Sumo wrestlers waiting for the JR train.


by Eve Andersson

East coast of Honshu at Rikuchu Kaigan National Park.

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I traveled for 2.5 weeks in the northern half of Japan: Tokyo, northern Honshu, and Hokkaido. While the culture, landscape, architecture, and pace of life varied widely over this relatively small stretch of land (half the size of California), what remained constant were the generosity of the people and the beauty of the surroundings.

Northern Honshu


East coast of Hokkaido. East coast of Honshu. East coast of Honshu.
East coast of Honshu. East coast of Honshu. East coast of Honshu.
East coast of Honshu at Rikuchu Kaigan National Park. East coast of Honshu at Rikuchu Kaigan National Park. Coast near Tanohata.
West coast of Shimokita peninsula.  Supposedly these cliffs look like buddhas.

Lighthouse. Swimmers. Swimmers.


Osorezan, a steamy, sulphuric mountain with a crater lake, is considered a sacred place where people communicate with spirits. Colorful pinwheels are placed in the volcanic rock in memory of deceased children.

Volcanic landscape.  Mt. Osorezan. Buddha.  Mt. Osorezan. Volcanic landscape with pinwheels for deceased children.  Mt. Osorezan.
Pinwheels for deceased children.  Mt. Osorezan. 6 Buddhas.  Mt. Osorezan. Offering.  Three-alien alarm clock.  Mt. Osorezan.
Buddha.  Mt. Osorezan. Buddha and sandals.  Mt. Osorezan. Buddha with beer offering.  Mt. Osorezan.
Gate.  Mt. Osorezan. Volcanic landscape.  Mt. Osorezan. Buddha overlooking crater lake.  Mt. Osorezan.


Nikko, only a couple hours out of Tokyo proper, feels like a world apart. It is known for its ornate temples and shrines: Rinno-ji (founded in 766), Taiyuin-byo (finished in 1653), and Tosho-gu (17th century).

View from Hotel Kanaya. Ganman Ga Fuchi. Buddhas at Ganman Ga Fuchi.

Pagoda.  Tosho-gu Shrine. Kokamon Gate.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine. Haiden.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine.
Yomeimon Gate.  Tosho-gu Shrine. Detail.  Haiden.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine. Yashamon Gate.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine.
Shuttle-like figure near Rinno-ji Temple. Prayers.  Tosho-gu Shrine. Purification.  Tosho-gu Shrine.
Three monkeys detail.  Tosho-gu Shrine. Dragon detail.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine. Yomeimon Gate detail.  Tosho-gu Shrine.

Statue.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine. Statue.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine. Statue.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine.
Statue.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine. Statue.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine. Statue.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine.
Statue.  Taiyuin-byo Shrine.


Sendai is northern Honshu's largest city. It was somewhat disappointing to visit; the Osaki Hachiman Shrine was undergoing reconstruction, the Sendai Castle was non-existent (it's a tourist attraction at the site where the castle used to be), and the annual Weaver's Festival (Aug 6-9) didn't actually display weaving, just crowds of people.

Girl wearing yukata looking at sunglasses. Traditional dolls. Sendai as viewed from Sendai Castle.
Shopping mall. Weavers festival. Weavers festival.
Call for peace in memory of Hiroshima.  Sendai weavers festival.


Matsushima, considered one of the three famous views of Japan, is well worth its reputation. While the town itself is quite pleasant to stroll though, nothing compares to experiencing the area is by boat.

Islands off coast of Matsushima. Islands off coast of Matsushima. Islands off coast of Matsushima.
Islands off coast of Matsushima.

Cave near Zuigan Ji temple. Dragon boat. Girl feeding seagull.
Town of Matsushima.

Kamaishi Daikannon

What a beautiful surprise to be driving on a coastal road in northeastern Honshu and suddenly see an almost-glowing white figure overlooking the town of Kamaishi, as majestic as the Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro. This figure, Kannon, is the bodhisattva who brings light to sprits wandering in a dark afterlife and relieves the living from suffering.

Entering the town of Kamaishi.  The Kamaishi Daikannon is visible. Kamaishi Daikannon. From the viewing platform of the Kamaishi Daikannon.
Mini-pagoda at the Kamaishi Daikannon. View from the Kamaishi Daikannon. Father and baby buddhas at Kamaishi Daikannon.



In the town of Asahikawa, you can find the Hokkaido Fold Arts and Crafts Village which includes three museums: Dyeing and Weaving Museum, Yukara Ori Folk Craft Museum, and Snow Crystals Museum. Well, you can find them if (a) you understand kanji, or (b) you're very persistent about asking strangers for directions to this hard-to-find place in the outskirts of town. But it's well worth the effort.

