There are several places for Kimono or Yukata rental around Asakusa (浅草), a district in Tokyo, famous for the Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon.
Kimono (着物), which literally means a “thing to wear” (ki “wear” and mono “thing”), is a Japanese traditional garment. People tend to associate kimono with the formal robe typically made from silk and worn to formal occasions. Yukata (浴衣), with the same basic construction as kimono, are made from cotton, unlined, and usually worn to summer festivals.
I and my friends got to experience wearing Kimono at Asakusa. We rented Kimono from a shop called Asakusa-Shichihenge. (http://www.asakusa-7henge.com/) English is available on the website. The staffs at the shop also speak English. Therefore, it is easier to communicate and choose the rental packages. In summer, you can rent Yukata. But in winter, you can rent Kimono. I and my friends went to the shop in November so we could experience wearing Kimono.
There are several rental packages from basic Kimono to Furisode Kimono. We chose the basic package. It is only 3,500 Yen (tax included) per person but if you go with a group of 2 or more members, the price is down to 2,500 Yen (tax included). If you do not have Japanese socks to wear with Kimono, you will have to buy the socks for 300 Yen. The package includes Kimono and Japanese shoes for all day (from 10:00-16:00). It takes around 15 minutes to dress 1 person. The shop also provides hairdo services but you have to pay 100 Yen for hairpin rental. (Please make a reservation in advance.)
Do not worry about the size. There are many sizes of Kimono. And you can choose the pattern of the Kimono by yourself. If you cannot decide, the staffs will help you choose and match the color for you. Because we went in Winter, we could also rent the outerwear for Kimono.
We went to the shop on the rainy day but it was really fun. We wore Kimono and walked around Asakusa area. We even went to the Japanese restaurant. It was pretty cool, wearing Kimono and eating Japanese traditional clothes. After having lunch, we went to the temple, took Omiguji, and took some pictures around Asakusa.
If you come to Japan, I recommend you to experience wearing Kimono. It was really interesting and fun!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Everyone’s image of Tokyo is that big metropolitan city, sky-scrappers, anime town, insanely-crowded scramble crossing, shopping, eating, partying… Over the weekend, we embarked on a trip like no others before! We had boarded the JRYamanote Line, the famous loop line that goes around city, and explored the city in depth! We plunged into the quiet residential neighborhoods, walked down the narrow streets, peered into tiny little shops, went into the enclaves and experienced a different side of Tokyo!
We bought the JR Tokunai Pass which cost only 750 yen and gives you unlimited rides on the Yamanote line, making it a cheap and fun way to explore the city! So off we go!
Station #1: Nippori Station
This area is said to be reminiscent of the old Tokyo, with its narrow streets, old houses, shrines and temples. We arrived at 9:30am, a little too early for the shops, but we could enjoy walking down the quiet narrow streets, something different from the hustle and bustle of the big city. We walked down Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street, which was lined with shops and bakeries.
Station 2: Ueno / Okachimachi
With the shops beginning to open for business, we left behind quiet little Nippori and headed to Ueno, where we walked along the tracks to Okachimachi. Along this stretch is the famous Ameyoko-cho, which was bustling with shoppers. There is a strange combination of shops… Don’t be surprised to find the fresh seafood stand next to the the handbag bargain shop, where everything goes for ¥3,000, or the kebab stand next to the sportswear shop. It seems like there is a shop for everyone!
Station 3: Harajuku
We went halfway round the Yamanote Line to Harajuku.. not in search for fancy cosplay or the latest fashion trend in Tokyo, but in hopes of seeing some of the youths from the Coming-of-Age ceremony at the Meiji Shrine. The vibes from the temple grounds seem to be a world’s different from the busy Takenoshita-Dori on Harajuku, famous for its crepe stands, shops filled with Tokyo fashion, and cosplayers. It seems like a really strange juxtaposition to have the temple and shopping street right next to each other.. but I had to remind myself that anything is possible in Japan!
Station 4: Takadanobaba
We headed to Takadanobaba, an area populated by the students of Waseda University. Walking along the streets, I noticed that the roads here are wider, compared to Nippori and Ameyoko-cho. The shops are also busier, with restaurants catering to the student population.
As it was a public holiday, we couldn’t go to the university canteen for lunch. However, we did find many small shops with relatively cheap food for lunch!
Station 5: Sugamo
Also known as the Harajuku of old grannies, this area is known for its shops catering to the older generation. Here you can find the famous Aka-Pants (red underwear) shop, meant to bring good fortune to the wearer! Also, there are plenty of traditional Japanese snacks, such as the Shio-Daifuku, a salted mochi.
