was amazing. I remember that as being special.

              SINGAPORE

              I loved the experience of travelling and working overseas. I would much prefer to do that than do a whole lot of sight-seeing really. Although that’s lovely too. I lived in Singapore for 4 years in the 70’s and that was pretty amazing. In Singapore, just getting to know people from all over the world, an absolute melting pot in Singapore, it was then. Seeing a completely different culture.  And I did some nursing there as well. I just loved the fact that I worked with local people. I had local pay, which as a nurse was very usual. I just think that’s how you get to know how people function.

              And had a child there too. My son, my first child, was born in Singapore. And we went back there recently, last October, and found the house where we lived 40 years ago. And the hospital where my son was born and where I worked. That was very special.

              What trips in Australia have been special for you?

              QUEENSLAND

              I suppose, one recent trip in November, when I went up to visit my family in Charleville, in Western Queensland. It’s where our family property has been for 80 years. And I loved going back out there again amongst the Mulga* and the kangaroos. That’s a very special place for me. I just went out there and visited my first cousin who’s still on the place. They have cattle. My cousin’s been there for the whole of his life, 70 years, and they educated their children with distance education before they went away to school. And they’ve managed to battle it out with a 3-years drought. It meant a lot to me because Dad used to take me up there. We took Dad’s ashes back there.

              Recommendations: Singapore, California, and Mexico would be up there.

              And I did love Spain although it’s been a long time since I’ve been to Spain. And Italy.

              *Australian acacia tree native to outback

               

               

               

               

               

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              Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan

               

              Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands gives you a sense of space, of wilderness and of untamed nature, thanks largely to its many national parks and large stretches of uninhabited spaces.

              In winter, it becomes a wonderland of ice and snow and people flock to its ski resorts or to see the extraordinarily creative snow and ice sculptures of the Sapporo Snow Festival that takes place in Hokkaido’s capital every February.

              Autumn arrives earlier in Hokkaido than in the rest of Japan, so you are more likely to see the turning of the leaves here first. But it is also colder than the rest of Japan and can snow in autumn. Don’t be deterred, it’s a wonderful season to visit.

              While most visitors arrive in Hokkaido by air, there is a land link to its near southern neighbour Honshu – the Seikan Tunnel which was dug under the Tsugaru Strait. A new Shinkansen or bullet train inaugurated in 2016, passes through this tunnel to link Hokkaido with Tokyo and significantly reduces the travel times.

              Unlike the other densely settled parts of Japan, full control of the island by the Japanese central government was only completed after the Meiji Restoration in the mid-19th Century and in 1869 it was given the new name Hokkaido. This control was extended in order to meet a perceived threat of Russian expansion from mainland Vladivostok.

              Known for many years by the name Ezo, Hokkaido is home to the indigenous Ainu people and many names on the island have their origins in indigenous languages including that of the capital Sapporo. We visited the Poroto Kotan Ainu village where tourists are given explanations of Ainu culture and can wander through the houses and structures. Less appealing are the few brown bears, significant in Ainu life and ceremonies, that are kept in the village in tiny cages.  A visit to the very informative and well laid out museum that presents the history of the Ainu people is worthwhile.

              Of all the wonderful sights and attractions of Hokkaido, its volcanoes and natural hot springs, are the most impressive.

               

                 

                Noboribetsu

                Noboribetsu is famous for its hot springs. A small town in the south of Hokkaido, it is easily reached by train from Sapporo. Set in mountains that are volcanoes, it attracts those who seek the healing and relaxing waters of some of the best onsen in Japan.

                When you arrive in Noboribetsu you see a huge statue of a blue demon bearing a black club, like a vision from hell. And indeed when you begin to walk around you seem to enter the underworld. Active ochre-mantled volcanoes spewing plumes of steam surround you. Nearby in craters there are cauldrons of bubbling, sulphurous liquid. Geysers periodically erupt in a shower of boiling water.

                The association of this area with hell is understandable but inaccurate. Its stark yellow, pink and green-clad landscape is beautiful. You marvel at the remarkable volatility of the earth beneath your feet. Taking a walk in the light snow of late autumn along the many pathways through the Shikotsu-Tōya National Park, including the one to Jigoku-Dani (Hell Valley) a huge geothermal crater, is exhilarating. There are boardwalks to the geysers and at the Oyunuma Brook, a place where hikers can sit and bathe weary feet in a naturally hot stream.

                Afterwards, you can relax in the luxurious onsens of the nearby hotels. Noboribetsu offers a wide variety of natural hot spring waters in which to bathe. The different minerals in the various onsen are said to relieve and cure health problems. The Dai-Ichi Takimotokan Hotel is enormous and may get no prizes for beautiful architecture, but it provides spacious and attractive rooms (especially the Japanese-style rooms), excellent and abundant choices of food, and a multitude of health spas – 35 large and small pools with 7 types of hot springs. There is also a 25 metre swimming pool and waterslide. Our favourite was the women’s open air spa – chill air meets hot bath, a match made in heaven.

