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.

 

Day 4 -Mount Fuji

 

 

We had been lucky with the weather so far.  Tokyo had been fine and quite moderate temperatures.  The sky was quite hazy and despite photographs in the hotel foyer showing views of Mt Fuji from Tokyo, we were yet to see her.

Before leaving Australia we prebooked two organised day tours through JTB travel.  Our tour to Mt Fuji was through Sunshine Tours.  This company picked us up from the hotel foyer and we were transported to the tour headquarters in Shinjuku.  There were literally hundreds of other tourists at the depot.  Once organised, we joined others on the tour bus with an English speaking guide.  This process took about one hour.  I was starting to clearly remember why I like to travel independently.

Once on the highway our tour guide started to prepare us for the possibility of not being able to see Mt Fuji- apparently she is quite shy.

The bus journey was pleasant and the guide provided an informative commentary on life in Tokyo and surrounds.

It was not long until we were in a traffic jam on the highway, creeping along very slowly for about half an hour.

We arrived at the Mt Fuji Lakes resort a little later than expected but still unable to catch a glimpse of the mountain.

The tour progressed along a scenic forest drive, resplendent in autumn foliage,  steadily rising through fog to the Fifth Station.  It was disappointing to get so close to the top of the great mountain and see nothing.  We spent about half an hour of free time to explore the temple, national park office and gift shops.  One friendly gentleman from the national park office came outside to show me exactly where to look for a glimpse of Mount Fuji.

Then it happened, magically the fog opened to reveal the magnificent peak of Mount Fuji!  You can imagine how happy everyone was and how quickly all those cameras started snapping.

On descent the tour included a Japanese lunch at the Mount Fuji Lakes Resort.

After lunch the tour group then split with most going on to Hakone and a boat ride.

We stayed on at Mount Fuji and went caving.  The cave was in fact a lava tube formed by Mount Fuji and known as the wind cave.

We were collected by Tadasuke Omon from an Outdoor Adventure company.  We changed into overalls and were given hard hats, headlamps and gloves to wear.  Tada was relieved to see our hiking boots.  He took us to a very serene forest where we tramped to the cave.  The forest floor was in fact a lava bed and in places the flow lines were visible.  Tada explained that many Japanese considered the Forrest haunted and that over time many people had committed suicide in the forest.  He was very sad that locals did not share his love for this very beautiful and tranquil place.

The cave entrance required some scrambling down and the a steep climb down a bamboo ladder.  Once inside the cave tunnelled along until it opened up into a chamber filled with large ice crystals.

The afternoon provided us with a very personalised tour ; the opportunity to experience the Japanese outdoors and interact casually with our Japanese guide.   Tada took photos for us and forwarded them to us by email.  He was a great guide.

On conclusion of the tour we were then returned to the bus station at the Mount Fuji Lakes Resort.  We had about an hour to wait for the return bus journey which was on a local bus, all the way in to Tokyo.  Catching a local bus was not what we expected when we booked this tour.  This took a very long time to get back the bus terminal in Shinjinku!

Shinjinku was a great place to find dinner and explore at night.  There are lots of restaurants and bars catering for salary men and office ladies.  We had a great dinner of Japanese noodles and pork washed down with beer.

Shinjinku station was busy and jam packed even at 9.30pm.  We never visited this station during peak hour- it must be crazy.

On reflection of the tour, it would have made more sense and been less frustrating to catch a train and then get a tour from the Five Lakes area.  Infact the tour with Tada would have been able to be booked directly with his company.

The Sunshine Tours component of the day was underwhelming however the caving experience was great.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3 -Gardens, Temples and Shops

Ready for another day of sightseeing in Tokyo we set off on the metro to Tokyo Station.  This time we actually surfaced and saw the beautiful Victorian architecture of the Tokyo Station Marunouchi Building. The Japanese Imperial Palace was for us, a short stroll from the station.

