Tag Archives: Kanto

4 days in Hakuba for the non-skiier!

Winter time, and some of us are thinking of ways to spend the short and cold days. If you are into winter sports, there are plenty of ski-grounds you can visit on a day or weekend trip!

Hakuba, in Nagano prefecture, is a ski village in the Japanese Alps, famous for its powder snow! It served as the site for the 1998 Winter Olympics. Today, it is a popular ski village, offering many options in the numerous ski resorts! It is easily accessible from Tokyo via a direct bus. It may not be the most comfortable option, but it is economical and saves you the hassle of having to change trains. If you are on the JR Pass, you may consider taking the train to Nagano or Matsumoto before changing to a bus or local train respectively.

Be greeted by the beautiful snow mountains of Hakuba the moment you step out of the station.
Be greeted by the beautiful snow mountains of Hakuba the moment you step out of the station.

So, now you may be thinking, if you don’t snowboard or ski, there is probably not much in store for you. Well, if you are looking for a short getaway from the city, here’s our suggestion of what you can do in Hakuba!

Day 1: Tokyo – Hakuba 

Set off early in the morning and catch the highway bus bound for Hakuba. Notice the change in scenery as you leave behind the city and its skyscrapers onto the highway, and finally into winter wonderland.

The ride is about 5 hours and depending on when you leave, you may be able to squeeze in a night ski session if you are interested. If not, have a wander about town. There are several night shuttle buses that take you to different parts of town.

The night lights at Echoland
The night lights at Echoland

Happo Town: One of the most popular accommodation option, this area is situated at the foot of Happo One Ski Resort. There are many accommodation, restaurants, shops and a Lawson convenient store within walking distance. The visitor’s center is also in the area. Probably the most happening part of town.

Wadano: Right next to Happo Town, this area also has a fair share of restaurants and accommodation, especially for skiiers heading to Happo One. There are a few onsens in the area.

Echoland: Located a little further, in a quieter area of town. It is about 10 mins ride away from both the station and Happo Town. There are a handful of restaurants in the area, as well as an onsen.

Day 2: Hit the slopes! 

Let's go skiing!
Let’s go skiing!
It doesn't take a pro to be able to appreciate this beautiful surroundings! (And it's on the beginner's course, I swear!)
It doesn’t take a pro to be able to appreciate this beautiful surroundings! (And it’s on the beginner’s course, I swear!)

Well, the truth is you can’t say you’ve been to Hakuba if you ain’t gonna try skiing or snowboarding! Most accommodations can help you with rental gears and wear, and there are free shuttle buses to the ski grounds. Alternatively, you can also do the rental from the ski grounds. There are also plenty of ski schools offering lessons (both group and private) in English, so fret not!

We recommend Hakuba Goryu + Hakuba 47 for beginners! You can get a day-pass for both ski resorts and they are connected by bus and by the chair-lifts. Don’t forget to take the gondola up to the restaurant at the top for lunch with a magnificent view!

Day 3: Snow Monkey + Zenkoji, Nagano 

This seems to be a popular side-trip for visitors staying in Hakuba. There are many tour operators running bus tours from Hakuba to the snow monkey park and Zenkoji temple in Nagano. Alternatively, you can also hire a taxi for the day. Generally it should be about 10,000yen per person.

Even the monkeys are cuddling for some warmth!
Even the monkeys are cuddling for some warmth!
20150127_115357
The monkeys enjoying their soak in the hot spring.
20150127_115816
Mama Monkey enjoying her time with the kids.

As touted in the advertisements, the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is the only place in the world where you can see wild monkeys bathing in pure hot spring water. Indeed, I have to agree that the monkeys are irresistibly adorable and human-like in their behavior and watching them having a good time in the hot spring makes me want to jump into one too (not to mention the cold weather)! There are about 200 monkeys living in the mountain and the souvenir shop at the entrance has lots of interesting trivial about them. Most of the bus tours from Hakuba will arrive at around 10:00~11:00, so if you want to avoid the hoard of tourist, it’s best to go around lunch time!

Zenkoji Temple, looking very grand from outside.
Zenkoji Temple, looking very grand from outside.
A series of Daruma for the New Year at Zenkoji Temple.
A series of Daruma for the New Year at Zenkoji Temple.

Another sightseeing spot that is often paired with the monkey park is the Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City, one of the most important and popular temples in Japan. Unlike other temples, you will notice that Zenkoji has very luxurious ornaments. But the most interesting thing about this temple is that there is an underground chamber  in which you have to walk in darkness in search for the “key to paradise” along the passage.

