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 GENERAL INFO (Jump to Diary)
Japan or Nippon / Nihon is an island-country, found in eastern Asia, in the northwest Pacific Ocean. It comprises 6852 islands, where only five are major: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa.
The name for Japan in Japanese is written using the Chinese kanji signs: 日本, which are pronounced Nippon or Nihon. The name "Japan" is based on Chinese pronunciations of 日本.

It covers 377,975 square kilometres, and span 2500 kilometres from north to south. It is the home to a population of around 125 million citizens, 92% living in the cities, found mainly on the narrow coastal plains. It has been populated for at least 30,000 years. 84–96% of the Japanese population subscribe to Shinto as its indigenous religion.
Between the 4th and 9th centuries, the kingdoms of Japan became unified under an emperor. After a century-long period of civil war, the country was reunified in 1603 under the Tokugawa shogunate, who keep the country closed to foreigners. In 1854, a United States fleet forced Japan to open trade to the West, which led to the end of the shogunate and the restoration of imperial power in 1868.
Japan is a highly developed country, and a great power in global politics. Its economy is the world's third-largest by nominal GDP and the fourth-largest by PPP.
The Climate of Japan is predominantly temperate, but varies greatly from north to south. The northernmost region, Hokkaido, has a humid continental climate with long, cold winters and very warm to cool summers. The Central Highland has a typical inland humid continental climate, with large temperature differences between summer and winter.
The Pacific coast features a humid subtropical climate that experiences milder winters with occasional snowfall and hot, humid summers because of the southeast seasonal wind.
The Biodiversity of the Japanese archipelago is made-up by 67% forests and 14% agricultural. The forests range from subtropical moist broadleaf forests in the southern Ryūkyū and Bonin Islands, over temperate broadleaf and mixed forests in the mild climate regions of the main islands, to temperate coniferous forests in the cold, winter portions of the northern islands.
Japan has over 90,000 species of wildlife including the brown bear, the Japanese macaque, the Japanese raccoon dog, the small Japanese field mouse, and the Japanese giant salamander; Andrias japonicus, which I would love to see!
A large network of national parks has been established to protect important areas of flora and fauna, as well as 52 Ramsar wetland sites. Four sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for their outstanding natural value, and they most be worth a visit!
Mammals counts 130 species. The largest of these are the two bears. The Ussuri brown bear; Ursus arctos is found in Hokkaidō, where it plays an important role in the culture of the Ainu people. The Asian black bear; Ursus thibetanus inhabits mountainous areas in Honshū, Kyūshū and Shikoku. Smaller carnivores include the red fox; Vulpes vulpes, raccoon dog; Nyctereutes procyonoides and Japanese marten; Martes melampus. There are two wild cats in Japan: The leopard cat; Prionailurus bengalensis of mainland Asia occurs on Tsushima Island while the Iriomote cat; Prionailurus iriomotensis is unique to the island of Iriomote.
Grazing mammals include the sika deer; Cervus nippon, Japanese serow; Capricornis crispus and wild boar; Sus scrofa. Among Japan's most famous mammals is the Japanese macaque; Macaca fuscata, the world's most northerly monkey.
Birds counts 600 species of which more than 250 of these breed within the country. A number of birds are endemic including the Japanese woodpecker; Picus awokera, copper pheasant; Syrmaticus soemmerringii and Japan's national bird, the green pheasant; Phasianus versicolor.
Reptiles and amphibians are represented by about 73 species of reptile, of which nearly half are endemic. Venomous snakes include the mildly venomous tiger keelback. Lizards include many endemic skink species, the viviparous lizard, and the Okinawa tree lizard. Freshwater turtles found in Japan include the endemic Japanese pond turtle and Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtle. There are over 40 amphibian species including the Japanese giant salamander; Andrias japonicus, one of the world's largest amphibians. The Asiatic salamander family; Hynobiidae is particularly well represented; many members of the family are endemic to Japan.
Flora counts from 4000 to 6000 species of plants which occur naturally in Japan. The vegetation varies widely from subtropical forest in the south to coniferous forest in the north. In the subtropical zone, mangroves, cycads and tree ferns can be found. In the warm-temperate climate of Kyūshū, Shikoku and south-western Honshū, the dominant vegetation is broad-leaved evergreen forest with many oaks. In north Honshū and south-west Hokkaidō the climate is cool-temperate with broad-leaved deciduous trees including Japanese beech and oaks like the jolcham oak. Conifers are dominant in much of Hokkaidō and in the mountains of central and northern Honshū where spruces and firs are growing. In the highest mountains, there is a zone of Arctic–alpine plants including the low-growing Siberian dwarf pine.
Bamboo grows abundantly in Japan with around 400 to 500 different species including the dwarf bamboos known as sasa and the taller kinds known as take which can reach 20 metres in height.
Here are some Caudiciforms, but I will not go looking for them specific. However, one might encounter;
Apios fortunei, Chamaecyparis obtusa, Clerodendrum inerme, Crinum asiaticum, Cycas revoluta, Cynanchum wilfordii, Dioscorea bulbifera, Dioscorea nipponica, Dioscorea tokoro, Equisetum arvense, Fallopia multiflora, Ficus microcarpa, Firmiana simplex, Ginkgo biloba, Gynostemma pentaphyllum, Isoetes japonica, Sarcoca acinosa and Stephania japonica.
Geography. Japan is substantially prone to earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions due to its location along the Pacific Ring of Fire. I did not experience any. The highest point is Mt. Fuji with its 3,776 meters, which I had to
see. The major part of the country is dominated by mountains, providing a needed sanctuary for the nature.

