A cherry blossoms invasion took over Instagram and Facebook accounts in the Philippines this April. Most, if not all of them, were posts from the Land of the Rising Sun. Flowering each year for a short three weeks from the end of March, these abundant shots of the Sakura, Japan’s national flower, are a clear and picture perfect sign that Japan has become the new summer destination for Filipinos in 2014.
Several reasons come into play for this latest development in vacation trends for the Philippine market, foremost of which is the swift and simple multiple entry visa procedure initiated by the Japanese Embassy in the Philippines in July 2013.
As of this writing as well, news about the Japanese government “making arrangements” to waive visa requirements for Filipinos all together, will surely entice more travelers to “turn(ing) Japanese” as the popular ditty of the ‘80s goes.
Happily too, financial fears about going to Japan are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
To start with, more affordable and more frequent flights to key cities of the East Asian nation are readily available for Filipinos, such as those launched by budget-friendly carrier Cebu Pacific to Tokyo-Narita and Nagoya on March 30.
Add to these the stories of Japan-travel converts [yes, the de facto Asian destination for Filipinos has lately been losing appeal], the impression that to vacation in Japan is much too expensive has also changed. For, as in every new place one plans to visit, research and readings from travelogues like this, and smart questions for those who have been before, can and will make a buck, a peso—or in this case, a couple of Japanese yen—go far.
Indeed, dreams of cherry blossom-filled holidays are now a reality for the Filipino traveler.
The Filipino traveler who has long wanted to see the famed beauty of his East Asian neighbor in the flesh. The Filipino traveler who has long craved to complete his gustatory love affair with Japanese cuisine. The Filipino traveler who has long fancied to experience legendary Japanese customs and witness the genius of its world-famous technology. And yes, the Filipino traveler who simply wants to cross off “selfie with sakura” from his bucket list.
It is time to visit Japan.
While Tokyo is a must-see as Japan’s capital for a first-time traveler, The Manila Times recommends touchdown Nagoya for those who want an “all-in-one” excursion to the Land of the Rising Sun.
As part of the Philippine media delegation aboard Cebu Pacific’s maiden flight to Nagoya, The Manila Times learned that to use Japan’s fourth largest city [in terms of population]as a gateway to the country will strategically encompass both natural and modern attractions in a four-day tour.
Well-planned and well-presented, a collaborative effort of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism officials of Nagoya and the districts of the Gifu Prefecture came up with a familiarization trip that showed such breathtaking sights of the sea and the mountains, a delicious food trip, and experiences of small town culture, amazing technology and the cosmopolitan tastes of central Japan.
Japanese charm in Gifu
With Cebu Pacific Manila-Nagoya flights arriving in Japan in the evening, a good night’s rest from the flight is recommended at one of the airport hotels, such as Comfort Hotel Centrair.
The next day, whether a traveler or a group wishes to go by Japan’s world famous bullet trains or efficient bus routes, a journey to the Gifu Prefecture (Nagoya is located in the Aichi Prefecture) is highly recommended.
Extensive information for travelers who wish to go about their excursion on their own is readily available immediately past customs at the Centrair International Airport, while tour group trips can also be arranged.
Gifu, one of Japan’s 47 prefectures, is often described as “the epitome of Japan’s charms.” As Japan’s heartland, it is home to the country’s most picturesque seas and mountains, and a rich cultural heritage.
1st Stop: Gujo
Gujo-Hachiman is a castle town that preserves unique traditional Japanese culture.
The Gujo-Hachiman Hakuran-kan museum is a good place to begin a walking tour of the town, which provides [an extensive]introduction to Gujo with exhibits divided into the themes of “water,” “traditional arts and craft,” and the performances of the “Gujo Odori Dance” (a dance season that lasts for about 30 nights from mid-July to the beginning of September).
In the area around the museum, you can see old streets and a way of life very close to the way it was centuries ago. On both sides of the town streets, there are channels carrying water down from the surrounding mountain. Even today, the canals are used for “daily life water” by using segi-ita, a type of wooden water barrier. You can encounter people washing their clothes and vegetables there.
Another point of interest is the “food replica” making, as Gujo is considered as Japan’s food replica capital. In Japan, molded plastic resin replicas of menu items are often displayed in the showcases of restaurant entrances for diners to choose from. Visitors can make their own food replicas here and bring them home as souvenirs. [Gujo Tourism Guide]
2nd Stop: Shirakawa-go Mountain Village
An hour’s drive from the town will bring breathtaking views of the Hida River and Mountain range, going all the way up to the Unesco World Heritage site of Shirakawa-go.