Station 6: Shin-Okubo
Stepping out of Shin-Okubo station, I had to do a double-take as it felt like I was in Korea! Known as Little Korea, the street was lined with shops selling K-pop merchandise, Korean cosmetics and Korean restaurants! And we could also hear the passers-by speaking Korean. It certainly felt different from the usual Japanese neighbourhood!
Although we only covered 6 out of the 29 stations, it was interesting and insightful to see a different side of Tokyo! I’ve always believed that walking is the best way to explore the city and what better way than to start with the neighbourhoods along the Yamanote Line?
Located at the foot of the majestic Mt Fuji, Hakone has always been a favorite destination of both Japanese and foreign visitors. It’s famous for its hot springs, beautiful scenery of the lake and Mt Fuji, Owakudani, an active volcanic area that smells of sulphur, and the onsen-tamago (eggs boiled in the natural hotspring). It took some time to get there and required a few transfers along the way, but eventually we made it to our first stop, Owakudani.
Owakudani is the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago. Today, much of the area is an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced. It is accessible via the Hakone Ropeway from Souzan. The view from the ropeway was totally spectacular as we could see the whole valley and the steam rising from below. Once we reached the actual site, the smell of sulfurous fumes was incredibly strong and almost intolerable! Despite that, we made our way further up the trail.
One of the most famous things in Owakudani is Kuro-tamago (literally “Black egg”), a local specialty of eggs cooked in the natural hot springs. Because of sulfur in the water, the egg shells are blackened. Consuming the eggs is said to prolong one’s life by seven years so surely we wouldn’t miss a chance to try it.
We then took the ropeway down to Togendai where we had to transfer to the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise. Before that, we stopped to have lunch at Togendai View Restaurant which is located inside the station building and overlooks Lake Ashi. The highly recommended dish is the fluffy rice omelet made with fresh eggs from nearby Gotemba Plateau and the curry with deep-fried pork cutlet made with pork raised on the Asagiri Plateau. Here we could enjoy our lunches while watching the scenic view of Lake Ashi.
After finishing lunch, we headed to board the pirate ship-shaped sightseeing cruise. It was cold and windy but the beautiful view was totally worthwhile. Although we could not see Mt Fuji from there because it was too cloudy, we enjoyed a breath of fresh air and the magnificent scenery along the coast.
Our next destination is Hakone Shrine which is about ten-minute walk from where we got off the cruise. To get to the main building of the shrine, we walked up a series of steps through the forest where the atmosphere was so peaceful and refreshing. We finished up our trip at Hakone-Yumoto by shopping for souvenirs or soaking in an onsen after a long cold day.
A little over an hour away from Tokyo, the town of Misaki and neighboring Jogashima Island offers an excellent day trip out of the city. For this trip, I highly recommend that you purchase the Misaki Maguro Pass, as we did for this trip.
Misakiko, a major tuna port, hosts a fish market similar to the likes of Tsukiji. Unfortunately, we decided to meet up an hour later, so we when we arrived to market at 9, the vendors were already packing up.
But there is still much to do around the area. We took a quick stroll around the Urari Seafood Market, which sold fresh fish to the public, as well as interesting treats such as tuna and red bean bun and tuna madelines, neither of which I was brave enough to try.
From there, on our way to the Kainan Shrine, we took a quick stroll through the town shopping districts, Shitamachi Shotengai and Misaki Ginza, which had a retro charming atmosphere of the Showa period.
Luckily, the Kainan Shrine was hosting a Shichi-go-san ceremony, a coming of age celebration for children, so we were lucky enough to see Japanese children dressed in traditional kimono. The shrine is also home to an 800-year-old ginko tree.
Next, we took the bus towards Jogashima Island. One of the benefits of the Misaki Maguro Pass is that it includes unlimited transportation around the Misaki area. After exploring the shoreline for a bit, we had lunch at Shibuki-tei. The Misaki Maguro Pass includes a meal coupon at 21 different restaurants around the area, and often offers meal options as well. When we mentioned to our waitress that one of us couldn’t eat raw fish, she was very accommodating and brought out Tuna Katsu don. The rest of us had the option of Tuna sashimi don or a Tuna and squid combo don. Both came with an assortment of side dishes, as well as a jar of the restaurant’s specialty tuna miso, made only in Misaki.
After a hearty lunch, we decided to walk along the rocky beach towards the one of the main attractions, the Jogashima Lighthouse. About a 30 minutes walk away, the Uma-no Sedomon, the famous rock arch formation is another popular attraction. Jogashima offered spectacular sights. When the sky is clear, you have a great view of Mount Fuji.
The Misaki Maguro pass also offers admission to a hot springs facility, the aquarium, or a glass boat ride.
We chose the aquarium, which was a bit small, but still enjoyable. The highlight of that excursion was seeing the sunset from an observatory.
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.
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.
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!
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?).
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!