Category Archives: plan

Day 17 – sNOw monkeys

A stay in Maruka Ryokan is a step back in time.  I am not sure how old the owners of the Ryokan are but their very helpful son appeared to us to be in his seventies!

The best days for this Ryokan have past.  Taps are quaint, tiles around the onsen crumbling and fixtures and fittings have seen better days.  However the linen was spotless and miso soup the best in Japan.  Breakfast was excellent and the hospitality from the elderly hosts has to be experienced to be believed.  A little window to the past.

We were lucky to be given a lift to the snow monkey park by the Ryoken owner’s son.  He had a message in English on his phone to tell us that it wasn’t likely that the monkeys would come out to play.  I just wish someone had said out right – don’t waste your time, but anyway live and learn!

If you go to Yamanouchi in autumn don’t expect to see snow monkeys.  They are too busy making more snow monkeys and don’t bother to come down to their onsen.  We waited and waited with the promise they might come down but finally had to go.  Looking on webcam, even from home it seems they didn’t come down from the hills for quite some time!

 

We left Yaramnouchi and travelled by JR train back to Tokyo.  The contrast of the quiet backwater to the hustle and bustle of the world class city was huge.

We rediscovered the Ginza line and Shimbashi station.  We retraced our steps to the Park Hotel and this time we had booked a room with a view- maybe we will see the shy one – Mount Fuji.

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Day 16 – Down from the clouds

Overnight the weather had changed and Murodo was covered in snow.  It was great to experience different climatic conditions and get the chance to view the alpine environment from a different perspective.

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After breakfast we set off on the journey down the alps and on to Yamanouchi.

We left Murodo on an electric trolley bus through a mountain tunnel, then caught the ropeway, cable car and then had to walk over the dam wall.  This was mildly unpleasant as the weather had turned to rain with wind whistling through the gorge.  I am sure that this would have been a stunning sector on the previous day.  For us it was a hurried walk, dragging our roller bags with our umbrellas nearly blowing away!  Hey, it happens!

The trolley bus the took us through the mountain to the bus station.

We then had to purchase tickets on the local bus to drive us to Nagano.  This bus trip took quite a long time – a few hours.  It was especially frustrating to experience the peak hour traffic as we approached Nagano.  We had been spoilt by the efficient Japanese train services.  At Nagano we quickly boarded the JR train to Yudanaka.

There were ominous signs up at the ticket office – “No snow monkeys today”

Yudanaka was a curious old onsen town with public foot spas dotted around the footpaths and the local public onsen housed in the same building as the train station.

We had organised to stay in an old Ryokan and the owner’s son would collect us from the station when we arrived.  Just like clock work, we were picked up and driven to our home for the night.

 

 

 

Day 15 – To infinity and beyond

Where to next?  It was a hard choice but the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route beckoned.

We purchased a special Alpine Route ticket which cost 1500 yen each.  This ticket covered travel using ten travel segments and covered the use of the Toyama Chiho railroad, Tateyama Cablecar and the Tateyama Highland bus and could be used over five days.  As we travelled in autumn the famous ice wall was not there but the experience was a highlight and was a different Japanese experience.

We left Kanazawa and travelled to Toyama using our JR pass.  We then had to change to the Toyama Chiho railway at Dentetsu station.  Again this whole journey seemed so complicated and despite the knowledge of how organised and reliable the transport system is in Japan, it did cause some consternation… totally unnecessarily so.

This was a fantastic two day experience.  Accommodation at Murodo seems expensive however it covers a gourmet dinner, guided walks if interested, star gazzinf and presentation, use of a private onsen and breakfast.

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We had a magical day for our ascent of the Tateyama Alps and plenty of time to walk around and view the trails, tarns and even volcanic steam outlets.

If you have plenty of time and good weather plan to stop along the way and use the five days for your visit.

 

 

Day 13 – Thunderbirds away!

 

A really early start… an experience strangely reminiscent of the Korean Beauty Parlour scene from “Seinfield” .. with prayers said in Japanese and our miso soup consumed we were off to explore the rest of Koyasan and then journey on to Kanazawa.

Koyasan has a range of temples and museums to visit all set amongst beautiful trees… perhaps we should have planned to stay longer.  We encountered a few pilgrims on their way.

Our day was full of train travel.  The bus, cable car and train journey back to Osaka.  With our JR Pass, we travelled back to Kyoto on the Shinkansen Hikari.  At 3.40pm we then caught the Limited Express Thurnderbird 29 to Kanazawa.

