The “Venice of Japan” in Kyoto: a secret destination tourists don’t know about yet

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RocketNews 24 (by Oona McGee):

If you’re looking for a spectacular tourist destination without all the tourists, you’ll want to visit Kyoto’s sleepy little fishing town that floats on the sea.

Located on the shore of Ine Bay in Kyoto Prefecture is a group of 230 funaya, or boat houses. Known as Ine no Funaya, or The Boat Houses of Ine, the wooden buildings are built on the water’s edge and feature garage-like openings which act as boat moorings for their residents.

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Sometimes referred to as the “The Venice of Japan”, the townscape is so unique it’s been designated as a protected area of  “important traditional buildings”.

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The unique houses were built out of necessity, to maximize the use of a narrow strip of land between the sea and the mountains. This style of wooden architecture is possible here as there’s little tidal movement and the quiet cove provides protection from storms and sea swells.

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 9.05.07 PMThe two-storey houses feature living quarters upstairs and a bay on the ground floor with direct access to the water and space for a boat and equipment.

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With its cluster of wooden huts, the area is breathtakingly picturesque. While it was once primarily a fishing town, more and more boathouses are now being converted into beautiful lodgings for visitors.

Facing the Sea of Japan, the area is known for its wonderfully fresh local seafood, which can be enjoyed at restaurants and lodgings in the area.

Ine Bay is located around 2.5 hours from central Kyoto or Osaka by car. Alternatively, the town can be accessed via a 50-minute bus ride from Amanohashidate Station. While you won’t find the area advertised in most of the guidebooks, an overnight stay on the water here will be a memory you won’t ever forget.

 

12 beautiful Japanese train stations by the sea

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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下灘駅 (3)

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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

The 11 Cat Islands of Japan

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RocketNews 24:

In the never-ending debate as to whether cats or dogs are the superior animal, it’s pretty safe to say felines have the edge as far as tranquility is concerned. For example, an island full of stray dogs is likely to be visited by animal control, whereas an island covered in cats instead gets visited by tons of tourists.

This ability to live in general harmony with the human population means that Japan is filled with places that have earned the nicknameNekojima,” or “Cat Island.”Today, we take a whirlwind photo tour of 11 of them.

 

1. Enoshima, Kanagawa Prefecture
Closest station: Katase Enoshima

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For residents and visitors to Tokyo, the closest isle worthy of the Cat Island designation lies in Kanagawa Prefecture, the capital’s neighbor to the south. Enoshima, which can be walked onto from a bridge across the street from Katase Enoshima Station, is most famous for its shrine located inside a cave and the connected legend of a dragon that fell in love with a beautiful maiden. The area’s beaches also make it a popular summertime destination for surfers, sunbathers, and partiers.

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Stop by Enoshima on an offseason weekday afternoon, though and you’re likely to run into as many cats as people as you stroll up the path that winds to the top of the island.

2. Okishima, Shiga Prefecture
Nearest port: Horikiri

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Not every Nekojima is on the ocean, though, as Okishima is actually a floating island in the middle of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater depository in Japan. With just 350 residents, the fishing community is small enough that bicycles are the main mode of transportation on the island, meaning its feline inhabitants to live without fear f being hit by a car.

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3. Sanagishima, Kagawa Prefecture
Nearest port: Tadotsu

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This is the one of several Cat Islands located in the Inland Sea, which is dotted with fishing settlements and blessed with a temperate climate. Sanagishima lies of the coast of Kagawa, Japan’s smallest prefecture which makes up the northeast corner of the island of Shikoku.

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4. Aoshima, Ehime Prefecture
Nearest port: Nagahama

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Moving west, we come to Ehime Prefecture, which is also a part of Shikoku. Aoshima might be the most sparsely populated of Japan’s Cat Islands, with just 15 permanent residents compared to several times as many felines.

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This is strictly a day-trip destination, though. The advanced age of most of the community’s members mean that on Aoshima you won’t be able to find a hotel to spend the night, a restaurant to have dinner in, or, shockingly for Japan, even a vending machine to buy a drink from (make sure to stock up on supplies before you get on the boat).

 

5. Muzukijima, Ehime Prefecture

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While many Cat Islands are home to fishing communities, Muzukijima instead is covered with citrus groves, keeping with Ehime’s popular image as growing the best oranges in Japan.

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6. Manabeshima, Okayama Prefecture
Closest port: Kasaoka

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31 kilometers (19 miles) off the coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu, Manabeshima’s isolation has helped preserve its natural beauty, which along with its warm climate has made the island a historically popular choice for film crews (and, yes, cats).

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7. Iwaishima, Yamaguchi Prefecture
Nearest port: Yanai

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Our last stop in the Inland Sea, visitors arrive at Iwaishima at the end of a stretch of island hopping that begins at the port in the historic town of Yanai.

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8. Aijima Fukuoka Prefecture
Nearest port: Kokura

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Moving to the country’s opposite coastline, we come to Aijima, on the Sea of Japan. Aijima is one of the easiest Cat Islands for busy travelers to get to, as the Shinkansen bullet train stops just a few minutes’ walk from where visitors can catch a boat at Kokura Port.

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9. Aishima, Fukuoka Prefecture
Nearest port: Shingu

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Also in Fukuoka, the name of vaguely heart-shaped Aishima is, sadly, not written with the same kanji character as ai, or “love.” Nonetheless, the island’s romantic geography does seem to be having an influence on its feline population, if these photos taken there are anything to go by.

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10. Genkaishima, Fukuoka Prefecture
Nearest port: Hakata

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Another easy to access Cat Island, Genkaishima can be reached from Hakata Port, which is located in Fukuoka City the prefectural capital and largest city in the region.

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Genkaishima was home to Japan’s largest island-based cat population until the community was hit hard by an earthquake in 2005, although its number of felines is now said to be on the rise once again.

 

11. Kadarashima, Saga Prefecture
Nearest port: Yobuko

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Finally, we come to Kadarashima. Legend holds that long ago, a dog earned the wrath of the deity of the Kadarashima’s Yasakajinja Shrine, and the species was driven from the island, which today is completely absent of canines.

With their bitter rivals gone, will the local cats be able to redirect their energies into unlocking their true mental, and, dare we say it, cultural potential? Could Kadarashima be the starting point of a new phase of feline evolution, where cats learn from, and begin to emulate, their human neighbors, such as the elderly gentleman pictured above?

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