Japan is a country that seems to love illuminations. Especially in winter, many large-scale illuminations can be seen at various locations across the country. Among the most famous illumination events in Kanto area, the Sagamiko Illumination is widely known as the largest and the longest running one!
This year, it incorporates over 5 million LED lights in a wide range of colors and utilizes new production of music and light constructions to create a magical world. We went to enjoy this spectacular illumination on the last day of February and here are some photos from our trip.
A Christmas tree at the entrance with giant Ferris wheel in the background.
Entering the venue, we were greeted with a sight of purple and pink carpets covering the hillsides.
One of the slopes was blanketed with colorful flowers.
A long tunnel decorated with blinking rainbow lights.
The ocean of blue lights with sea creatures (Can you spot a whale in this photo?)
The chairlift took us to the mountain top where we could enjoy the scenery from a different viewpoint.
There was also a giant swing ride for the adventure-seeker.
The not-to-be-missed Palace of Light exhibition, an animated light show accompanied by music and dancing water fountain.
For anyone who wants to catch this last bit of winter illumination, it is held on weekends and holidays from 6PM until April 12th. Entrance ticket costs 600 yen and round-trip ticket for chairlift costs 400 yen. The journey takes about 1-2 hours from central Tokyo. The nearest train station is Sagamiko station from where you can take bus no.21 to the park. There is also direct bus which departs from Shinjuku but advanced reservation is required via telephone or internet.
On 11 Feb, the day of Japan’s Country Foundation Day, we went to Kamakura to walk around, and more importantly, to witness a strange religion ceremony. This ceremony is a disciplinary ceremony / training for monks in training.
As some of you may know, there are many shrines and temples in Kamakura, so, it is sometimes called “Small Kyoto”. The town is a famous and popular sightseeing spot among Japanese as well.
From Shinagawa to Kamakura, it takes around 1 hour by local train.
At first, we visited Chosho-ji (長勝寺) to watch the religious ceremony.
Monks in training came….
Cold water was poured over their heads with chanting reading sutras!!! Note, this is February, deep in winter!
IT LOOKS SOOOOO COLD! o(>_<)o
To warm ourselves out from that “cold” experience, we went for lunch near Kamakura Station and walked around the area..
After walking around Kamakura and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, we took tram and visited this famous site.
At last we visited the beach and said “See you again!”
Of course winter is off season, so it was really quiet and tranquil…
After all Kamakura is good place to visit any number of times!!!
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.
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 ☺
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.
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.