a journal on hiking and traveling around the Philippines

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hiking in Kyushu, Japan (Plus travel tips!)

On a recent overseas trip, I traveled south of Japan in  Kyushu, the country’s third biggest island. It was the end of March, the beginning of spring, just in time to see some blooming cherry blossoms! Weather at this time varies from 10-16 Celsius, a comforting contrast to the tropical weather in Manila. 
View of Fukuoka from  Mt. Tenpaizan
Taking the only Cebu Pacific flight that day, I arrived at Fukuoka International  airport past 7:00 PM(Japan time).  Since I had to go through immigration, take a bus (it's free if coming from international terminal!) to the Domestic terminal to take a train to the city and navigate my way to  my accommodation in the outskirts of Fukuoka (thank God for offline maps!), I got to Sharely Style Hakata around 11 PM. 
Vendo machines everywhere! Hello Japan. :) 
By the time I checked in to my room, I was  drained. Thankfully, the room is  neat and smelled good. The space is small but had everything I needed, a toilet & bath and ample number of sockets. There's also a  balcony, not a requirement for me but it sure is nice to have. My view is facing a small quiet street, across a vendo machine and if the neighboring house across has its shades open, I get a glimpse of what's inside. :P  

Mt. Homan
After preparing my stuff, I took two trains to Mt. Homan (Itinerary here) in Dazaifu, a small city in Japan's Fukuoka prefecture. The nearby Tenmangu shrine and all the stores and restaurants around it attracts huge numbers of visitors but with my preference for quiet time and solitude, I moved away from the crowd and up the mountain. 
A shrine at the foggy summit of Mt. Homan
It drizzled a bit, making it colder than it already was. My face felt numb from the cold which was a nice experience since I've spent my entire life in the tropics. :) 

Fog began settling in, creating an eerie vibe but I kept my focus on nature. The beautiful huge trees were a good distraction. :) Though the trails are established, most of the signage are in Japanese so I relied heavily on the directions I downloaded online from Fukuoka Now,   a website which contains helpful travel and hiking info in Fukuoka. 
This was lunch. During my trip,  I got a kick out of hunting for interesting food at their convenience stores
which are everywhere! Lawson stores are common here.
As it was a weekday, I was pretty much alone the entire hike. The only time I saw someone else was when I  was going down from the summit, a fellow solo hiker. 
A section of the trail to the summit of Mt. Homan
On my second day, I vent to Tenpaizan (Itinerary here), another hiking trail with a shrine at its peak.

Walking from a train station, I got so lost trying to locate the entrance of the trail. Ironically, it's a popular place for tourist and hiking enthusiasts but I'm not really good with road directions. :P A lady  I met in the street, who didn't speak English, was kind enough to lead me to the jump-off which is 10 minutes away from where I was! I couldn't thank her enough. 

Check out my other hikes here.

I ended up following another trail that turned out to be more challenging from where I intended to start. There's less people on this side which I love. I eventually found the main trail and rejoined the crowd. From there, it takes less than an hour to get to the summit. Compared to most mountains which are at least 600 MASL (Meters Above Sea Level), its highest point is only at 258 MASL.
a view of Fukuoka from Mt. Tenpaizan
After going to Tenpaizan, I took another train and got off at Hakata station.  It is said to be where most of the action is. Hotels, stores, restaurants and other touristy places are nearby. Hakata train station is a tourist attraction itself filled with souvenir shops and restaurants, but after spending two days in the outskirts, I found it to be overwhelming and crowded.  It's funny because friends told me that it's a very laid back city compared to Tokyo . I guess I just  spent so much time in the mountains. :P 
Hakata area
With the cool weather and pedestrian friendly sidewalks, I found myself doing a  lot of walking. From Hakata train station, I walked 1.2 KM to Canal City, a huge shopping and entertainment complex. Think MOA (Mall of Asia). I didn't want to because there were so many people but I couldn't resist checking out Muji and a branch of Montbell, a Japanese retailer and maker of outdoor gear. 
Montbell branch at Canal City,a huge shopping & entertainment complex in Hakata
My last stop for the day was Ohori Park, another one of Fukuoka's top attractions. It's just a few steps from Ohori Koen station. After coffee at Boathouse, a cafe with a view of a man-made lake, I walked around and found myself in an area in the park with tons of food stalls! Here, I enjoyed takoyaki, a balled up street food made from a batter of cabbage and octopus. Some wouldn't enjoy its "fishy" taste but I really like the flavor,  generally salty with a hint of sweetness.
Food stalls at Ohori Park
I walked into some sort of street party - music was blasting from a speaker and there were many groups just huddled together in tables and eating, having a great time. I could see smoke from barbecue pits and other food stalls. I did feel a bit lonely for a second, standing  on my own and people watching, but then again, I was on vacation, I can't be sad! 

