Autumn Japan 2016 – [Day 9] Cycling Shimanami Kaido

Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 and 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 |


Shimanami Kaidoしまなみ海道

DIRECTIONS:
Fukuyama Station to Onomichi Station > JR Sanyo Line  for ITOZAKI

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This was probably the most CHALLENGING task we set ourselves this year. Firstly because Sue is not the best at cycling (I nearly gave up on her, but more on that later). It is an official 70km cycling route that spans across 7 islands from Omomichi in Honshu, to Imabari in Shikoku. The route travels along both cycling-only allocated paths, as well as along the sides of main roads, so decent skills are definitely required.

It is thoroughly advised that you stop midway rather than to complete the entire course in one day, because there are a lot of things to see mid-way.

Before Starting Your Journey

Rent Your Bike Online: http://shimanami-cycle.or.jp/rental/english-reservation

In order to start your journey, it is advisable to plan your route beforehand. We also rented our bikes while still in Singapore, to ensure that we would definitely have bikes to ride. For us, we rented our bikes by sending an email, but there is now an online form that allows you the rent your bike online from Onomichi! (I have never used this before, just sharing this information – not sure how easy is this website to use!!)

Each bike costs a different price, and at cheapest, each bike costs Y1000 a day. Do note that these bikes typically do not provide ropes to tie your belongings to, so it may be better to prepare beforehand just in case! We got some extra string from the bike shop, but they did not have much to spare either.

Returning your bike is fairly easy – there are many shops along the way that you could drop off your bike should you give up, or feel that your butt is too sore LOL


Mukaishima 向島

First, we boarded a ferry to Mukaishima – there is no other way to cross other than the ferries. Each ferry costs Y110, and is collected when you dock your bikes on the boat. We had picked up our bikes early in the morning, and soon were on our way!

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Once you reached, you would notice a blue line that marked the side of the road – this is the beginner’s course to cycling the Shimanami Kaido. It was a brilliant way to tell where to cycle without constantly checking the map or our GPS. Sue had a bumpy start, because Japanese bikes were not the same (lighter than the ones back home), and she could not get a flat enough surface and kept wobbling. We were wasting a lot of time and I felt we had a decision to make – either she would have to turn back if she felt she was not going to figure it out soon, or we would risk missing the ferry to where our hotel was (the last ferry left around 4pm)! After much desperation, Sue finally managed to get a running start and she was off! She trooped along in front of me and we tried our best not to stop too often to reduce any effort that she would need to re-start.

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Mukaishima was a really peaceful island where there were hardly any cars once we left the first town. We cycled along comfortably, occasionally interrupted by working factories nearby. It was really a well laid back town.

We reached the first bridge, and the cycling UPHILL nearly killed us. Crossing the bridge next to the highway (there is a separate lane for cyclists) gave us a great view of the island from above. The downhill slope was also VERY EXHILIRATING. I enjoyed it immensely, but Sue was not so happy about it LOL.


Innoshima 因島

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After descending the bridge at the other end, immediately the smell of citrus hit us – this was the fame of Innoshima, known for its citrus fruits! We took a detour to a little hasaku daifuku shop called HASSAKUYA that was recommended (but not along the travel route).

HASSAKUYA

URL: https://tabelog.com/en/hiroshima/A3403/A340302/34003897/
Location: 246-1 Innoshima Ohamacho Onomichi Hiroshima (広島県 尾道市 因島大浜町 246-1)

We couldn’t decide what was the best to try, so we tried one of everything to share! The various types of daifukus were amazingly fresh, and I really wished I could have taken some home. There were many local tourists that stopped by solely to bring some daifuku back home. The different types of tanginess of the Hassaku complemented the sweet Daifuku paste really well. Sue and I completely enjoyed ourselves.

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We continued our cycling route through Innoshima. The island was one of my favorites. It had clear blue skies and half of the time we were riding alongside the sea. It was a pity that we didn’t have time to stop and really walk around more.