Plan. Japan is a huge country, and I have chosen only to explore the southern half - this time. It is warmer, and I found more points of interest.
My list is real short on onsens: Baths, museums and large cities. It is way more about nature and the few original fortress, temples and alike for me. The route will bring me around the entire southern half of Japan with several islands; Shikoku, Kyúshú and Honshú along with some minor. Like any other Buddhist country, I do the tour clockwise - although a bit figure eight-like.

25/5. For once in a long time, I travel without a computer, and this diary might be a bit skinny on facts, compared with the previous. It is a relative short flight from Korea, and it is real clear, and a great flight over the Japanese Sea. It is so easy to see, the mountains are unspoiled or used for foresting only, while all the valleys are filled with settlement and fields.
I arrival at Kansai Airport; KIX in the late afternoon, and after clearing immigration, I find my odd looking car and head along the coast, through the
big city, to my real cozy hotel. It is within the big city, but a green oasis on the top of a wall.

I still only carry a two kilo shoulder-bag, but it contains all I need – if I do a bit of laundry every tenth day. It even holds a spare iPhone I can use as GPS, as it is the most important help I can get.
It is a 75 kilometer drive at dusk, but it takes two hours
. I spend the time, figuring how to silence the car’s GPS, which only speak and write Japanese. Next to the hotel, I find a supermarket, and stock some food for the following days. Being a vegetarian is challenging while traveling in most foreign countries.

26/5. I'm up early, but it just starts to drizzling, and I skip the walk around the neighborhood. That give me an extra hour to sip tea, before I head towards Himeji-jö, which is a magnificent castle.
I drive through the big city, and in the outskirts, it is clear that the odd looking car-type I drive, is the most
common. The outskirts are plastered in signs, but only a few make sense to me.

The sun soon joins in, and that make the day so much greater. The Himeji-jö Castle is found within a huge moat and wall. It covers a vast area, and I get to walk quite some, before I find the entrance. On the way, I stumble over a temple with a service of some sort.

Within the castle, sever nice displays hold the original armory and weapons of the castle's masters. The building is both rock and huge timber, and the floors polished through centuries. Guests get a plastic bag for their shoos.
From the tower, there is a great view to the courtyards and the modern city.

I though I made a lot of photos of the castle, but not compared with the garden: An absolutely astonishing Japanese moss garden. I'm sure, it is the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen. There are great motives everywhere you look, and when you move a meter or two, you can start all over again.
A few gardeners are seeping the moss, and here, like the next gardens, I am puzzled over the few gardeners I see. Pruning the trees and weeding the pebbles and moss most be rather time-consuming.

Here are numerous creeks, ponds, hills, huge boulders, bonsai-like trees, pagodas, teahouses and other real cosy ornamental ideas.
I bit reluctantly, I leave.

It is a great drive through forest-covered small mountains, sleepy farm villages, newly prickled rice patches and rivers. I see some solar-cells on a hillside, the only ones. The rest are where the crop use to be grown.
I pass a raiser railroad, and the bullet-train passes.

Next up is the smaller, but still impressive Okayama Castle, and not to forget; the Köraku-en garden from 1700. Well, I would call it a park, but it have quite some great looking details. Huge lawns, small creeks, soft hills, ponds and lakes, pruned trees and thatched buildings. Here is a forest, a bamboo area, teahouses and a peach-plantation. I do several loops in the waste area, before I start looking for Okayama Castle.

It is found on the other side of the big Asani River, and a real impressive building. Again, I can admire the huge timbet construction within, and there are also displays of armery and alike. Here are the original katanas, the svoards, used by the samurais.

Back in the garden; I do some more enjyable strolling, and find the lotus pond, huge coi-carpes and a plant I like: Isoetes japonica. It is getting late, and I have to head on, as it is a rather long drive.
I am forced to use toll-roads, or a ferry, and toll-roads it is. But 30 Euro for 35 kilometres make me reconsider my future use of them. I hope it was due to the three huge bridges, connecting the islands of Honshu and Shikoku.
here the GPS had the transport times right in Korea, it seems they are double as long as anticipated in Japan. I have room for that – most days.

My hotel turns out to be a tube, and that is surely different. Furthermore, there are no shared private showery, as this is an Onsen. Well, now I have tried it. 100s of tube-beds in two stories, with nothing else, than a madras and a curtain to lock-out the world. It is located in a skyscraper, with a karaoke bar underneath, and a bowling hall further down. But it is almost vacant in my department, and real quiet. 

Next door, I find a little local joint with a laughing girl and two drunks. She will make me some vegetarian dinner, and I chat with guys - via an app. They lures me into Natto; fomented Soya beans. A most acquired taste – but I think it tastes great. It is only the half meter clear sticky strings, which don't set well with my moustache and chin.

I check-out the onsen, when I get back, and no wonder the attention the local girls give to a foreigner! 40 but-naked men walks around, and half of them sitting in front of makeup mirrors, doing hair and alike.

I do a short tour around the now rather sleepy pedestrian area, which is a closed tunnel, stretching way longer than I feel like walking. The shops are closing, and I just get to by needle and thread for my sleeping-blinds. Photos.
                   Time to explore the island
of Shikoku in Diary 2.

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