Hours before flying back to Manila, I did my 3rd and final hike in Fukuoka. 

View at Mt. Shioji
Popular to locals, Mt. Shioji is a scenic peak in Dazaifu offering views of the city, surrounding mountains and the ruins of Ohnojo Castle. With its easy trails, it welcomes hikers and visitors of varying fitness levels. Those who are not up for a hike can actually take a car to its peak while those who want to walk on a natural trail can cut through the well-marked forest trails to get to the top like I did. The forest trail is reminiscent of the trails in the Philippines with ribbons tied on to trees to mark the correct way! With the exception of seeing cherry blossoms and signage in Japanese, it actually felt like I was hiking back home.
Torii, a traditional Japanese gate found in Shinto shrines 
The short hike  gave me enough time to go around Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine and enjoy a lunch. 

By 5:00 PM, I was in a bus back to Fukuoka airport with 3 hours to spare before my flight back to Manila. (Travel tip : At Dazaifu station, there are lockers where you can stash your luggage and go around. The rental fee varies on how big your luggage is. I think I paid 300 Yen for my 33 Liter Osprey Nova.  There are also buses at the exit of the train station that can take you to  the entrance of Fukuoka International Airport)

FUKUOKA TRAVEL INFORMATION 
How to get to Fukuoka
From Manila, you can fly via Cebu Pacific,  a budget airline that has direct flights to Fukuoka. 

Where to stay 
I booked a  room at Sharely Style Hakata through Agoda. Click here to book. 
Rates : For a 3 night stay, I paid 4,706.89 Pesos
Description : Single bed, aircon room with a balcony, private t&v, mini ref, desk, tv, hair blower, (breakfast not included). This place is outside the tourist district, within walking distance from Ijiri station. It's located in a residential area. I suggest plotting it on a  map which you can access offline before your trip.

Solo Travel Tips 
- If you're taking Cebu Pacific, you will most likely arrive way past the normal check-in time. Just so I don't have to wander around in the wee hours of the morning, I paid for my accommodation on the same day I'm arriving then informed the hotel that I'll be checking in late. 
- The train station map I got from the airport was helpful. You can ask for one at the information desk. The staff were quite friendly! I also learned from watching a vlog that you can download an app for the train schedules. For more tips on traveling to Japan, watch the vlog here.
- there's decent cheap food (sushi, noodles, meals) at the convenience stores and the vendo machines
-  Watch out for sales on the Agoda website (or just download the app) so you can book your accommodation at a cheaper price.  If your flight is arriving late in the evening, inform your hotel.  I found it easy to get in touch with them through the contact page on their site.

- Pocket Money : 15,000 Pesos was enough for me to get me by on this 4 day trip. I mostly did hiking and a bit of eating.  This excluded the plane fare and Philippine Travel Tax (1,620 Pesos). Of course, budget varies depending on what you want to do or buy.
- Souvenir shopping can be done at the duty free at Fukuoka International airport. You can shop while waiting for your flight out of the city. There's also Starbucks here.
- Learn a few basic Japanese words. During my stay, the following words were enough for me to survive : 
sumimasen - excuse me (before asking a question) or sorry (when you accidental bump to someone)
kore - this (to point at things close to you, such as ordering an item from the menu you're holding)
kudasai - please
doko - where

wakarimasen - I don't understand (when someone talks to you in Japanese)

Here are some of the helpful resources I read while researching for my trip : 
How to apply for Japan visa for Filipinoshttp://www.thepoortraveler.net/2013/11/japan-visa-requirements-manila-philippines/
Japan Embassy in the Philippines - http://www.ph.emb-japan.go.jp/itpr_en/00_000035.html
Japan Tourism Sitehttp://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/natuscen/index.html 
Getting Around Fukuoka - http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2436.html 
Fukuoka airport official sitehttp://www.fuk-ab.co.jp/english/ 
Info on Fukuoka City Tourist Pass (train pass)https://yokanavi.com/en/tourist-city-pass/
Info on Bus pass -> http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4802.html 
I followed this YouTuber to get tips when traveling in Japan. :). (Thank you!)
Hiking in Fukuoka - http://www.fukuoka-now.com/en/2016/09/hiking-in-fukuoka/
Going to other prefectures in Japan? Check out their trails here at Japan Guide.

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Hiking in Kyushu, Japan (Plus travel tips!)

On a recent overseas trip, I traveled south of Japan in  Kyushu, the country’s third biggest island. It was the end of March, the beginning ...

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