Thursday, March 5, 2015

Nikko (日光): Stay and Orientation

A room with a view
Nikko (日光, Nikkō) is a city in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture. It is about 140 km north of Tokyo.
I took off "transport" from the usual "Stay, Transport and Orientation" because we walked everywhere except to and fro the train station. We took a cab for that one because the hotel we booked were a little further from the train station and with bags and baggage plus hungry tummy, we were not thrill to navigate bus and a walk uphill in the dark. 

We had 2 nights stay in Tokanso 東観荘 in Nikko. After we reached Nikko, we got a taxi from JR Nikko station to Tokanso. According to the Tokanso Hotel's website, it cost about ¥1000. We paid ¥910 on the night that we travelled. 

According to Tokanso's own website, it refer itself as a hotel, so I would go with it. In actual fact, it feels a little more like a ryokan. After entering through the door, shoe storage place is on the left. They have allocated the specific rack for the guests with a name sign. Then comes the lounge, reception and souvenir shop. 

After a quick check in, we were brought to our room.

Behind the curtains were beautiful autumn leaves (see first picture). There were no bathroom attached but there was a small sink to brush teeth or wash hands behind that chair on the right (the one nearer to the window). Facilities included onsen (of course!) both indoor and outdoor onsen. The outdoor onsen looks out to the autumn leaves colour that makes one wanting to make haiku. We both did composed a haiku on the go though regretfully I did not jot it down though an onsen with beautiful autumn leaves in Nikko may jog the memory. ;)

Here's a scanned copy of  Nikko Walking Map taken from JR Nikko train station. 

This one I borrowed from Tokanso's  website.
Source: From Tokanso's website here
Tokanso is within walking distance to gardens and temple. The kind reception lady directed us to cut cross the car park to get to Shōyō-en Garden (逍遥園). From the garden, we continued to the shrine and other places.

Side note: A friend gave me a book, "How to find a date worth keeping... "

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hakone 箱根: Lunch at Hakone-Yumato and Shinkansen to Nikko

The title says it all. In the gist at least. We reached Hakone-Yumato and looked for a lunch before went on separate ways.

No, we didn't dine with the man. Just want to show where the luggage forwarding service was.
I had nabe udon. R, T and Y shouted lunch, thank you!

There wasn't any direct train to get to Nikko from Hakone. We actually travel back to Shinjuku Station and bought a JR Kanto Area Pass.

This is a rail pass that run three consecutive days providing unlimited travel on JR trains and (apparently also selected non JR trains) in the Kanto region. Please check the area that it is covered so you didn't get the wrong pass. It cost ¥8,300 per person for adult.

Return ticket for Shinjuku to Nikko costs approximately ¥8,800 depending on train (but with shinkansen). So even if we took a return trip to Nikko, we would've already make full use of the pass. At the time of travel, Shinjuku station is undergoing some renovation. We had to cross over to the other side (opposed to our arrival side from Hakone) where Kinokuniya is located to get the pass.

The next train to Nikko departed from Tokyo, so we made our way there. It was already almost dinner time so we bought some snacks to munch on the way. There's a queue for this dove wagashi (Hiyoko) at every food souvenir shop that carries it. For research purposes, we bought a box to share. It wasn't red bean, luckily for Little P but she doesn't really favour the mung bean either. Taste wise, it's a bit like tau sar pia but of course much prettier. Though that gives us some issue about eating the head first or butt first.

I'm so cute, do you really want to eat me?
We also got some sandwiches to share but this one nothing close to the superior Family Mart's sandwiches. Sad to say that we missed our connection to Nikko at Utsunomiya 宇都宮 because of nature's call.

Side note: Got to be more motivated!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hakone 箱根: Sightseeing in Hakone Day 2

Day 2 started with onsen! Anyway, after checking out we took a bus back to Togendai Station and try the balance of transportation that we have not yet - ropeway, cable car and train. Link to Hakone Ropeway. Our intended stop is Owakudani Station, one second stop after Togendai. This is covered under Hakone Free Pass.

Hakone Ropeway
As three's a crowd and there were five of us, we get the whole carriage to ourselves also because it was rather quite at that time. The view from the ropeway was stunning and we went a little trigger happy.

Owakudani (大涌谷, Ōwakudani)
Station: Owakudani Ropeway Station

After coming out of the Owakudani Ropeway Station, you'll be greeted with a big black egg and a wood mosaic Hello Kitty.


Owakudani (大涌谷, Ōwakudani) was an area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone. This was some 3000 years ago. From afar, one can see the sulfurous fume and smell them when you get nearer.

This area is now an active volcanic zone, which explains the sulfurous fumes. Also, many thanks to this active volcanic zone, we get to enjoy and experience hot springs. ^^

When you already have great view, the next thing in mind would be eat and enjoy the view. So here comes black eggs. These eggs are cooked in naturally hot water and shells blackened by the sulfur. It is said that the eggs can prolong one's life by seven years. The catch was they don't sell the egg individually. but five eggs at one. So if you are traveling alone and wants to get it and eat them all, your life would be prolonged by 35 years! @_@

They take the black eggs seriously, they even has their own 'ropeway transport'.

If you want to get the freshest egg, they also sell it next to where the eggs boiling area is and many just eat them there.

If you buy it from the souvenir shop, they would show you the colour condition of the eggs the day you visit.

