travel

Tokyo’s Rikugien garden: Beautiful for 300 years, but especially in autumn after dark

They’re often overshadowed by the sakura, but Japan’s fall colors make the country a beautiful place to be at this time of year. Maples and gingkos even have a few advantages over cherry trees. They tend to hold their color a little longer, and the cooler weather is less conducive to large outdoor parties, meaning your appreciation of the beauty of nature is less likely to be disturbed by the carousing of drunks.

In contrast to Tokyo’s many cherry tree-lined parks and boulevards, though, getting a good view of crimson and yellow leaves often means having to head out of the city and up into the mountains. That’s not always the case, though. Historic Rikugien Garden has plenty of fall color, is located right in the middle of Tokyo, and right now is so beautiful it’s staying open after dark.

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Creepy or cute? Feel the Panda Train’s intense gaze before sightseeing in resort town Shirahama

Though the “Panda Train” that runs between Kyōto and the beach resort town of Shirahama in Wakayama Prefecture has been around for a few years, Japanese netizens recently have been making quite the hubbub over photos of its panda seats. Online reactions range from “Kawaiiii!” to “It looks like it’ll hug me to death!”, but most agree that they’re simply confused by the presence of polyurethane pandas on a train heading to a former honeymoon Mecca.

While Shirahama (lit. “White Beach”) is famous for its beautiful sand, hot springs, and remarkable rock formations, many in Japan are surprisingly unaware of its other claim to fame: pandas. Read on to learn more about the crowd-pleasing train and a theme park complex called Adventure World, which has a panda-breeding and research facility with an impressive track record that’s second only to mainland China. If you’re already tired of the cold this winter, this article may give you some ideas for next summer!

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Tokyo adding free Wi-Fi to 143 subway stations for foreign travelers

I honestly don’t remember the last time I used a taxi in central Tokyo. The extensive subway network is clean and efficient, and not only is it far cheaper than a cab, a lot of the time, it’s faster, too.

As if public transportation didn’t already have enough going for it, next month things are about to get even better, as over 100 Tokyo subway stations are about to start offering free Wi-Fi to foreign travelers.

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Visit Japan without ever leaving home with these eight beautiful videos

It’s no secret that we love Japan. We haven’t quite figured out why, but it might have something to do with the juxtaposition of the sleepless lights and sounds of the big city and the harmony of human and nature in the countryside that we just can’t get enough of. If you’ve ever wanted to visit Japan, but haven’t yet, sit back and watch the following eight videos showcasing some of the most breathtaking and interesting sights this country has to offer.

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Adorable chicken traveller actually headed to nauseating final destination in series of promo pics

“Go forth, young one,” the adorable fowl’s equally adorable parents probably said. “It is time for you to strike out on your own. You are destined to do great things.”

We picture a bittersweet farewell, tears running down the proud parents’ beaks, each pecking nervously at the ground in turn, their prodigal son equipped with nothing but the knapsack ‘round his neck and a meager meal of two leeks.

If only the proud parents had known their young son’s final destination…

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Check out these cool ways to enjoy hot springs in Oita, including eating and breathing them

Oita, on the eastern coast of Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, has taken to billing itself as Onsen-ken. And while that title loses a bit of its rhyming appeal once it’s translated into English, it’s hard to deny that it really is the Hot Spring Prefecture, as Oita boasts more hot springs than anywhere else in Japan.

As a matter of fact, Oita has so much geothermal water that it can get creative with its most attractive and relaxing natural resource, as shown by these unique ways locals and tourists can enjoy the prefecture’s hot springs.

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How long does Kagoshima need to convince us to visit? With this video, just two minutes

A little over a year ago, one of my good friends in Tokyo got a job teaching philosophy at a university in Kagoshima, the prefecture at the southernmost tip of the island of Kyushu. Being that he’s now a seven-hour series of train rides, or a two-and-a-half-hour flight, away, we don’t get together so often anymore, but on the plus side, now I have a reason to take a trip to Kagoshima.

Well, actually, I’ve got about a dozen reasons to take a trip there, if you add in all of the nature trails, hot springs, scenic coastline, and more shown in this video of some of Kagoshima’s most achingly beautiful travel destinations.

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1,200 Japanese workers convert above-ground train to subway line in a matter of hours

On March 15, 2013, the Shibuya Station Toyoko Line above-ground train quietly shut down for good, to be replaced with a new section of subway track connecting Shibuya Station and the nearby Daikanyama Station. Converting the line from above-ground to underground was a massive operation, requiring a grand total of 1,200 engineers and countless man-hours.

But, even if you’d been living in Tokyo at the time, you probably wouldn’t have noticed the construction, because it all occurred during the train line’s off-hours… over the course of one single night.

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Amazing nighttime video shows Osaka, Tokyo’s rival, has a skyline that’s second to none

Tokyo is so massive and bustling that sometimes it’s hard to remember that it doesn’t have a monopoly on urban splendor in Japan. Take Osaka, for example. Long Tokyo’s rival, in everything from business to baseball to samurai warfare, Osaka is known for its economic ambitiousness, comedic sensibilities, and tasty grub, but there’s one thing that’s often overlooked in media coverage of Osaka.

It looks absolutely beautiful at night.

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Giant statue built into station in northern Japan is historical, terrifying, and awesome

The major train stations in urban Japan almost seem like small cities, packed with restaurants, hotels, and shopping space. Things are usually pretty different out in the countryside, though, where many rail stops are little more than an awning with a short bench to sit on while you wait for the trains to roll in.

We say rural stations are “usually” simple, though, because in one town up north in Aomori Prefecture, you’ll find a station guarded by what looks like a massive alien.