Dyeing and Weaving Museum.  Dogs. Dyeing and Weaving Museum.  Kimono with birds. Dyeing and Weaving Museum.  Kimono with dragon.
Dyeing and Weaving Museum.  Squares.

Snow crystal museum.  Exterior. Snow crystal museum.  Snowflake room. Snow crystal museum.  Stairwell.
Snow crystal museum. Snow crystal museum. Snow crystal museum.


Hakodate, at the southwest corner of Hokkaido, has a distinctly European feel. Opened as an international port in 1854, traders came from all over Europe and Russia, lending the city an architectural style and openness toward outsiders that remain to this day. Hakodate even has an old cemetery for foreigners.

View of Hakodate from Mt. Hakodate. View of Hakodate from Mt. Hakodate. View from Mr. Hakodate.
Hakodate Beer. Church. Russian Orthodox Church.
Brick buildings with inlet. Brick buildings. Pier.
Buddhist karaoke celebration. Jolly Jellyfish bar and restaurant. Beer offering at cemetery.
Building. Street. Tourists on street overlooking bay.
Memorial to American war victims in Hakodate. Memorial to war victims in Hakodate. Memorials recognize both Japanese and American war victims in Hakodate.
Bus sign. Bus is wearing beret. More European (French) influence?


Sapporo, home of the famous (and quite good, might I add) Sapporo Beer, is typically a winter destination, with its ice sculptures and access to ski areas, but this capital city (pop. 1.8 million) of Hokkaido is also a lively place to visit in the summer.

Sapporo Beer. Beer museum. Eve enjoying a Sapporo Beer (classic style -- available only on Hokkaido) at the Sapporo Beer garden restaurant. Sapporo Beer.  Beer garden.
Sapporo Beer.  Beer garden restaurant.
Torii at a shopping mall. TV tower and fountain. View from TV tower.
Clock tower from 1878. Sapporo Factory Mall. Fountain.
TV tower and kids. Men's Bath.
Gaijin Bar. Soap sign. Looking for an explanation of "charm charge" and "soap"....

Daisetsuzan National Park

Japan's largest national park, with mountains and gorges and onsen (steaming natural hot baths).

Mountains.  Daisetsuzan National Park.  Hokkaido. Mountain sillhouette.  Daisetsuzan National Park.  Hokkaido.
Purple flower.  Daisetsuzan National Park.  Hokkaido. Sounkyo resort town.  Daisetsuzan National Park.  Hokkaido. Cellphone photographers.  Daisetsuzan National Park.  Hokkaido.

Shikotsu Toyo National Park

Like many of the rest of Japan's national parks, Shikotsu Toyo contains the requisite breathtaking mountains and volcanic lakes, but the most interesting part of this park is the Nishiyama Crater Promenade where you can see damage from volcanic eruptions that took place in 1972 and 2000.

Lake Shikotsu. Lake Toya-ko. Lake Toya-ko.
Collapsed building.  Nishiyama Crater Promenade. Destroyed bus.  Nishiyama Crater Promenade. Destroyed car.  Nishiyama Crater Promenade.
Crater.  Nishiyama Crater Promenade. Destroyed house.  Nishiyama Crater Promenade. Destroyed road.  Nishiyama Crater Promenade.
Destroyed school.  Nishiyama Crater Promenade. Steaming crater.  Nishiyama Crater Promenade. Steaming crater.  Nishiyama Crater Promenade.


Wandering around Tokyo was like opening treasure box after treasure box: everywhere interesting, everywhere life. I expected it to be crowded and noisy and stifling, but not so -- at its most crowded, it was like Manhattan, but even in the fashionable neighborhood of Roppongi you could meander onto a sidestreet and find silence.

Ginza at night. Natei.  Koishikawa Korakuen park.
Shibuya neighboorhood. Senso-ji Temple.  Shrine.
Taxis at night.  Shimbashi neighborhood. Senso-ji Temple.  Kids at koi pond.
Shibuya neighborhood.  Girls. Lotus flowers.  Koishikawa Korakuen park.
Shibuya neighborhood.  Girls. Engetsu Kyo.  Koishikawa Korakuen park.
Jinbocho booksellers' district. Natei.  Koishikawa Korakuen park.
Shibuya neighborhood.  Condomania. Books.  Jinbocho booksellers' district.
Smoking Area.  Shibuya neighborhood. Young artist.  Natei.  Koishikawa Korakuen park.
Laughing guys.  Shibuya neighborhood. Togetsukyo.  Koishikawa Korakuen park.
Super Dry Hall.  Asakusa neighborhood. Tsutenkyo.  Koishikawa Korakuen park.
I'm afrait of Americans t-shirts.  Shibuya neighborhood. Senso-ji Temple.  Pagoda.
Sony Showroom.  Location-free TV. Senso-ji Temple.  Incense burner.
Sony Showroom.  Robots. Duck.  Koishikawa Korakuen park.
Strange mushroom(?) sign.  Jinbocho booksellers' district. Senso-ji Temple.  Pigeons.