The quiet mountain village is comprised of 110 houses with roofs thatched in the gassho or “praying hands” style. Unesco recognized the area as an outstanding example of a traditional way of life that has perfectly adapted to its environment and social function. [Shirakawa-Go Access Illustrated Map]
3rd Stop: Takayama
Beginning Day 2 with a drive to Hida Takayama gives travelers time to begin the day with a walking tour and shopping spree for Japanese delicacies and souvenirs at the picturesque Takayama morning market, dating back to the Edo period. Hida, take note, is also famed for its high quality beef of the same name. It is Japanese black cattle beef that has been fattened up for more than 14 months, and is even higher in quality that Kobe. [Hida Takayama Guide]
4th Stop: Shinhotaka Ropeway
After a leisurely springtime walk, travelers should prepare for lower temperatures as a drive up to the Shinhotaka Ropeway to see what is known as the “Japanese Alps” is next.
The only two-tiered gondola in all of Japan, the Shinhotaka Ropeway takes visitors to a height of 2,156 meters in 25 minutes, broken down into two trips. This ropeway is in service all year round, offering spectacular views of each season’s mountain scenery.
5th Stop: Gero
You will know you are in Gero when you see frogs (reminiscent of Sanrio’s Kero kero keroppi) starring on manhole covers and foot and hand baths every other street corner.
“Gero, gero!” is how the Japanese imitate the sound of the frog, thus the adoption of the green amphibian as their mascot, but Gero is first and foremost known as Gifu’s “onsen” or Japanese bath capital.
Thus, a weary traveler can simply take off his or her boots or sneaker, and relieve the pains of walking tour with a quick dip in these heated pools of spring water, for free!
Spend 10 to 20 minutesin the hot spring water with beautiful views of the city to wash away stress and tension, and follow on with a dry Japanese massage that hits the spot every time, unique only to Gero.
And on to Aichi
As the tour heads back to Nagoya City, so does it leave the Gifu Prefecture for Aichi. Just as picturesque as Gifu, Aichi is home is to majestic castles and modern inventions.
6th Stop: Inayuma Castle
When traveling in April, Day 3 in the Aichi Prefecture is the day for cherry blossoms snapshots with no less than Japan’s oldest castle as a backdrop.
Inayuma Castle lies on the southern riverbank of the Kiso River, built some 470 years ago as a fortress for the samurai warriors. Six storeys high, the climb up the centuries old structure is very steep to give enemies a difficult time if they manage to break into the castle.
Today, as tricky as this climb may be, every step is worth it, as the rewards at the top are breathtaking views of distinctive Japanese roofs and more modern buildings further away, all embraced by the light pink and feathery blooms of endless Sakura trees.
7th Stop: Nagashima Resort
A theme park of modernity follows days of time travel in Gifu and Aichi with an afternoon at Nagshima Resort. With 45 rides for thrill seekers and children of all ages, there is also a spa and resort, a hotel, a flower park, and the Mitsui Outlet Park for shopping within the vast grounds.
The star of Nagashima is the Steel Dragon 2000, a roller coaster that is 2,479 meters long, 97 meters at its tallest, with a maximum drop of 93.5 meters at a maximum speed of 153 kilometers. [Nagashima Resort Guide Book]
All those figures only mean one thing: Be ready for the ride of your life!
8th Stop: Nagoya Castle
In the middle of Nagoya’s skyscrapers proudly stands its jewel, the Nagoya Castle.
Just like Inayuma, the former fortress is surrounded by endless Cherry Blossoms, and is listed as one of the “Big 3” castles of Japan. On its rooftop are golden grampus (shachi, a cetacean of the dolphin family), symbolizing the power of the feudal lords who once lived in the castle grounds. The shachis have now become the symbol of Nagoya itself. [Nagoya 2014-2015 Navi]
9th Stop: Toyota Techno Museum
From loom to vroom is the story of the world famous brand Toyota, easily the world’s largest automobile manufacturer. Divided into two main pavilions, the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology in Nagoya tells the remarkable history of a company founded by one Sakichi Toyoda in 1911, who invented hundreds of patents for textile machinery.
It was a third generation Toyoda by the name of Kiichiro who expanded the company’s competent technology in textile-making into automobile manufacturing in 1937.
The “d” in “Toyoda” was dropped as it is the fourth letter in the alphabet, which in turn is an unlucky number in the Japanese culture.
Interactive displays and amazing demos are held both in the Textile Machinery Pavilion and the Automobile Pavilion, with a special area for children called Technoland.
10th Stop: Osu
As the perfect 10th and final stop in this five-day tour around the Gifu and Aichi prefectures, shopping at Osu is in order.
Traditionally known for textiles and the Osu Kannon temple, Osu has become a trendy place for young Japanese folks to shop.
Whether on the lookout for a vintage shopping experience, authentic Nagoyan street food or souvenirs, Osu is the place to be.
A special point of interest is the multi-storey Komehyo store where second hand Hermes bags to slightly used designer clothes are sold by the gram!