But it is the usual hard boiled egg after removing the black shell
If you don't like eggs, there are also onsen manju but these does not prolong your life. This is red bean manju, luckily they sell this one individually though cos Little P doesn't like red bean (what kind of Asian is this?) LOL, though to be honest, I didn't like it when I was small but have grown to like it much, not a good thing when most wagashi are made of red bean...

After leaving Owakudani, we hopped back on the ropeway and got off at Sounzan. The ropeway only has 4 stops - Togendai 桃源, Ubako 姥子, Owakudani 大涌谷 and Sounzan 早雲. At Sounzan, we transferred to a cable car.

Hakone Tozan Cable Car
We had intention to go to the Open Air Museum but everybody was tired and R, T and Y needs to head on to Osaka after this whereas Little P and I to Nikko. We decided to give the rest a miss, enjoyed our ride and view. We boarded the cable car at Sounzan station to the end, getting off at Gora 強羅.

Hakone Tozan Train
At Gora station, we transferred to a train. This brought us back down to Hakone-Yumato station. I remembered this train was a very slow moving one as many people seem to have dozed off.

Cute wild boar notice
Once we reached Hakone-Yumato, we went for lunch. There seem to have a lot of eating, somehow. LOL

Side note: This famous blogger also wrote about yummy sushi place in Gotemba, we didn't go as far as Gotemba though... 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Hakone 箱根: Sightseeing in Hakone Day 1

Source: Odakyu model sightseeing website
I borrowed this map from the Odakyu website because our travel follows this route. We departed from Tokyo in the morning, to make it in time for our baggage to be forwarded to the hotel. For day 1, our transportation mode was bus, foot, ship then bus again. This was where that map that I borrowed from Hakone Tozan Bus works wonder. Here goes, in travel order.

Hatajuku Yosegi Kaikan (Wooden Craft Hall)
Station: Hatajuku bus stop

It displays and sells wooden items made in "Yosegi-zaiku" style. This handicraft is an art where pieces of wood are joined together. We didn't take any photo inside the craft hall but I got myself a little magnet, the rest of the things are not cheap. Granted, good art are expensive.

Amazake-jaya (Amazake Chaya)
Station: Amazake-jaya bus stop

Little P said we will have tea break at Amazake-chaya (Tea House). I heard the word tea break and food, I'm sold. We hopped on the bus again, and got off at Amazake-chaya bus stop.

It was a beautiful tea house by the road side. After we took enough photos at the front of the tea house, we went inside and feed our tummies. The popular dish on menu are of course, Amazake and Chikara-mochi. It was said that the traditional tastes has been unchanged since historical times.

Four cups of Amazake 甘酒 and iced green tea 冷たい抹茶 for Little P
Chikara-mochi 力餅 in 3 flavours. From furthest away: 'Isobe' - soy sauce flavour, 'kurogoma' - 'uguisu' mixed with black sesame and 'uguisu' - sweet young soy bean powder
L: Miso-oden 味噌おでん - Konyaki balls with miso and sesame.
R: Tokoroten ところ天 - agar-agar in noodle like strips with seaweed and sesame topping

Next to Amazake-chaya (teahouse) is an Old Thatched Wooden Traveller's Rest House. Though I think part of it could be Hakone Kyudo Shiryokan 箱根旧道資料館 as there were some exhibits portraying times in Edo period.

We even crossed the road and check out what was behind some trees / bushes, which was a dead end but nice trees. :P

Thereafter, we started our walk on the Old Hakone Highway.

Old Hakone Highway
Hakone was once a checkpoint on the Old Tokaido Highway in the Edo period. This highway connected the shogun's capital in Edo (now Tokyo) with the imperial capital Kyoto. I was glad we did at least parts of this highway on foot.

It was a fairly short trail as we only do a small part of it, from Amazake Chaya to Moto-Hakone bus stop which is approximately 45 minutes, according to this map. If we had started the walk from Hatajuku or Hakone-Yumato, we would have to go through a much more ascending course.

I enjoyed the walk, it was good to have a good trail walk and enjoy the greenery.

Moto-Hakone is located by Lake Ashi (Ashinoko), I think if fengshui is as easy as having both mountain and sea, this must've been a prime spot. Lake Ashi with Mount Fuji sitting at the end of it.

It had passed 3 pm by the time we reached Moto-Hakone and time for a late lunch. We walked along the street and went in one where all agreed they can find something they would eat.

View from the food place

Tempura Moriawase - to share

I opted for yuba soba (buckwheat noodles with tofu skin) - somehow it sounds much better if you don't breakdown what it means...
The initial idea was to walk all the way to Hakone-machi and take the ferry there but after our leisure walk and late lunch, it might be a little risky to get there timing wise. If we missed the ferry, we will need to find other ways to get across the lake because it was the last ferry that we aimed for, so we get nice sunset along with lake and mountain. Timetable for ferry can be obtained here.

It really wasn't hard to spend about 15-20 minutes at Moto-Hakone, but it also means I'm going to put more photos to make this post even longer. :P

Quack quack quack
Then came the ship, it looks very much like any touristy ship but it was a very enjoyable cruise, to top it off we did have a very good weather day.

The day ends with a bus ride to the lodge we made reservation prior to arriving in Japan. Dinner was simple izakaya affair, I had a tonkatsu curry rice though it was a pleasant surprise to hear Mongol 800's Chiisana Koi No Uta during the midst of dinner, over CD player of course.

Side note: Where can I find thin kuih kapit...?