12 beautiful Japanese train stations by the sea

青海川

RocketNews 24 (by Preston Phro):

Being an island nation, there is no shortages of beaches in Japan–though if you live in Tokyo, there are times when the only thing resembling the ocean to be seen is a sea of people. After a weekday morning commute spent sloshing around in a packed train car, it’s easy to find yourself wishing for a more relaxed environment like the beach. And with summer in full swing, there are plenty of beaches we’d rather be lounging on than just about anything.

But it’s a busy world and who has time to sit on the beach and just relax? Well, we sure don’t! But for those of us always on the go, there are a few train stations that at least will give you a view of the ocean on your way to whatever business you may have. Think of it like a vacation that lasts as long as the train stops!

Here are 12 of Japan’s stations on the sea–beautiful, serene, and just outside your train window!

Kitahama Station

Located on the Sea of Okhotsk in north-east Hokkaido, this is perhaps one of the coldest train stations Japan, though you couldn’t tell it from the first two photos below. However, it turns out that a train ride to Kitahama Station will provide you not only with a beautiful view of the ocean, but also of drift ice! In fact, Kitahama Station is apparently the only train station in Japan that regularly offers a glimpse of that fantastic frozen, floating phenomenon.

北浜駅

北浜駅(3)

北浜駅(雪)

Todoroki Station

Heading to the mainland, this station in Aomori Prefecture is close to the Sea of Japan–extremely close! During stormy weather, waves actually wash over the track and up to the station. While we’re not sure if that’s the most practical location, it does make for beautiful photo opportunities. In fact, the station was featured in JR advertising in 2002, driving train- and station-loving fans out to Aomori. We can’t blame them–a dip in the sea sounds great right now!

驫木駅

驫木駅 (2)

Nebukawa Station

Located in Kanagawa Prefecture, this is the only station on the Tokaido Main Line between Tokyo and Kobe that is unmanned, though it is apparently a popular destination during New Years. It also provides a stunning view of open waters.

根府川 (3)

根府川

nebukawa

Shimonada Station

Another unmanned stop, Shimonada Station is located in Ehime Prefecture on the Shikoku Yosan Line. Having been featured in numerous posters and other JR advertisements, the station has become popular among train lovers and photographers across the country as a location for breathtaking landscape photos. It even has its own Facebook page!

下灘駅

下灘駅 (3)

下灘駅 (2)

Baishinji Station

Another station in Ehime PrefectureBaishinji Station is not famous just for its location–though it certainly is beautiful. The station captured the popular imagination in 1991 thanks to the TV drama Tokyo Love Story, about three Ehime friends who eventually reunite in Tokyo. As you may have guessed from the photo below, Rika, one of the main characters of the show, ties a “bye-bye handkerchief” to the railing in a climactic scene. Fans of the show and travelers have kept up the tradition for over two decades!

梅津寺駅 (2)

梅津寺駅

Yoroi Station

This Hyogo Prefecture station isn’t much to look at itself–it could easily be mistaken for a run-down bathroom in an interstate rest area–but the view from the platform certainly makes up for it. Not only is the station unmanned, there aren’t even any automated ticket machines! Despite its desolate appearance, the station has become a bit of an attraction for train lovers following its appearance in some TV shows. It has also appeared in JR advertisements, where it was written that “you can feel the sea breeze blowing off the ocean right under your eyes just standing on the platform.”

▼The station itself

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▼The view from the platform.

鎧駅

Oobatake Station

One of the more rural areas of Japan, Yamaguchi Prefecture is also home to Oobatake Station, which sits right along the sea. An hour train ride from the Shinkansen station in Hiroshima, this station is an excellent sightseeing destination–though that’s about all you’ll have time for! In this part of the country, you can usually find only local trains.

大畠駅

Oumikawa Station

Apparently this Niigata Prefecture station is the closest to actual open waters in Japan, though judging from other entries on this list, the competition for that honor is fierce. In fact, the train line runs right along the coast for several miles, making not just this station but the entire route a beautiful destination for sight-seers. And, like many other stops on this list, the station is unmanned. We’re starting to wonder how JR gets people to pay for tickets…

Yukawa Station

Located in Wakayama Prefecture, Yukawa Station provides a magnificent view not only of the sea but also of the prefecture’s mountains. And if you’re a fan of the beach, the station is just a stone’s throw away from the Yukawa Kaisui Yokujo (Yukawa Swimming Area). Best of all, this station is also unmanned, so there won’t be any attendants to scold you for tracking sand and water all over the platform!