On arrival in Kanazawa, we were able to use our JR pass to catch the local bus to our homestay in the old geisha district of Higashiyama.  This took some locating with the tourist information telling us to look out for the special heritage tree just outside the home.  This was a fantastic home stay experience and I was awoken at night to the sounds of the wooden shoes of geisha’s strolling past our window… pretty special.

 

 

 

Day 12 – Serenity now

On paper the plans for our full day of travel seemed possible however it was with much trepidation that we set off from our comfy base that had been Kyoto.

On the agenda was a trip to Himeji Castle and then uncertainty of travel to Mount Koya to stay with Buddhist monks in their retreat Kumagaiji.  Could we fit this long day in and still have time to enjoy the sights and savour the experiences along the way?  Would we be really frazzled by the time we got to the mountain top and the UNESCO World Hertiage area Koyasan?  Would we even get there?  …. All needless worry as it turned out.

We departed Kyoto at 8.23am on the Shinkansen Hikari 495 bags and all and arrived at Himeji at 9.18am.  At the station we stowed our cases in a locker and stepped outside for a taxi.  We were met with a fantastic blue sky, perfect for viewing the resplendent World Cultural Hertiage gem that is Himeji Castle.  Our driver quickly delivered us to the front entrance of the castle grounds.

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This beautifully restored castle was being used as a film set for a super fast action movie with a full cast of Japanese warriors.  This gave us a unique chance for some special photographs with cast members.

We were able to extensively tour the mighty castle, which included a climb of the timber stairways up to the sixth floor, opportunity to gaze out of various shooting holes or Sama in the castle walls and to view the city and surrounding countryside.  Magnificent.

The walk back to the train station was easy with the movie making action proving a distraction along the way.  This was definitely worth the three hour detour.  If only there had been enough time to also visit the beautiful gardens next to the castle grounds.

Just as well the stop was so enjoyable because the next segment of our day had me a bit nervous.  Armed with maps and information flyers we headed off to the Koya Peninsular.image

Our onward journey then took us from Himeji at 11.57am to Osaka by 12.58pm on the JR Special Rapid Service.  We then caught the Osaka Loop Line (inner loop) to Shin-Imaymiya.  This journey was a quick seventeen minute trip after which we had to locate the Nanki Electric Railway ticket office to purchase our Koyasan World Heritage Ticket.  This section of our travel was not covered by the JR Pass. The Nankai Electric Ticket covered return train fare on the Nainkai Koya line, the cable car to Koyasan and a two day bus pass.  This cost ¥3,400 each but covered the rest of our rather complicated journey.

At 1.30pm we were sitting comfortably on the Limited Express Koya 7 truely ready for the serenity awaiting at Kumagaiji.  The journey through the countryside and into the treetops and mountainside was very special.  The trees were resplendent in the fall foliage.

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We arrived at the Buddist Temple, Kumagaiji alighting from the bus at around 5.15pm.  After a warm greeting, we were shown to our two-roomed accomodation and our host monk who poured us green tea, gave us bean cookies and a snug welcome at our heated table.  He also explained that we were expected to attend prayers the next morning at 5.00 am!   We walked in the afternoon to Okunoin and wandered along the cedar lined pathway to the mausoleum of Kobo Dashi.  This was a very serene and peaceful place and it was with interest that we located a monument to Australian soldiers from World War II.

Our evening meal was provided by the temple and was a very tasty vegetarian selection, served to us in our private dining room.  After an  eerie night time stroll back through Okunoin which allowed us to further enjoy this unique and sacred Japanese setting, we had an onsen and then retired for the night, warm and comfy as our futons and magically appeared in our room.  The pillows were pretty sad… A bit like sandbags.

Well the day had been a true adventure!

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Day 5 – Have roller bag… Will travel

With our tiny roller bags packed we were on our way to explore the Japanese countryside.

Many people visit Nikko on a day trip from Tokyo but we decided to stay two nights and spend time absorbing the local village life and viewing a range of very special temples and buildings.

Before leaving the Park Hotel the tour director kindly phoned our host in Nikko to organise a pick up from the Nikko JR station.

Today we used our JR passes for the first time.  Remember to always go past the ticket office and show your pass, when entering or leaving train stations.

From Shimbashi station we used the Yamanote Line to return to Tokyo station.  We then found the Shinkansen platforms for our first bullet train ride.