For the record, I do not have a fascination with toilets. However, one couldn't help but take notice in Japan.

Squat toilet. In this women's toilet, typical in rural areas of Japan (and also some urban areas), the user faces the plumbing and squats.
Toilets. Toilet electronics.  You can wash, dry, and play muffling sounds with this toilet. These have some interesting features. In addition to washing and drying the sitter, this toilet will also mask embarrassing noises by making a flushing sound with simply the press of a button.
Easily-washable bathroom. An easy-to-clean bathroom (just hose down the entire thing).


Hachiko with friends.  Shibuya neighborhood. Hachiko, a white Akita, was born in Odate, Japan, in 1923. For the first year of his life, he accompanied his owner, an old man, to the train station every morning. Each evening, Hachiko was there waiting for the old man when he got off the train. One day at work, the old man died, and Hachiko continued to patiently wait for him at the train station each evening until his own death, 9 years later. During those 9 years, people came from all over to visit, feed, and pet Hachiko. In honor of this faithful dog, a statue of Hachiko has been at the Shibuya train station since 1934, and it is now one of Tokyo's most popular meeting places.
Begging cat.  Asakusa neighborhood. One-eyed, tailless cat.  Asakusa neighborhood. Warning in subway: don't get your tail stuck in the door!
Dragonfly at Sapporo Botanical Garden. Insects at Sapporo Botanical Garden. Bee on flower.  East coast of Honshu.
Grasshopper art. Grasshoppers for sale at Kegon Falls.
Snow monkeys in captivity. Snow monkeys in captivity. Snow monkeys in captivity.
Snow monkeys in captivity.
Tancho Japanese Crane Reserve. Tancho Japanese Crane Reserve. Tancho Japanese Crane Reserve.
Tancho Japanese Crane Reserve. Tancho Japanese Crane Reserve.
Kuji Aquarium.  Jellyfish. Kuji Aquarium.  Jellyfish. Kuji Aquarium.  Jellyfish.
Kuji Aquarium.  Jellyfish. Kuji Aquarium.  Flat fish. Kuji Aquarium.  This friendly octopus could squeeze through any shape in his playpin(?), and he would go to visit anyone who was watching him.
Kuji Aquarium.  Sea dragon. Kuji Aquarium.  Tunnel. Kuji Aquarium.  This fish can walk.


Types of places I stayed while in Japan:

  • Western Hotel. Hotel typical of what one would find in the U.S. or Europe.
  • Business Hotel. Practical hotel with very little space, but with a private bathroom, desk, laundry, and sometimes internet. Shoes can be worn in the room.
  • Ryokan. Japanese-style hotel, with tatami mats on the floor (no shoes allowed) and dinner settings which are moved to make room for a futon in the evening. A yukata (robe) is provided, which can be worn throughout the hotel.
  • Onsen. A ryokan with steaming natural baths (onsen). Baths are separated by gender, as no swimsuits are worn. Baths can be indoors or outdoors.
  • Minshuku. A family-run Japanese-style inn. Usually this just means that the family has converted a few rooms of their home into lodging for guests.
  • Capsule Hotel. In this type of hotel you don't receive an entire room, just a capsule to sleep in. See Capsule Hotel section below.

I think the only type of accommodation I missed is the Love Hotel, where you can rent a room for a few hours or overnight. Although this may seem low-class, love hotels are often used by married couples who still live with their parents and wish to get away.

Minshuku Kumachi.
Hotel Kanyo.  Eve learning how to use camera phone.
Hotel Kanyo.  Room before futon has been set out.

Capsule Hotel

Capsule Hotel Fontaine Akasaka.  Capsule interior. I stayed at Capsule Hotel Fontaine Akasaka one night just to experience this unique form of Japanese accommodation. It was perfectly comfortable, the other guests (women only on my floor) seemed like nice, normal people, and more than anything else, it reminded me of being a university student living in the dorms again.

