Having already spent the spring in Okinawa and Japan's top sightseeing destinations, we went back to Japan in June and July for the mountainous and northern regions: Chubu and Tohoku are also areas we cover in the Stefan Loose Japan Travel Guidebook and we spent a few weeks researching for the new edition.
This also meant discovering a couple of hidden gems: We visit the must-see destinations of Japan and the tourist hotspots quite often with our tour guiding work, but Chubu and Tohoku are off the beaten track.
Amongst others we explored the Fukui Dinosaur Museum and the traditional farmers' houses of Gokayama, the former "Imperial Headquarters" tunnels near Nagano, new post-tsunami developments in Sendai and Matsushima, the UNESCO World Natural Heritage area of Shirakami Sanchi and the remote Ogi Peninsula. We also visited a historical silk mill in Tomioka (also UNESCO-designated) and then added a few days in Kyushu for more industrial-age sightseeing. A personal highlight was a visit to the Furofushi outdoor hot spring in Koganezaki.
After the work part we went to Kyushu in the south of Japan for a few days. Visiting the highly active Sakurajima volcano near Kagoshima, we were caught in a rather strong earthquake (no serious effects, though). One highlight of our visit to Nagasaki was a boat trip to Gunkanjima , the deserted coal mining island that was one of the most densely populated places on the planet once. We also went on a tour inside the enormous Mitsubishi wharfs and visited several other Meiji-period industrial sites belonging to Japan's newest set of UNESCO World Heritage properties.
From Kyushu we took the ferry to South Korea that we had last visited in 2004. Some places we re-visited had changed tremendously such as Gyeongju and Haein-sa. We also made a trip to Gongju and Buyeo to look for remains from the Baekje Period (c. 18 BC–660 AD), where we were quite disappointed as most of the UNESCO locations were bare of any discernible historical remains but sported modern recreations of what some people think Baekje buildings may have looked like.
After so much cultural tourism and research traveling we were looking forward to a few weeks of hiking on the Peaks of the Balkans long distance trail. However, the day we arrived in Prishtina we had to change plans: Natascha's sister, who had been diagnosed with ALS only four weeks earlier, had suddenly been hospitalised and was in a bad condition. ALS is an incurable and swift nerve disease that gradually reduces the functioning of nearly all muscles, most dangerously those necessary for swallowing and breathing.
Natascha went to Uzbekistan for some tour-guiding work at the end of September while Isa has been wrapping up the guide book research for Japan.
And here comes a list of the blog posts of the last three months, sorted by countries:
We have no intention of adding to those highly original "5 things you must see in Copenhagen" lists – every guidebook would have a better base for such recommendations. Instead, we compared what we personally liked most about our recent trip to Copenhagen: some may have been "must-see" places, others were not. Our personal Top Five in Copenhagen
With so much research crammed into our weeks in Japan we still made it to some places on the far ends: The UNESCO World Heritage beech Forest of Shirakami Sanchi in the far north of Honshu (the main island), but also the strange UNESCO site of Gunkanjima in the South, well-known as a James Bond inspiration. And the Dinosaur Museum near Fukui (where you can actually dig for dinosaurs!) is in a region beyond the mountain ranges where most tourists never venture. Also, on a more general and practical note, we wrote a piece on how to use Japanese toilets – it's more difficult than you think!
Between the ancient kingdoms of Korea and the modern urbanity of Seoul, one place that impressed us in a rather different way was the United Nations Cemetery in Busan – built for the many thousand Allied war dead and their veterans of the Korean War (1950-53). The topic seems current enough these days…