Saturday, June 20, 2015

Nokonoshima flowers and detour encouragement...

In May, six ladies and I hit the Japanese highway and headed to the Fukuoka area (about 3 hours from MCAS Iwakuni) to go to the beautiful island of Nokonoshima, which is most well known for its flower park. Each season, different flowers are blooming on the rolling hills of the park, many of the fields with their own view of the ocean. You do need to take a ferry to the island, and the ferry costs roughly 5,000 yen per vehicle, plus about 1,200 yen per adult. The trip is about 20 minutes long.

View of the mainland from the ferry.
Once you're on island, head to the right once you have exited the ferry. We headed to the right and got lost in a maze of narrow streets. No a super awesome detour when you're driving an 8-passenger van.

Once we drive up the winding hill to the park, we, well, parked, and made our way to the entrance, where we paid and received English guides to the park This is a nice treat because only about half of the tourist stops I've been to in Japan have English maps or guides. You learn to be grateful to those that do. In case they don't have one available when you go, it is, front and back... click on the photos to enlarge.

We went in late spring, so the flowers in bloom were livingstone daisies, azaleas, marigolds, and red poppies. During the summer months, you can see hydrangeas, coral trees, dahlias, and crape myrtle. Fall is dahlia, coral tree, and cosmos. Not to be outdone, winter brings fall foliage in mid to late November, sasanqua, Japanese narcissus and camellias.

According to this sign, restrooms are available... over there.

There are several places to eat and a handful of handcrafted goods shops. There are cabins, so you can spend the night on the island for 5,000 yen per night per adult, although we did not. There is miniature golf and a large playground for children.

We did eat lunch on the island, opting for the barbecue place. And with the seating outside with the view above, it was a great way to spend the afternoon.

I'd also like to take a moment to tell you to build in extra time in to your travel schedule - any travel schedule - to stop for detours. We made an overnight tip of the Nokonoshima trip, stayed at a traditional Japanese hotel about an hour away and headed in to the mountains of Yamaguchi. We made our way back to Iwakuni through some of the Yamaguchi Prefecture back roads and had time to stop to enjoy the things we happened upon, like red bridges and seemingly lonely shrines:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

It's firefly season!

Fireflies are something to be celebrated in Japan, and since I did not partake in such celebration in years past, I figured I better do it this year, since I am not sure what next summer has in store for us. We are scheduled to PCS (move, for you civilians out there) sometime next summer and I am not sure what the schedule of events would be in next June. So I immersed myself in fireflies this weekend.

On Saturday night, the Nishiki River Train Company hosted a tour to the Hunotani Firefly Festival. My friend Chie, planned the trip for a handful of us, but if you're interested in this trip, and have access to MCAS Iwakuni, you can book it through the ITT office. The festival is held once a year and out 5,800 yen included the roundtrip train ride from Iwakuni Station to the town of Nishiki, which was about an hour and 15 minutes. We also got to dig fresh potatoes to take home, watched a traditional Japanese performance and ate a bento box meal. The train leaves Iwakuni station at around 4 p.m. and returns around 10:30 p.m. The price for kids is 4,100 yen. Only 50 people can go so plan to book in the middle of May. Here is the flier from this year:

I have been on the Nishiki River Train before, to go to the Toko Toko Train. You may have seen these brightly colored train cars along the tracks of the Nishiki River, the one that flows under the Kintai Bridge.

The train is perfectly safe, but does bounce and jostle more than the average train. The locals did not see to be too concerned about the jostling or the banshee-level shrieks that could be heard each time the train went through a tunnel. Once we got to the station at the end of the line, we got on a tour bus to go to the festival location. This also appears to be perfectly safe, although don't look down out of the bus window. There are some sheer drops in to the forest along the windy uphill road, ... sometimes without guardrails.

But we made it to the small festival grounds and immediately spent the next 20 minutes digging up potatoes and taking photos with the wild pig scarecrows.

Then it was time for our bento box dinner (which I did not get a photo of... my apologies) and the performance: Yamata no OrochiThe best part: the evil serpents that ate all the daughters.

After the performance, it was time to check out the fireflies as we walked back down to the hill to the buses headed for the train home. There wasn't much time to break out the tripod and really get some great night shots, so some of us made plans to head to Three Falls (you can get directions from ITT) to check out the fireflies there. We put our night photography, butterfly nets and mason jars to work:

Also to note: Bring bug spray, a sweatshirt and a flashlight. And maybe a leash for your kids. They seem to like to run around in the dark, especially close to river banks and ledges.