Thursday, December 2, 2010

Side trip to Hakone

view from our room at Kinnotake in Hakone

A trip to Hakone is a really great and easy trip right outside of Tokyo. You can see Mt. Fuji from many spots enjoy the plethora of hot springs which is the really big attraction to Hakone. You will see lots of Japanese tourists here for a relaxing soak in the hot springs. You can also stay in one of the many amazing ryokans in the area, take nature walks, ride a pirate ship on Lake Ashi, ride a funicular that is practically vertical and enjoy crazy ride on a toy train. If you buy the Hakone free-pass (it's not free) for about $50 USD it grants you a two-day pass which includes the Odakyu Romance car (this is a train that no one knows why it's called a romance car!) to Hakone and back to Tokyo from Shinjuku Station (other starting points available also). The pass also includes unlimited travel on 7 different means of transport including, Hakone Tozan train, Hakone Tozan cable car, Hakone Ropeway(funicular),Hakone sightseeing cruise (pirate ship on Lake Ashi), Hakone Tozan bus (this was great it left us everywhere we needed to go and was really close to the Ryokan), Odakyu Hakone Highway Bus, and Numazu Tozan Tokai Bus. In addition you are available for discounts at tons of attractions including hot springs. You can buy the pass at the Shinjuku station at the Odakyu counter .

This is the Toy train in Hakone which we did not ride because it goes over a ravine on crazy scary bridge that my partner was too freaked out to go on, but I know that the sights are really lovely from this view.
We took the Odakyu Romance car directly from Shinjuku station and it was a very comfortable ride. Since we weren't sure about the use of the free-pass, the location of our Ryokan, and we had massive suitcases we took a cab, which turned out for the best for us. It was a long and winding trip up a mountain with a very nice cab driver. Before I left the states I had a Kinnotake employee email me in kanji "please take me to Ryokan Kinnotake" with the address attached so all I had to do was show the cab driver. We arrived at Kinnotake, we were shown the grounds and our room all spectacular. There were communal hot spring facilities, a bar and lounge, a beautiful pond where there's a massage room. Our room was massive and we had a separate dining area. We had huge shower and hot spring. The whole bathroom wall facing the mountains was made of glass that opened up so you were outside! Amazing! The room was a small fortune for one night, about $850 USD! I will never be that extravagant again, way too much, that's almost the price of a plane ticket. But it was worth it for the one time.

Our Room, Mayu, in Kinotake

Our private-in-room hot spring.

Our dinner was an elaborate kaseki dinner and this is just a small portion. The white stuff in the middle with the green bits on top was a yam based goo, it was tasteless but super slimey and hard to eat. We had our dinner in our dining cocoon which was a tiny bit claustrophobic. Later that evening we hung out in the lounge and on the deck by the pond it was really lovely. Breakfast was also a very traditional Japanese meal with tofu, fish, rice and pickles.

The afternoon we arrived we went out to get a peak at Mt. Fuji from Lake Ashi, I went solo on the pirate boat my partner gets sea sick. Fuji was being illusive that afternoon so I was able to only see a tip but the ride on the lake was magical with the surrounding mountains. While I was on my free pirate ride my partner took a little nature walk on the grounds she said it was quite lovely and serene. Then off to the cafeteria for lunch since lunch is not served at Kinnotake. I had some Japanese curry rice that had like a salisbury steak slapped on top not too appetizing but I was starving.

The second day in Hakone we had I few hours to do something after we checked out that morning so we went to the the Hakone Open Air Museum which had amazing vistas of the mountains and a great collection of sculptures from around the world. Very different feeling from other open-air museums I've been to like Storm King in New York or the Lousiana Museum in Denmark.

You can definitely do a day-trip of Hakone from Tokyo since it's such a short trip, the Romance car is worth the extra 870 yen each way to save on time.

"For the Romancecar, all seats are reserved and it takes only 85 minutes from Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station. For Express Train, it takes 2 hours and seats are not reserved. Express fee is included in the free pass, but for the Romancecar an extra 870 yen (one way) is needed. Q-Tour covers the fee of Romancecar."