Outside, there is a shopping street leading up to the temple where you can find many souvenir shops and restaurants selling local cuisine like soba noodles and oyaki dumplings.

Day 4: Snowshoeing and other snow activities! 

Back in Hakuba, it’s time to try out other snow / winter activities. Even if you are not inclined to going down the slopes at fast speed, you may develop a liking for hanging out in the soft powder snow of Hakuba.

Snowshoe equipment. Checked.
Snowshoe equipment. Checked.
Snowshoeing through the forest on soft virgin snow.
Snowshoeing through the forest on soft virgin snow.

Guesthouses and ski schools or operators can arrange for activities such as snowshoeing or snow-mobile rides, with equipment provided. Snowshoeing usually involves taking the gondola up to the mountain top and walking through the forest and pristine snow to a look-out point with a panoramic view of the surroundings. The guide may also explain to you about the animal tracks or activities, and offer you a mug of nice warm hot chocolate.

A breathtaking view awaits you at the end of the snowshoeing hike
A breathtaking view awaits you at the end of the snowshoeing hike.

For the more adventurous, you may want to go on the snow mobiles or snowrafting for some speed and thrill.  There will be a safety brief and a quick introduction to the basics of driving a snow mobile. Riders can then choose from a variety of courses, whether through the trees, or on wide open snow fields.

End the day with a nice soak in one of the many open-air hot springs in Hakuba town, enjoying your last night in winter wonderland Hakuba.

Be amazed by the beauty of snow-white Hakuba
Be amazed by the beauty of snow-white Hakuba
Advertisements

Sagicho Festival at Oiso, Kanagawa

We were going to Oiso on January 11th 2015 to see a Sagicho Festival 左義長 or Dondo Yaki どんど焼き  (a kind of bonfire festival) that was held on Oiso Beach in Kanagawa. We met at Shinagawa station and went by the 3pm train to Oiso Station. The beach weren’t so far from the station (about 15 minutes walk) and nearby the beach entrance, we were greeted by locals with some soup and snacks to warm up our bodies. As it was near the beach, it was really windy and cold for most of us! According to the locals, this is the first time they have seen foreigners at this event! They were just as surprised to see us, as we were to visit this secret festival! We felt really honoured to be there!

At 6pm, we started to heard to the beach. There were many pyramid-like structures made from grass and decorated with lucky charms from the past year. The locals will bring their old charms from the previous year and decorate it here over the new year. We waited there until they lit the fire to the structures. We were given mochi (rice cakes) to on long bamboo sticks which we can use to BBQ the mochi around the fire. Just imagine, instead of marshmallows, we were BBQ-ing mochi. It was the first time for most of us and it was fun!  It seemed like a pretty small-scale festival, and there were not many food stalls unlike the other big festivals. There were only 3 yatai (food stalls) but it was the locals’ hospitality and warmth that completed the festive mood!

The real fun began when the festival started. With the fire, it became pretty warm (of course) and there were so many people gathering around to pray and to join in the festival. After the fire was kindled, some men wearing only the traditional loin cloth went into the water to do pull some kind of rope, which I think was attached to the mikoshi (portable shrines that are common in traditional religious festival). When they are done, they head back to the shore, singing and drinking sake. It was a pretty interesting sight to behold! I cannot imagine how they actually withstand the cold weather and water!

That’s pretty much what happened in the festival. It was hard for us to really understand the background and history since all the information are only in Japanese and the locals couldn’t speak English. Nevertheless, it was one of those times when experience transcends the language barrier. Just being there, experiencing the festival, interacting with the locals and taking it all in was really fun!
Here are some photos of our journey ☺

DSC00067 DSC00068 DSC00071 DSC00072 DSC00082 DSC00087 DSC00091 DSC00112 DSC00119 DSC00127 DSC00133 DSC00162 DSC00178 DSC00207 DSC00209 DSC00212


 

By Marco TJ.

Wintery Christmas at Yokohama

Don’t stay coped up in your home during the winter season, grab a pair of skates! The Art Rink, located by Yokohama’s famous Red Brick Warehouse, pairs illumination lights with ice skating. Each year, an artist is selected to design the exterior. Though not the most ideal location for serious figure skating, this location does provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
We also visited the nearby Christmas Market. Visitors can warm up with some hot wine and all sorts of yummy snacks sold by vendors.