                Hakodate

                The port city of Hakodate, the third largest city in Hokkaido, has attractions that reflect its colourful and turbulent past. It was the first city in Japan whose port was opened to foreign trade as a result of U.S. Commodore Mathew Perry’s expedition in 1854. The Tokugawa Shoguns who ruled Japan, had for two centuries pursued an isolationist policy that prevented foreign countries access to Japan. When Perry sailed into the Japanese harbour with five ships to force the re-opening of Japan, he overturned this policy. Surrender to Perry’s demands dealt a great blow to the authority of an already weakened Shogunate. One consequence was a war in 1869 when Hakodate became the site of the last stand of supporters of the Shogunate against the restoration of the new Meiji imperial authority. The focal point of this stand was the Goryokaku Fort.

                Goryokaku Fort and Tower

                 

                Goryokaku Fort Hakodate

                Don’t miss touring this area. Its chief attraction is the five-pointed star shaped Goryokaku Fort modelled on 16th Century European citadel towns and completed in 1864. Its thick stone walls are surrounded by a moat and the 1,600 cherry trees planted in its grounds make it an extraordinary sight in spring. It’s an impressive sight in any season and can be best appreciated from the observatory in the Goryokaku Tower nearby.

                The new Goryokaku Tower was built in 2006 as an observatory in order to give visitors excellent perspectives onto the Fort from a height of almost 100 metres. It also has a very well-presented graphic exhibition of the dramatic events that shaped the history of Goryokaku from the arrival of the American fleet until the surrender of rebels to the forces of new Meiji central government in 1869. This narrative has all the excitement and adventure of hopeless causes with its larger-than-life characters and doomed heroes. Indeed a bronze statue commemorates the handsome and dashing young rebel leader who was shot and killed in a final assault by rebel forces.  The Tower also has a cafe and Observatory shop.

                Well worth a visit is the reconstructed Hakodate Magistrate’s Office (Hakodate Bugyosho) in the Fort’s grounds.  The original office was the Edo Shogunate’s administrative centre for the Ezo (Hokkaido) region and was dismantled after its collapse. In 2010 after a four year effort, it was reconstructed just as it had been using the exact same materials and traditional Japanese techniques that had been employed in the original structure. Craftsmen skilled in traditional Japanese carpentry, plastering and roof tiling were brought in from all around Japan. You cannot help but admire the superb craftsmanship and attention to every tiny detail of this beautiful building. A fascinating video of the rebuilding process is part of the exhibition.

                Foreign Quarter

                 

                View From Motomachi, Hakodate

                Walk up the hillside from the port and you are in the Motomachi neighbourhood. The area provides a wonderful view over the port and bay, and is a snapshot of times past. Impressive Western-style houses set in beautiful gardens, churches – the Russian Orthodox Church and other historical missionary churches, including Anglican and Catholic – as well as public buildings such as the Old British Consulate were built here at the foot of Mount Hakodate by the foreigners from Russia, China, the UK and other Western countries who came to seek their fortune in the newly-opened Japan of the mid-19th Century. At night, the churches and buildings are illuminated. Of particular note is the Old Hakodate Public Hall. It’s worth going for a wander at dusk and then walking to the near-by Mount Hakodate Ropeway station to take the cable car up the mountain to see the spectacular night view of the city and peninsula.

                Old Hakodate Public Hall

                 

                Night View from Top of Mt. Hakodate Ropeway

                 

                Morning Market

                Hakodate is famed for excellent seafood. This bounty can be seen at the morning market (Asaichi) which is very near the JR Hakodate railway station. Some 300 stalls are spread across four city blocs selling the freshest and most abundant variety of seafood and other produce. Restaurants in the market tempt visitors to taste their specialties. The market is held daily from 5am to 2 pm.

                Another interesting area where you can wander and dine in the evening is around the red brick warehouses next to the port. They have been re-developed into an attractive area of restaurants and shops.

                Sapporo

                 

                Sapporo Beer Museum

                Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, is a thriving pleasant city of almost 2 million people set on a grid pattern that is easy to navigate. Below the city centre, there is a network of underground shopping malls, plazas and public transport that make it possible to live and go about business in the city without suffering the extremely cold winter. For this reason it has attracted many retirees from other parts of Japan despite the colder climate.

                Sapporo is probably best known around the world as the original home of its eponymous brand of beer. Indeed, you can order a variety of beer available only in Sapporo at the Sapporo Beer Gardens, which is part of the Sapporo Garden Park where you can also visit the Sapporo Beer Museum.  All these refurbished red brick buildings are part of the former brewery.

                Sapporo gained worldwide attention for hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 1972, the first in Asia. Winter is still an important season in Sapporo because of the annual Sapporo Snow Festival held in February and its astonishing mammoth ice sculptures.  Skiing is also an attraction because of the availability of ski jumps in the city and its proximity to the Niseko ski resort.

                There are plans to extend the bullet train service from Tokyo that presently stops at Hakodate to Sapporo in the next few years. At present, most people arrive in Sapporo by air.

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