湯川駅

湯川駅 (2)

Umashibaura Station

Situated on Tokyo Bay in Kanagawa Prefecture, this station is probably not where you’d want to wait out a storm with large waves. It is, however, an excellent destination for sight-seeing. In addition to the view of the bay, rail riders are afforded an excellent view of the Yokohama Bay Bridge, Tsurumi Tsubasa Bridge, and fireworks launched from Yamashita Park in the summer.

海芝浦駅

海芝浦駅 (2)

Kamakurakoko Mae Station

As you may have guessed from the name of this station, it’s located in Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture near Kamakura High School. Kamakura City, in addition to its beautiful temples, shrines, and German sausages, is a popular destination for its gorgeous beaches. The station offers a beautiful view of the ocean and as well as Enoshima, Miura Peninsula, and even Mt. Fuji on clear days. That said, we’re sure it’s a horrible way to start the school day–imaging having a gorgeous beach dangled in front of you only for it to be ripped away and replaced with an hour spent conjugating English verbs!

鎌倉高校前駅

鎌倉高校前駅 (2)

Tagi Station

This beach-front train stop is located in Shimane Prefecture, the second least populated prefecture in Japan. Despite the lack of people around to use it, Tagi Station and the area between it and its neighbor down the line Oda Station are famous as sight-seeing destinations and have appeared in numerous magazines. Apparently there is also a sakura (cherry) tree next to the platform, providing a unique photo opportunity when the tree blossoms in the spring.

Tagi Station

Many of Japan’s 16 UNESCO World Heritage sites fly under the radar

RocketNews 24:

Did you know that Japan has 16 locations on the list of UNESCO World Heritages? Could you name them all with any sum of money on the line?

Survey Research Center, Co. Ltd. conducted a survey that showed that most people could not. When asked whether they were interested in Japan’s world heritages, 67.8% of those surveyed responded affirmatively. However, only 4% of respondents knew all 16 Japanese sites.

See how many you can name before looking at the list below:

1. Yakushima [Kagoshima Prefecture]

2. Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) [Hiroshima Prefecture]

3. Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Ryukyu Islands [Okinawa Prefecture]

4. Itsukushima Shinto Shrine [Hiroshima Prefecture]

5. Shiretoko [Hokkaido Prefecture]

6. Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land [Iwate Prefecture]

7. Ogasawara Islands [Tokyo Metropolis]

8. Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama [Gifu Prefecture]

9. Himeji-jo [Hyogo Prefecture]

10. Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape [Shimane Prefecture]

11. Shirakami-Sanchi [Akita and Aomori Prefectures]

12. Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area [Nara Prefecture]

13. Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) [Kyoto Prefecture]

14. Shrines and Temples of Nikko [Tochigi Prefecture]

15. Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara [Nara Prefecture]

16. Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range [Nara, Wakayama and Mie Prefectures]

How did you do? You might have noticed that both natural locations and manmade structures can qualify as world heritages.

The survey also showed that over half of Japanese tourists add the option of visiting a world heritage site when they take a tour on vacation.

Find out more about world heritage sites by watching “The World Heritage” on TBS at 6 a.m. on Sunday, November 27. The first program will focus on natural heritages, and the program that airs on Sunday, December 4 will deal with cultural assets.

Watching these shows and learning more about world heritages will surely enrich your mind and deepen your appreciation of Japanese history, and they may even give you some ideas for your next trip within Japan.

Source: TBS “The World Heritage”

4 Things women are banned from doing in Japan

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Women have been prohibited from doing certain things (entering places, using facilities, etc.) for as long as civilization has existed. Restrictions are still common, albeit usually in religious contexts only. While religions themselves evolve and change with the times and bans are lifted, it doesn’t mean all of them get an update.

As women, we all know the purported reasons behind these bans: women are “impure” because we menstruate (the same impure biological process that allows us to give life to men), we are the physically weaker sex, and we distract men with our beauty. Yada, yada, yada.

Today, in our Women in Japan Series, we take a look at four things women are still not allowed to do in Japan. I’ve divided them into bans and semi-bans. Bans allow no women; semi-bans allow women–but only sometimes.

Of course, it’s high time these restrictions were lifted. While much headway has been made in the past, such as the lifting of the rule preventing women from climbing Mount Fuji, other bans are proving more stubborn despite protests by Japanese women’s groups. Will these restrictions be lifted anytime soon? Only the Japanese people can decide.