So sorry for no updates

Kinnotake Ryokan- Hakone,Japan

I have to apologize to those of you waiting for the Kyoto itinerary I've been up to my eyeballs in work. I hope to start posting again soon. I'm also planning a month long stay in Japan in March so I will have lots of info for everyone. I'll be staying in Tokyo but I hope to Travel to the Kansai region again, get a little more Kyoto time and visit Osaka too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Day in Kyoto: Part 1 & 2

"At Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto"

I've had a few people ask me "I'm going to Kyoto for a day, what should I see". Well
first of all, I'll tell you if you can try to go for at least 2 days in Kyoto you will not be sorry. Kyoto is why people go to Japan, you can experience a modern world with traditional culture mixed in and a city with a laid back attitude. And the other plus the countryside is literally minutes away. The first time I went we where in Kyoto for 3 days and we were so bummed we didn't have more time, the last time we went we made sure we went for at least 5 days.

Well let's say you really can't afford to be there for more than a day and when I say a day I mean from at least 9am til 9pm. You can potentially do this if you take the shinkansen from Tokyo early in the morning. So there are a few places you can visit and get a nice feeling of Kyoto. Grab a quick snack in the the Kyoto JR Station when you get off your train, to tie you over for a bit.

Kyoto Station Map page 1

Kyoto Station Map page 2

Your destinations mapped out.

PART 1-Nishiki Market

hours: varies by store, typically 9:00-1800
closed:varies by store, typically, wednesday or sunday

Jump on the subway (Karasuma subway line-to Shijo st./karasma st.) to the Nishiki Market, it's an amazing covered outdoor/indoor food market (and other traditional goods, great for souvenirs). Nishiki Market is a great adventure for all the senses, you can find delicious foods, snacks and teas. "Nishiki Market is a narrow, shopping street, lined by more than one hundred shops. Various kinds of fresh and processed foods including many Kyoto specialties, such as pickles, Japanese sweets, dried food, sushi, and fresh seafood and vegetables are sold." The smells can range from the alarming to the sublimely delicious, pick up some tasty treats for your day. Spend 45mins to 1 hour visiting and sampling the stalls.

Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market

MAP from subway station to Nishiki Market

Getting there: Take Karasuma subway line-to Shijo station/Karasma station
You'll be on the corner of Karasuma and Shijo when you get out, walk on Shijo towards the Kamo river, walk two blocks to Takakura-dori and hang a left, walk one block, hang a right at Nishiki-Dori (hence the name Nishiki Market) and you will see it.

PART 2- Yasaka Shrine (also known as Gion Shrine) and Maruyama Park

Yasaka Shrine
hours: always open
closed:no closing days

"Yasaka Shrine Entrance" view from street

You're done at the Nishiki Market
and you've bought some treats to eat, now head back over to Shijo-dori and jump on the bus to the Yasaka Shrine. Take the 206 or 100 bus to the Gion bus stop, it's about 10-15 mins depending on traffic. You will know you're there when you see a giant orange and white temple entrance in the middle of the street, there's no missing it! The great thing about this Shrine it's in the center of the Gion so you will get to see Geishas or Maikos in full regalia just walking around. Try to go on a Sunday, during Festival or National holiday when other Japanese tourist are visiting and they dress their daughters up in Geisha or Maiko costumes for pictures, it's amazing! The Yasaka Shrine is connected to Maruyama park and if you saw "Lost in Translation" you will remember Charlotte adding a wish to the wish trees in Maruyama Park, also, she's seen skipping stones in a pond that's in the Park also. If you go during Cherry Blossom Season it's the best place to see the trees. It's a beautiful Park and the walk across it will leave you at your next destination Chion-in Temple.

"Yasaka Shrine Vendor"

"Maruyama Park"

"Geisha Model at Maruyama Park"

"Family taking pictures at Yasaka shrine" (kids looked annoyed ;) )

"Delicious bean cake treats at Yasaka shrine"

Getting there:
Take number 100 and 206 and get off at Gion bus stop. The closest train stations are Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line and Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.

You could potentially walk there from the Nishiki Market it'll take you about 15-20mins

Kyoto Bus Route Map

Next to come on your day itinerary
PART 3-Chion-in Temple
PART 4- via the narrow lanes of the Higashiyama ("Eastern Mountain") district en route to Kiyomizudera Temple
PART 4- Kiyomizudera Temple
PART 5- Dinner in the Gion

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Zakka & Cafe FuFuFu

This is my absolutely favorite place in Kyoto, Zakka & Cafe FuFuFu. It's tiny and perfect, they serve coffee, tea and lovely tasty treats. They have a small handmade goods(zakka)store on one wall of the cafe, and the opposite wall acts as a gallery for some of their crafters' pieces. They have a little seating area where you can enjoy your beverage or snack and just wile the hours away reading or just lost in a daze of a crafter's dream. I highly recommend checking it out.

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