Ice Skating with trippiece ^_^
Ice Skating with trippiece ^_^
First time on the ice!!!
First time on the ice!!!
Taking it slowly...
Taking it slowly…
Sunset at the rink. Here comes the sun~
Sunset at the rink. Here comes the sun~
Reindeers are better than people...
Reindeers are better than people…
The Christmas Market at Yokohama
The Christmas Market at Yokohama
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree

Autumn Leaves at Nikko

Nikko is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the lavishly-decorated Toshogu Shrine. Come autumn and Nikko is also a popular spot for viewing the beautiful autumn leaves. Thanks to Nikko’s geography (it’s spread over a mountainous region), it has one of the longest season for autumn leaves viewing in Kanto region. The season began in early October, starting from the Oku-nikko region in the mountains. Come November and visitors can enjoy the beautiful colours in the lower region of Nikko town.

Arriving at Nikko, to be greeted by the beautiful and vibrant autumn colours.
Arriving at Nikko, to be greeted by the beautiful and vibrant autumn colours.

Last weekend, we visited Nikko to see for ourselves, the glorious autumn colors. We bought the All Nikko Pass, which costs 4,520yen and includes

  • A round trip from Asakusa, Tokyo to Nikko on Tobu Railways,
  • Unlimited rides on buses in the area,
  • Discount to admission to some of the temples & shrines, and
  • Discount at some of the restaurants & shops.

It was a long journey, vying for seats on the 2-hour-odd train ride, standing on the bus on a back-breaking journey as it wound round and round the Irohazaka slopes, but it was well worth the journey.

20141108_095434
Train into Nikko
Took the bus to Akechidaira, which offers a beautiful view of the mountainous region. Too bad all the autumn leaves have already fallen.
Took the bus to Akechidaira, which offers a beautiful view of the mountainous region. Too bad all the autumn leaves have already fallen.
Although the leaves have fallen, the Kegon Falls is still as grand as ever.
Although the leaves have fallen, the Kegon Falls is still as grand as ever.
Everybody say CHEESE! (Oh, we tried to take a picture with the waterfall…)

As reported by the autumn-leaves forecast online (yes, there are forecasts for autumn leaves and also cherry blossoms, a very quintessentially Japanese thing!), the season has already ended in the upper regions of Oku-Nikko and we were greeted by brown and yellow leaves and bald trees. Despite the colours, we were able to see the impressive Kegon Waterfalls, and that was worth the trip up the mountains!

Lunch in a Yuba (tofu skin) restaurant.
Lunch in a Yuba (tofu skin) restaurant.
20141108_133733
Yuba-soba

Seeing that the weather was turning bad, we decided to have lunch in a local yuba restaurant. Yuba, tofu skin, is the local product in Nikko. Due to the large number of temples and monks visiting, the area is famous for vegetarian food and Yuba is one of the local’s delicacies!

Having filled our tummies, we caught the bus back towards Nikko town. We alighted near the Shinkyo Bridge, and made our way towards the famous Toshogu Shrine through a short but beautiful and quiet path in the “forest” (park?).

The famous Shinkyo Bridge at the entrance to Nikko's shrines and temples.
The famous Shinkyo Bridge at the entrance to Nikko’s shrines and temples.
Beautiful red leaves in the park
Beautiful red leaves in the park
20141108_153711
A dragon fountain near the entrance to the shrines and temples!
20141108_155204
Walking along the wide path towards Toshogu. It must be really beautiful during the peak autumn leaves season!
20141108_155656
A quiet path of stone lanterns next to Toshogu Shrine.

It was a shame we didn’t have more time to walk around the shrines and temples. Most of them have closed by the time we got there. However, we did not miss the thing we went to Nikko for!

At around 4pm, the gates of Shoyo-en, a Japanese garden near Toshogu Shrine,  were opened! It is the annual illumination even for the autumn leaves. Due to the arrangement in the garden, it is said that this is one of the best place in Nikko to appreciate the leaves! We were able to catch the scenery before and after sunset, each with its own beauty. In fact, it was so pretty that we had a hard time gathering everyone to leave the place!

20141108_161231
The purification fountain at the entrance of Shoyo-en
20141108_164851
The vibrant colours of the autumn leaves, brought out by the lighting in the garden.
20141108_163509
A beautiful Japanese garden, indeed!

Finally after a long day, we caught the last train back to Tokyo. I don’t think we have had enough of the autumn leaves, though. This is merely the beginning! 