1. Ban: Climbing to the top of Mount Omine

Mt. Omine

Reason: Women are a “distraction”

If you’ve ever dreamed of climbing Mount Omine in Nara Prefecture (officially known as Mt. Sanjo)–a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the 100 most famous mountains in Japan–we hope you’re not a woman. You might be surprised to learn that UNESCO doesn’t take gender into consideration when awarding World Heritage status, but heritage sites that ban the entire female race can be found in Burma, India, and Greece as well as Japan.

Mt. Omine won World Heritage status as part of a larger category of Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. In fact, the popular Kumano Pilgrimage route goes through the sacred area but makes allowances for women hiking through this part. They are still prohibited, however, from climbing up to Ominesanji Temple at the top of the mountain.

This interdiction is carried over from the old days when, according to Shinto tradition, it was felt that women’s alluring nature would distract male pilgrims from their ascetic duties. Well, perhaps all women were drop-dead gorgeous then, or maybe during those days it was de rigueur for women to hike around naked. But that’s certainly not the case today. Besides, you’d think the real test of a pilgrim seeking religious purity via the strict denial of worldly pleasures, would be to insist that he strictly deny himself worldly pleasures!

▼This sign says: nyonin kekkai (女人結界), or “Women Banned”

women banned

 ▼Just in case you don’t believe us, here’s a sign straight from the temple, complete with translation especially for foreign enchantresses.

Women banned sign

For information on updates to this rule, I made a quick call to Oku Japan, who runs off-the-beaten-track tours to places such as the Kumano Pilgrimage. One of their female guides confirmed the exclusion and said that in recent years they have started taking steps to soften it. She says that while it’s unlikely anyone would try to stop you from entering the mountain path, the local people still take pride in the rule and there may be friction if you enter. She doesn’t recommend pushing the limits.

At any rate, despite the edict seeming inimical to tourism, who are we to decide what local people should allow and not allow within their heritage sites? And one should never disrespectfully trample upon religious traditions. But we can still hope that more softening will take place to the degree of baby softness, and that women will be able to hike up the mountain some day, even while menstruating.

There is one part of the mountain, called Mount Inamura (稲村ヶ岳) that is sometimes referred to as Nyonin Omine (女人大峯), or “Women’s Ōmine,” reserved for ladies. Let’s hope there’s a bar set up there with sake and hors d’oeuvres.

 

2. Ban: Entering the sumo ring, taking part in sumo competitions and rituals

sumo

Reason: women violate the purity of the sumo ring

The Sumo Association claims that since women have traditionally not been allowed to take part in sumo activities through the centuries, that it would be a dishonor to all of their ancestors to change it. Well, that pretty much seals the case since we can’t get permission from the ancestors. Or can we? Why not get in touch with the Itako fortunetellers of Aomori Prefecture, known for their ability to talk with the dead? Surely this is just a formality and all she has to do is run the idea past the sumo ancestors. With the impressive Japanese women in martial arts these days, and the recent ignominy from a decade of scandals, you’d think women would get tacit approval from the ancestors as well. Besides, there have been suggestions that women’s sumo did play a role in some Shinto rituals in the past, so we could clear that up at the same time. Hey, it’s worth a try because as it stands now, women are not allowed to enter the sumo ring even to present prizes to the wrestlers (and yes, women are chosen to give prizes).

And, as with most things that claim women are impure, we’re not that impure since we’re expected to assist our sumo wrestler spouses in their duties, and, should we be married to a stable master, to dedicate our time to helping out those training under him. So there you go: “Behind every successful man is a supportive (impure) woman.”

I might even be fine with excluding women from the sumo ring if the law were a bit more fungible and allowed women to create their own professional league. This is truly long overdue since women’s sumo, called onnazumo, has been around as an amateur sport since the early 18th century. It is now a modern female sport in Japan that includes women of all ages. Yet it is still forbidden from having professional status.

 

3. Semi-Ban: Staying in capsule hotels

capsule hotel

Reason: Targeted towards businessmen

You may have heard that many of Japan’s capsule hotels are men-only. That’s not true; almost all are men-only. To most people it’s enough to say that the rule doesn’t exist anymore because there are now capsule hotels that allow women. But if a woman just randomly rocks up to a capsule hotel, she’s going to be turned away 99 times out of 100. So it’s more correct to say that women are still not permitted at most capsule hotels.

This budget accommodation, where you stay inside a capsule-like tube, used to be the exclusively for males because such it targeted business men and those who drank until late enough at night to have missed the last train home to the suburbs (the occasional drunk business woman presumably had to either sleep in the gutter or hope she had enough money left over to stay at a higher priced hotel). Some capsule hotels are recognizing that women also work long hours and tend to drink and miss the last train home, and thus have added women’s floors. But not many. Don’t expect to find any that accept females in the countryside. I know–I slept outside once while on the Shikoku Pilgrimage because all the local hotels were full and the one nearby capsule hotel didn’t accept women.