I paid for the night's stay using a vending machine (the Japanese sure do love vending machines). It cost ¥4500, or about $40. After buying my ticket, an attendant gave me a locker key and a bag containing pyjamas, towel, and washcloths. I had to lock up my shoes at the entrance; the floor was not to be sullied.

There were about 30 capsules, each containing a television, radio, alarm clock, and reading light. About half the guests chose to sleep in their capsules; the others sprawled out in the two large lounge areas, complete with couches, comfy chairs, and a big-screen TV (this indiscriminate sprawling is what most reminded me of dorm life!).

The shared bathroom (including sauna) was complete with everything an unprepared traveler could need: not just the basics like soap and shampoo, but hair brushes (sterilized), toothbrushes and toothpaste, hairspray, moisturizers, Q-tips, coffee, ....

The drawbacks:
(a) locker space (won't fit a large suitcase)
(b) privacy (like showering at the gym)
(c) noise (don't even try to go to bed at 9pm like I did).

Capsule Hotel Fontaine Akasaka.  Capsules.
Capsule Hotel Fontaine Akasaka.  Locker room. Capsule Hotel Fontaine Akasaka.  Hairbrush sterilizer.
Capsule Hotel Fontaine Akasaka.  Ticket vending machine. Capsule Hotel Fontaine Akasaka.  Lounge.

Names and Signs

Pokari Sweat is actually good (tastes like 7 Up). Rare Cheese Ice Bar. Hotel Cheese.
Calpis.  Try Happy.
Happy Drug sign. Happy Bag sign. Nice day Nice Smoking vending machine.
We Sell a Tasty Life sign. The concept of a Hair Resort is indeed a puzzle. Hard Off.
Elevator indicator at Kegon Falls.

Eve Andersson (


Living the high life

I'm not an authority on bars or brothels, but I'd say that a "charm charge" is a cover charge and that the "Soap Sharuwei" sign is for a Soapland, the soapy Japanese brothels. Here's a review of that particular (chain of?) Soapland with creepy methodical entries like "Was there a kiss? No." and "Were sanitary implements used? Yes."

-- Max Pinton

nice photos!

But too much to take in in one hit, and the page is a bit slow to load even with my (admittedly low-speed) ADSL connection - I hate to think of the poor modem users.

I suggest breaking it up, with a separate page for each area. (This is better for attracting visitors from search engines, too.)

-- Danny Yee

Great pictures! You really captured the essence of Japan. I lived in Misawa 2 years while in the service and really enjoyed the culture and people. I love your shots of the English language signs and of the vending machines. Thanks for sharing.

-- Craig Barnabee

Hello, I enjoyed your pictures. I was now 2 times in Japan and I hope to start living there from beginning of April 2005. I made some pictures too and they are to find in my weblog from july 2004 and january 2005 in the archives of some slideshows you will find at
Image: DSC02591 (Medium).JPG

-- guus veldhuis

Very nice

I am about to go to Japan and your website somewhat gave me an idea of what to expect. Your hotel information was very useful. Thank you for sharing.

-- Benny Nguyen


Hey, I was there in Daisetsuzan National Park on August 15-16, 2004 too!

I love your photos and writeups; very interesting! :)

-- Galant Ho

what a wonderful wonderful website ;)

-- Daniel Nerezov

Small, small world.

Hey Eve,

I was just surfin' for Tokyo capsule hotel recommendations, and stumbled across your site. Eve Andersson... now that name sounds terribly familiar. It couldn't be my childhood friend Hedy's older sister (the one whose senior yearbook quote was a graphing calculator equation that, legend has it, when entered produces a happy face)?

So it is.

And now, on your albeit mixed recommendation, I am heading to the Fontaine Akasaka on my final night in Japan (the Park Hyatt ran out of rooms).

Thanks, Eve!

Oh, and great site, amazing photos and happy travels! You seem to know exactly how it's done.

Take care,

Ann Dornfeld

-- Ann Dornfeld

Great Pictures

What wonderful pictures of Japan. I've been to most of these places, and your pictures do them justice.

-- Marshall Minami

Bruce barrett

The quality of the photographs is superb. Subject matter, balance and composition are excellent. I also enjoyed the photographs just for enjoyments sake. A delightful comment of Japan and its peoples. Well done and thankyou for the enlightenment.

-- Bruce Barrett

Absolutely fantastic place, and your pictures are awesome! Thank you for sharing. Rgds...Ellen
Image: westcoast beaches 005.jpg

-- ellen Ganley


I lived in Japan for 6 years + and I don't think I managed to cover as much ground as you did...and I know for a fact I didn't get photos that could match yours. Is there anything you're NOT good at, Eve? Nanka, chotto mukatsuku...

-- T. Yamato

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