We caught the Shinkansen  Yamariko 207 to Utsunomiya.  We then boarded the JR Nikko Line for Nikko.  This was a quaint tourist train that delivered us to the JR station in Nikko.  The journey from Tokyo to Nikko was 150 km and took us 125 minutes.  There was a quicker and more direct train trip available but this was with a private train company not covered by the JR pass- so make sure to use the Hyperdia app to plan your journey on JR services.

On arrival our host from Nikko Akarinoyado Villa Revage was waiting to collect us from the station.  He drove us through the village, pointed out his restaurant recommendations and dropped us the Shinkyo bridge, just outside the World Heritage temple precinct.  He took our bags back to the ryokan.

We enjoyed a lunch at a popular spot called “Eat Asia” was with locals and a range of Japanese hikers.  Lunch was a delicious  ramen and included a mysterious key ingredient called Yuba.  This we later discovered was a local specialty made from the skin that forms when soya beans are curdled to make Tofu.

The afternoon was spent visiting two temples; Rinno- Ji  Treasure House and Temple and the Futarasan Shrine.  So many grand shrines, buildings, view points and steps!

We then followed the main road and located our ryokan.  Villa Revage had three very special private onsen rooms for us to use.  Our host explained the bath house rules and protocol.  Onsens are fun and very relaxing.

Nikko closes down with sunset.  It was quite a walk to find a restaurant open after dark.  We dined at “Zen” where the menu matched the name.  There were only two choices on the menu.  We selected the Yuba rolls- these were like sushi but used Yuba instead of seafood.  The food was delicious especially when accompanied by a local beer.

We walked a fair distance back to the ryokan and passed “Lawson Station” a convenience store.  We found these shops everywhere across Japan, they were great to pick up a simple snack or treat.

The local bus in Nikko also used the Suica card so we could have caught the bus back if we wanted.  We enjoyed the walk, even if there were spots of rain along the way.

 

Dream hotel In Tokyo?

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interesting…dreaming of a hotel signifies a new state of mind or a shift in personal identity.  Wow!  Does this mean that my trip to Tokyo will really challenge my personal habits and reveal new ways of doing things?  I hope so.

So far possible places for me to stay include;

Richmond Hotel Asakusa provides reasonably priced business style accomodation 3-minute walk to Sensoji Temple and is close to the Tokyo Skytree.  You can get to this hotel easily from Narita airport using the Keisei Skyliner with a pass that can include a subway pass.  The big draw back for me is the distance out of the city centre and the fact I would need to limit my days out on the subway between peak hours.  Not sure I want to do that!

Park Hotel Tokyo is a more expensive but central option that has been recommended by my friend.  The hotel allows me to walk to the Tokyo fish market or make short journeys to lots of key sights in Tokyo.

Toku Stay Higashi Ginza- apartment hotel is close to the fish markets and closer to the action of the city without the big price tag.  It has good reviews on travel sites.

Any ideas or advice?

Great expectations- the dawning of my Japanese dream.

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Paris, London, New York and Tokyo.

These great capital cities conjure up their own original sounds, sights and smells.

I will finally have the opportunity to live briefly in amongst the throngs of Tokyo.

I can’t wait to visit the hustle and bustle of the Tokyo subway, to join in the crowds at Shibuya Crossing, take in the sensory experience that is Tokyo fish market and wander peacefully through the autumn leaves in Tokyo’s famous gardens.

Hopefully there will be a chance to get to a baseball game, visit a Sumo stable ,sing along at Karioki and dine with owls!

I wonder what images and memories Tokyo will etch in my mind and what special moments will touch my heart?

Does anyone have any “must do” suggestions for my five days in Tokyo?

Ramen, Okonomiyaki or Shabu Shabu

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The new direct flights to Narita airport were just too good to overlook… so once again impulse took over!

I am off to Japan.  The more research I do, the more torn I have become.   There is so much to see, so many places to stay, ways to get there, and food to taste.  I am experiencing information overload and a strange mix of anxiety, tinged with excitement.

I love the thrill of the unknown and the intensity of new experiences.  On the other hand – I like to make sure I use my time and money wisely.  I want an action packed experience but want to take time to enjoy things.  I love being an independent spirit but want to connect with people.

Stick with me as I grapple with the mountain of choices available to visitors to Japan.

I plan to share my Japanese dream, journey and destinations I visit.  I always enjoy my adventures and I hope to share  my fun with you too.