Here are a few female-friendly capsule hotels with English websites: Asahi Plaza in Osaka. Green Plaza in Tokyo and Nine Hours which has long been one of our favorites and has two locations: Narita Airport and Kyoto.

4. Semi-Ban: Becoming sushi chefs

sushi chef

Reason: Women’s hands are too warm, so could ruin the flavor of the sushi.

This subject has been discussed in much detail in several English media outlets, and it was declared an urban myth by National Public Radio in the U.S.. But the fact remains that many Japanese people still believe women shouldn’t be sushi chefs. And while men are happy to have their wives make sushi at home, the denizens of the kitchen are rarely seen preparing it at restaurants, considered to be the domain of male chefs.

Jiro Ono, owner of the Michelin 3-star restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, has a son who told Speakeasy (the Wall Street Journal blog) that women shouldn’t become sushi chefs because they menstruate. In the interview he said, “To be a professional means to have a steady taste in your food, but because of the menstrual cycle women have an imbalance in their taste, and that’s why women can’t be sushi chefs.” He didn’t elaborate on their chances of becoming sushi chefs after menopause.

Of course this is just pabulum to appease the restaurant elites. We know the truth–put a beautiful woman behind the sushi bar and you’ll sell a lot more sushi!

Well, with all the ballyhoo about menstruation and impurity, it’s a wonder women can succeed in anything at all. Yet we do, all by our little menstrual selves. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a busy schedule today distracting ascetics and pandering my feminine charm to any male passerby–it’s all in a typical day of a pre-menopausal woman!

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

KS 4

RocketNews 24:

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.

Actually, the inspiration for Kizukuri Station’s unique facade didn’t come from outer space, but from below the earth. Archeological digs in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region sometimes turn up clay figures called dogu. While their is unknown, their cultural value is unmistakable, as most were crafted some 2,500 years ago. The town of Tsugaru, where Kizukuri Station is located, was the site where one particularly pristine example, the Shakoji Dogu, was found in 1887.

KS 1

Like so many other figures that achieve fame, though, the Shakoji Dogu made its way to the capital, and is now housed in the Tokyo National Museum. Tsugaru does still have a replica in its Karuko Archeological Hall, but given that it’s a modern recreation, the most famous dogu in town is now the gigantic 17-meter (56-foot) example built into the wall of Kizukuri Station.

Built at a rumored cost of some 100 million yen (US$870,000), the concrete figure has been nicknamed Shako-chan. The designers did a through job adding the intricate and authentic textured patterns to Shako-chan’s arms and body, and the giant’s lack of a left leg matches the condition in which the Shakoji Dogu was unearthed.

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Historically accurate and relevant as he may be, though, Shako-chan wasn’t exactly a hit when he was first completed. Particularly after the sun goes down, the statue takes on a certain ominous aura, as evidenced by comments online about passersby’s nocturnal encounter with the town mascot.

Believe it or not, Shako-chan used to have an even more dramatic appearance. Initially, when trains would arrive at or depart from Kizukuri Station, its eyes would flash and glow red as part of something dubbed the “Welcome Beam.” This proved to be more effective at driving people away than beckoning them into town, though, and after complaints that the Welcome Beam was frightening small children, the performances were stopped.

But as we’ve seen before, sometimes the line between creepy and cute is a fine one in Japan. Since his less than illustrious debut, Shako-chan has been featured by various media outlets, and is actually seeing his popularity gradually build up towards planners’ original hopes and expectations. Local sentiment is starting to swing away from embarrassed terror towards acceptance and even pride, with one Twitter saying he feels more secure with Shako-chan “watching over the street in front of the station.”

 

Japanese coffee stand sells the most terrifyingly realistic gummy bugs

 

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FoodBeast/RocketNews 24:

 

The Red Tent Coffee Shop, Akai Tento no Koohii Ten, is located in a small fishing harbor in the Aomori Prefecture in Japan. While the small marketplace stall serves coffee, it has since also become known for something incredibly impressive: their gummies.

 

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The stand offers a variety of realistic looking insect gummies that pack an insane amount of detail. These aren’t your gas station gummy worms, that come in multiple colors of one generic flavor. Their choices include larvae, caterpillars and other creepy crawlers. It’s actually tough to tell them apart from the real thing. While the gummies are anatomically and aesthetically correct, they’re filled with sugary sweetness.

Don’t expect to find chewy gooey insect guts.