When we arrived at the palace grounds it was somewhat confusing as to which way to walk to find the sights.  There is a huge gravel assembly area and moat.  We firstly walked around the moat in the direction of Hibiya station and we were rewarded with some classic views of the Imperial Palace, bridges, moat and white swans.  This palace is only open for public viewing one or two days per year.

We then walked back along the moat in the direction of Otemachi station.  Entry to the beautiful Imperial Gardens was via the Otemon Gate.  Entry to the gardens was free however number of visitors permitted is limited.  Entry may be rebooked online or do as we did; arrive early before organised tour groups.   The gardens contained a range of traditional buildings , wonderful gardens and interesting vistas of Tokyo from the fortress and moat walls.

After the morning spent in the gardens it was time to have a change of pace; on to Harajuku.

There were lots of laneways full of quirky shops and boutiques, popular with Tokyo youth culture.  People spotting was fun with some very unusual fashions.  It is certainly the place for the cool and hip.

It was then a surprising visit to Meiji Jingu as this tranquil path, surrounded by a green forest and sacred temple was so close to the craziness of Harajuku.

Later in the afternoon we moved on to Ginza for a spot of window shopping.  There were a range of high end stores that have become generic in most major capital cities of the world.  The Japanese seem to love the big brand names and high end fashions.  Of course after watching “Lost in Translation” we had to walk across Sukiyabashi Crossing!

We visited the basements of a couple of department stores where there was a wide variety of freshly cooked foods on offer.  Wandering through the food halls certainly made us hungry.  We dined at a Korean restaurant in one of the underground shopping malls, there was so much choice for dinner.  Deciding which food to try was the hardest decision of the day.

 

Day 2 – Off to a fishy start

As the Park Hotel was close to the Tsukiji Market , first on the list of things to do was an early morning walk down to visit the fish markets.

A really early morning start was required to gain a place in the observation area for the morning tuna auctions.  After our late arrival in Tokyo the previous evening this was not contemplated.  Just last year at Coff’s Harbour wharf in Northern New South Wales, Australia we had witnessed huge Tuna off loaded from fishing boats.  So we skipped the Tuna auction but really wanted to see the huge variety of seafood on sale.

By following the traffic and hustle and bustle we easily found the markets and wandered in.  It took quite some diligence to avoid trucks and forklifts to finally find the seafood sales area.

Strolling around stalls we inspected the goods for sale, ranging from huge chunks of Tuna , sea anemones, live eels, snow crabs, octopus, oysters and a wide variety of fish.

It seemed really strange that there were so few tourists in the markets … until a security guard escorted us out of the markets.  It seems we had slipped in through a side entrance and unknowingly visited out of tourist hours!  No wonder all the tourists were queuing at the local sushi bars when we walked past earlier.

Make sure to visit after 9.00am and be sure to find the main entrance and collect a fact sheet with a map and a list of market rules!

After breakfast at the hotel, we then took to the metro system using our Suica cards.  These were great and gave us total freedom on the Tokyo transport system.

We visited Asakusa walking through the Kaminarimon Gate, strolling along Nakamise Dori which was full of souvenir shops and food vendors.  The splendid Sensoji Temple and grounds was our truely first taste of traditional Japanese culture.  We were thrilled to see couples strolling around in Kimino.  The gardens with their manicured trees and water features were a strong contrast the hustling modern metropolis that is Tokyo.  The Tokyo Skytree provides a great view however the day was a little hazy so we skipped this.

The Sumida River Boat Ride was a cool change and provided the opportunity to view the city from the waterway.  The cruise to Hama Rikyu Gardens took about an hour.  We then spent the afternoon exploring the gardens, lake  and pavilions.

The Shiodome Centre was then a twenty minute walk away, where we discovered a huge array of restaurants and enjoyed our first bowl of Ramen.

Later that evening we visited the Tokyo tower and enjoyed a beer and the sunset.  The lights of Tokyo sparkled all around.  We reflected on our first taste of Japan, exhausting, exhilarating but what adventures!  It was going to be a great holiday!