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Shima City needs your help in naming its tastefully swimsuit-clad anime mascot

When creating a local mascot in Japan, there are basically three styles to choose from. You can go the traditionally cute route, like Gunma Prefecture did with its adorable horse, national popularity contest champion, and confectionary model Gunma-chan. Option two is to make something so weird it puts a smile on peoples’ faces, like Funabashi City’s unofficial spokepear Funasshi.

Or, you can just draw a picture of an anime girl, like the town of Shima did. Yes, she of course has a nice smile and attractive proportions, and so far every picture that’s been released of the tourism ambassador has her posing in a swimsuit. But before you go blasting the designers for making that wardrobe choice before ever giving her a name, bear in mind there’s a good reason for her attire.

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Mount Aso: I heard you like volcanoes, so I put some volcanoes in your volcano【Photos】

Japan is a country with a whole lot of volcanoes of all shapes, sizes and persuasions. From the iconic Mt. Fuji to the recently erupted Mt. Ontake, you really can’t swing a koto around here without hitting a geological pressure cooker. And nowhere is that truer than the Aso-Kuju National Park in Kyushu, where they literally have volcanoes on top of volcanoes.

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Tokyo Station lists departing train’s destination as…New York?!

Foreign visitors and residents who haven’t yet gotten far off the beaten path in Japan might not recognize all of the final destinations of trains that depart Tokyo Station. Some of the various lines that intersect at the rail hub lead to places like Takao, Choshi, and Kurihama, none of which are exactly world-famous (even if the last one does have an awesome Godzilla slide).

The other day, though, one of the platform displays at Tokyo Station announced a train destination plenty of non-Japanese passengers are familiar with: New York.

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Choose your own toaster at the specialty toast restaurant in Tokyo

There’s a lot of freedom and innovation when it comes to dining in Japan. For every Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo, there’s an equally impressive place where you can dine with maids, hang out with cats or even watch boys make out.

Now there’s another must-visit eatery to add to Tokyo’s ever-growing list of unique cafes and this time the star of the show is the humble slice of bread. At Centre the Bakery in Ginza, you can choose your own toaster, take it back to your table and enjoy freshly made toast.

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Life-size Attack on Titan statues coming soon to Universal Studios Japan

Who does a 15-meter naked giant make marketing deals with? Anyone he wants, apparently.

Just days ago, we heard about the upcoming crossover between hit anime and manga Attack on Titan and Marvel Comics, which as of 2009 has been a subsidiary of Disney. Still, that isn’t stopping the Titans from playing both sides of the fence, as Tokyo Disneyland’s major theme park rival has just announced that two life-size Titan statues are coming to Universal Studios Japan.

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Sit back and enjoy the journey: Japan’s Top 10 local train rides

Nowadays with discount airlines, hybrid cars and night buses, it’s easy to get where you want to go quickly and cheaply. Of course, in Japan trains are probably the most utilized mode of transportation. Some train companies around Japan, however, have really taken to heart the idea that “Life is a journey, not a destination,” as there are many train lines which are designed as sightseeing trains, or just happen to pass through beautiful scenery and let you enjoy the journey – the beautiful forests, the stunning seaside, sometimes even the trains themselves are part of the experience.

Recently Rakuten Travel announced its top 10 list for the best local trains around the country. Let’s take a look at what these train lines have to offer after the jump.

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We try roasted salamander so you don’t have to

Part of the excitement of traveling is trying foods that you have never seen, heard of, or even contemplated before. So when our lodging in the wilds of Nikko offered roasted salamander for dinner, I had to give it a try. Not just to satisfy my curiosity and my pride, but to report back to you, dear reader, about what amphibi-lizard on a stick tastes like.

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Who needs room service? All-night haunted hotel event’s amenities include ghosts and zombies

I used to work in online hotel marketing, and sometimes properties in Japan didn’t mesh up smoothly with our database. The system allowed us to easily trumpet amenities such as sofas and Jacuzzi bathtubs by just pasting in a line of code, but if we wanted to tout things like provided yukata cotton kimonos or onsite natural hot springs, both of which were popular with our users, that took some extra fiddling around.

Since we were a global company, we had to accept that those “only in Japan” features weren’t going to get a spot on the standard, easy-to-use checklist. Still, I sympathize with the difficulties this sort of thing presents for boutique hotel operators, and that’s why today we’re spreading the word about a hotel in Japan with two incredibly unique amenities: zombies and ghosts.

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Don’t have enough time to see Japan? You do now, with this amazing time-lapse video

With so much to see and do in Japan, it’s easy to forget that sometimes one of the most rewarding things to do is to take a few moments and do nothing at all. Whether you’re looking at people moving about some of the most bustling cities on the planet, witnessing the burst of light and color as the sun goes down and the neon lights come on, or watching as the fog rolls over a sacred mountain, Japan never lacks for amazing ambiance to soak up.

But with so many flavors of atmosphere to enjoy, it can be hard to find the time for all of them, especially if you’re tied up with work or trying to visit as many destinations as you can on a whirlwind tour. If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, though, this awesome time-lapse video of sights across Japan will show you all those cool things we talked about and more.

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Go to hell: Unzen Hot Springs invites visitors to take an infernal stroll through a field of deadly hell-mouths

Welcome to Unzen, Kyushu, a sulphurous field of geothermal activity so inhospitable to life that its boiling hot springs and gas jets go by the name of jigoku or hells. This Halloween, allow us to be your Virgil and guide you through this strange world where eerie noises drift from hellish craters, clouds of foul-smelling gas confuse the mind and Christian martyrs were once boiled to death!

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