Summer in the forgotten island of Izu-Oshima

image

Everyone knows of Tokyo, the big crazy city that has everything any traveller can ever dream of – age-old shrines, tallest tower in the world, high-tech robot restaurants, a little strange maid cafes and owl cafes, and convenient rapid trains to other cities… But have you ever heard of the Tokyo Islands? Under the administration of Tokyo, these islands are part of the Izu Peninsula and are a world’s difference from the big metropolitan city! The island we visited for our summer vacation, Oshima Island, is the biggest and nearest to Tokyo (about 100km away). We spent three days basking in the sunlight of Oshima Island, cycling, fishing and diving! Another great place found in rural Japan!

image

We took a night ferry from the Takeshiba Ferry Terminal, Tokyo. To my surprise, there were a lot other people on the ferry, mainly young adults. I’m guessing they are from the local college since the summer vacation just started. It seems like everyone is escaping the big city for a summer island vacation.

image
Sailing right under the Rainbow Bridge
image
Arriving at Izu Oshima and being greeted by a beautiful sunrise at Okata Port

After a 5-hour ride, we arrived at Okata Port of Izu Oshima just after dawn, too early for us to check-in to our guesthouse! We took a cab to the “town” of Motomachi and had breakfast of fresh seafood bowl at the only restaurant which was opened at that time. Despite its proximity to Tokyo city, Oshima island had a typical island-country feel. The architecture seem to suggest that it has stopped in time, left behind by the rapid modernisation of the big cities Tokyo and Yokohama. Everything seem to go at a slower pace, young and old men fishing by the ports, old ladies sitting in front of their shops, and children wading in the sea.

image
Quiet and laid-back island life focused on activities in the sea…
image
The buildings seemed to have stayed the same since 20-30 years ago.

Day 1 was all about cycling.

We rented bicycles near the visitors’ center and cycled along the amazing coastline. It was an easy ride on the Sunset Palm Line, with a spectacular view of the Sagami Gulf and the Izu Peninsula on the other side. We followed the coastline northwards and went to the dairy farm, where we had some fresh ice-cream just before the it closed at 4pm. Then we watched the cows for a bit before heading back to Motomachi for some hotspring.

image

image
Cycling along the beautiful coastline…
image
Delicious fresh ice cream!

Day 2 was spent fishing.

We rented cars (there are a total of three rental companies, book early!) and drove down to the southern part of the island where there were a few recommended fishing points. Another scenic drive on the island! We visited an isolated black sand beach called Sunanohama and spent the rest of the day basking in the sun trying to get some fish. Some of the locals stopped by to see how we are doing and gave us tips too!

image

image

image
Gone Fishing!

The effort paid off and we had a total of 60 fish at the end of the day, including some saba fish (mackerel) and aji fish (Japanese horse mackerel). We celebrated with a feast of seafood BBQ and beer!

image
Our catch for the day!

image

image
Turned dinner!

Day 3 for Diving!

Our last day was spent diving at a beach called Akinohama in the north. It was blistering hot on land but the water was a chilling 20 degrees! The visibility was great and it wasn’t overcrowded with divers. There were also many other people just swimming in the sea or doing cliff diving from the rocks. image

image
Into the deep blue sea we go!

So, cycling, fishing and diving on the quiet island of Izu Oshima. The island really reminded me of Okinawa and there was hardly anyone else around. The shops and restaurants are all very small and family-run, and everyone is friendly and just wanting to talk. Indeed, a well-spent summer vacation. And the best thing about it is that it’s almost right at Tokyo’s doorstep, just a ferry-ride away!

image

We’ll be back!

 

Day trip to Enoshima & Kamakura

If you are a Slam Dunk fan, you’d know about Enoshima, the coastal area where the comic was set.

A few weekends ago, we organized a day trip to Enoshima to enjoy the sun at the coastal area. Located in Kanagawa prefecture, Enoshima is only an hour away from Tokyo city. We bought the Odakyu Enoshima-Kamakura Freepass at 1,470yen, that gave us access to Enoshima and Kamakura.

The rocky coastline of Enoshima.

Upon arriving at Katase Enoshima Station, we were greeted by the sea, and picnickers and beach-goers! As we crossed the bridge over to Enoshima Island, you could see the calm and smooth windsurfers on one side, and high-speed jet-skiiers doing their tricks on the other side. What a contrast!

The Hatase Enoshima station building is designed to look like the Dragon Palace of a local myth.

The local jet-skiers at their party.

Arriving at Enoshima, we were met with a very strange “welcome party” of men in loincloths! Wow! Japan never fails to surprise me! It turns out that there was some local festival going on and the men were carrying the portable shrines (aka mikoshi) around the area.

Surprise festival!