 

 

Day 1- Tokyo arrival

Our adventure began with a direct flight from Brisbane, Australia to Narita Airport, Japan.

The flight was around nine hours and left in the middle of the day from Brisbane and arrived at around 9.30pm.

Advanced research and planning really helped out on arrival in Terminal 2 at Narita airport.

We went straight to the JR office and swapped the JR voucher for a JR pass.  It helped to know exactly when We wanted to start using the pass- after our four nights stay in Tokyo.  The line at the JR office was quite long- so be prepared.  The staff at Narita were great at understanding English so this was a great place to get things organised.  Some people ahead of us in the line had not purchased a voucher for a JR pass before arriving – big mistake!  You cannot purchase this in Japan, so make sure you do this before going.  We used JTB however there are numerous online agents.

In planning we had used the hyperdia app to plan our 14 day JR travels.  Once we had worked out exactly which trains we wanted to catch, the day and times etc a screen shot of the appropriate hyderdia route was taken.  This included the name of the trains and depature tracks.  This app also showed which train services required reservations and which transport options were not covered by the JR pass.  The use of this app helped us to maximise the travel value of our JR pass.

We were able to make fourteen Shinkansen reservations straight away and having all the details printed off made this process really fast.  The print offs really came in handy as we started to travel around too.  We strongly recommend doing screen shots and having a print off for reference.

We also purchased Suica cards- these are travel cards useful for subways and buses.  These cards are useful in a number of cities and villages.  They can also be used to purchase food and drinks on JR trains and at kiosks and vending machines.  We used this card across the Tokyo subway system and never had to worry about tickets etc.  The Suica card has a refundable deposit of 500 yen.  We chose the 5000 yen option, 4500 yen for travel and the 500 yen deposit.  We only had to top up the card once, adding a further 2,000 yen.  At the end of our travels, we returned the card at a JR ticket office and had about 1,000 yen returned after a 220 yen handling fee was deducted.

We had planned to complete the Tateyama Alpin Pass later in our trip so we also purchased the Alpin Pass Option ticket at a cost of 9,000 yen.  This sounded like a complicated series of interconnected transport options to the Japanese Alps but the pass seemed like a more economical and easier option for us- so we purchased this too.

Lastly, we purchased tickets for the Narita Express.  This express train service takes about 60 – 70 minutes and gets passengers straight into Tokyo station.  This was quite expensive and but is covered by the JR pass.  As we were not starting our pass for a few days we paid for this train.  The alternative transport into Tokyo was the Airport Limousine bus but due to our late night arrival this was not an option for us.  In retrospect, this was a good thing!  The train was a quick easy option with no traffic delays and did not involve numerous hotel drop offs.

Once we arrived at Tokyo station, we located the JR Yammanto line and travelled two stops to Shinbashi station.  Finding the correct exit out of the subway system was a bit tricky.  Once above ground we were met with a range of high rise buildings and pedestrian overpasses.  Once we took stock of where we were, looked at building signs and information maps we spotted our hotel.

On the advice of a friend we had selected The Park Hotel Tokyo.  This “art hotel” is located in the Shiodome Media tower on floors 25-34.  This proved to be a fantastic location for our stay in Tokyo.

We were happily ensconced in our hotel room, having a cup of tea by 10.45pm.

In the mood ….

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Just finished ready “Memoirs of a Geisha.”  What a wonderful story with a delightful description of what I hope will be a highlight of my trip to Japan.  Kyoto sounds very exciting – I cannot wait to experience the Maiko evening I have booked.  A friend loaned me their copy of the movie – my time is getting closer.

Viewed “Lost in Translation” for a more contemporary taster –  I have decided to stay in Ginza so there was lots to see in the movie.

I am going to watch the “Last Samurai” this weekend.  I tried to purchase the novel but unfortunately it is out of print.  I need to read up on the history of Shogunate Japan so that I can really appreciate the sights and culture.

Any other literature and movies to see before I go?

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.