Moving on, we followed the crowd uphill to the Enoshima Shrine, and then over the hill to the other side of the island, where you can look out into the Sagami Bay. There were no sandy beaches but instead, rocky outcrops where you can stand and watch the waves come crashing in. Beware of sea cockroaches, though, because they are EVERYWHERE and it totally freaked me out. That aside, the scenery was beautiful… but perhaps better appreciated from one of the restaurants looking out into the sea! We had our lunch at one of such restaurants, with sumptuous meal of Shirasudon (whitebait and rice), the local specialty.

View from the Enoshima Shrine
This small shrine in Enoshima Shrine grounds is known as “The Dragon’s Place”. According to the local myth, the dragon protects the island, hence it is a repeated symbol you will find in Enoshima.

Having a splashin’ good time in the sea!
Shirasu-don, white bait and rice, for lunch! You have to add in a bit of shoyu, soy sauce, and mix before eating.
Lunch with a view of the Sagami Bay.

After Enoshima, we took the train on the Enoden Line. It was a scenic train ride, slowly chugging along the coastline to Hase, Kamakura, where we visited the famouse Kotokuin, the temple with the Kamakura Daibutsu (the Great Buddha of Kamakura).

Learning how to do it right at a temple.
Us in our “Buddha” posture with the Daibutsu.

Dora-yaki with red bean jam and green tea ice cream!
Another food that is popular in the area, Tako-senbei, roasted octopus cracker. While queuing up, you can watch them place the octopus and batter in the press machine and voila! Out comes a crispy cracker in a few seconds!

After which, we continued on to Kamakura station and took a walk down Komachi-dori, a shopping street with plenty of souvenir shops and restaurants. Our final stop for the day was at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, the most important shrine in the area. The main hall of the shrine was a big and impressive building situated at the top of a long flight of stairs, overlooking Kamakura’s waterfront.

Walking down the street of Komachi-dori

Exploring the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.

In all, it was a long day but we covered a lot of ground and made a lot of new friends.. all in a short day-trip from Tokyo!

From Carps to Dragons

image

Have you ever seen these carp streamers in Japanese TV or animation and wonder what it is about?

These carp streamers are a symbol of Children’s Day in Japan, a day to celebrate the health and happiness of children. This special occasion falls on 5 May every year, and during this time, families with boys (yes, boys – there is a special occasion for girls on 3 March) will fly these carp streamers (koi nobori 鯉のぼり) from their houses. Carp is a symbol of strength and according to Chinese legend, the carps swim upstream, becoming dragons. Similarly, Japanese parents fly the carp streamers in hope that their children will have a bright future, like dragons.

We had the opportunity to visit Sagamigawa River in Kanagawa prefecture, which is famous for its annual Koi Nobori Festival (Carp Streamers Festival). About 1,200 giant carp streamers are flown over this river, dancing beautifully in the blue skies. They are so huge that you can see them from miles away while walking towards the river! As with all other festivals, there were many stalls selling an array of festival staples – fried chicken kara-age, Japanese “pizza” Okonomiyaki, chilled cucumber, fried noodles yaki-soba, chocolate-coated bananas, shaved ice with syrup, sweet potato sticks… It was a great outing to go with your family or friends, just sitting by the river, eating some festival munchies and enjoying the spring weather.

image
You can see the carps flying from miles away!
image
Up close, they are even more magnificent!
image
With the strong wind along the river, these carps are flying freely in the sky!
image
Spoilt for choice at the festival!
image
Fancy catching a goldfish with a paper scoop? This one takes some skills!
image
Enjoy a make-shift picnic along the river with the food bought at the stalls!

Another tradition on this day is to display warrior dolls (gogatsu ningyou 五月人形) or the traditional military helmet (kabuto 兜) in the houses. Both are symbols of strength and health for the growing boys. We didn’t have the chance to visit any houses with these on display, but we did come across an old boy with a kabuto.

image

One of the traditional food eaten on this day is the Kashiwa-mochi. This special rice cake with red-bean paste is wrapped inside an oak leaf, and is readily available at departmental shops on this special day.

image

Even though Children’s Day is over, here’s a belated greeting from all of us at trippiece! May you stay young at heart!

image
Perhaps one day, we are gonna fly away like these carps, turning into dragons…

—Festival Info—

Name:  Sagamigawa Oyoge Koi Nobori (泳げ鯉のぼり)
Dates: 29 Apr – 5 May
Location: Sagamigawa River, near Takada Bridge
Entrance fee: FOC
Getting there: From Hashimoto Stn (JR Yokohama Line), take bus 57 or 59 to Tana Bus Terminal. From there, it’s a 15 mins walk to the riverside.
Website (Japanese only): http://www.oyoge-koinobori.com/index.html