At some point, Sue followed the wrong blue lines (yes that can happen), and because I was taking photos while she continuously cycled, I had to chase her a long way before she realized I was calling her from behind. Fortunately there weren’t many cyclists around, but there were a few houses along the route that gave us curious looks as I spammed my bell trying to get Sue’s attention.


We turned up and cycled as far up as we could go. It finally reached a point where we couldn’t cycle any further, and we ended up pushing our bikes up to the 2nd bridge.

The 2nd bridge was also more beautiful – the fact that there were less cars and less bikes as we cycled further down made it even more perfect for both of us.

The view from above the 2nd bridge was also breathtaking – I couldn’t resist stopping to take a few pictures (while Sue continued cycling ahead LOL).


Ikuchijima 生口島

Our next stop was Ikuchijima – an island known for its many attractions. The ride here was even better because we could cycling on the sideroad rather than next to the cars – by this time our butts were starting to ache, so it was lucky that we reached our next destination – Setoda Dolce.

SETODA DOLCE

URL: http://www.setoda-dolce.com/

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Upon reading through a lot of blogs regarding Shimanami Kaido, one of the recommended spots in the area was Setoda Dolce – a Gelato and icecream shop. It was a little shop on the side of the road, but by the time we arrived (around noon), there were also a lot of other cyclists in the area. The air was chilly and cooling, perfect for cycling. I went in to purchase some gelato to try 😀 EXCITED!

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I came out with 2 flavors – 1 was a salt flavored icecream (because it sounded interesting), and the other was a type of hassaku. We both shared this portion. The flavors were plentiful and tasty, and we both enjoyed the freshness of the flavors melding together.

Ikuchijima was almost like a beach resort – with clean beaches and fresh air as we cycled alongside the road. By this time we were both quite exhausted, but we pressed on.

The sea views were amazing, and from a distance we could see the last bridge for the day – it was a bittersweet feeling, knowing that it was so close, yet so far.

My trusty bike, parked alongside the road, as we took a quick break (onigiri time!) and did some quick stretching, before continuing on our way again.

Here, we crossed the bridge towards Omishima, crossing the boarder between the two islands. The Omishima bridge was definitely one of my favourite amongst all. It was definitely one of the largest bridges we had crossed, but the views from the bridge was definitely the most amazing. Even Sue could not help but to stop and take pictures when we were there.


Omishima 大三島町

Omishima Island was the last of our islands for the day. With only about 1 hour before the ferry came, we forced our muscles and rode like the wind. Omishima was more of a farmer style island, with more forest greens. The smell of hassaku was gone, a smell we were already starting to miss.

Upon reaching the port, we bought our tickets to board the ferry that would bring both us and our bikes to Okunoshima, our last stop for the day, where our hotel was.


Okunoshima 大久野島

DIRECTIONS:
Tadanoumi Port to Okunoshima Port > Sanyo Shosen
Ship Schedule: http://sanyo-shosen.jp/omishima/time.html
Cost: Y620 for Adult Round Trip, Y120 per bike 1 way

You can also ferry vehicles across, price differs, you can check out the same website above for more information.

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Sun had started to set by the time we reached Okunoshima. Okunoshima was one of the more famous islands – more commonly known as Rabbit Island.

While walking towards our hotel, we encountered many different types of rabbits freely exploring the area. The whole island does not have rabbit food, and if you would like to feed them, you would have to bring the food yourself.

We tried to bribe them with leaves that had fallen on the ground, which turned out that some of the rabbits were curious enough to entertain us. It was definitely a good place for families and children.

Okunoshima was also known to be an island where chemical tests were held many years ago. It was suggested that the rabbits there were a result of abandoned rabbits that were used as test subjects, left to flourish when the chemical plants were closed.

The views were definitely nonetheless amazing, and despite the somewhat sad history, we enjoyed ourselves in the moment, randomly parking our bikes at a corner and exploring the island on foot – a good relief for our butts! By this time, we had already cycled more than 30KM, and even sitting down was a pain in the ass – literally.


Okunoshima Kyukamura

URL: http://www.qkamura.or.jp/en/ohkuno/
Check In & Out: 6th November 2016 to 7th November 2016
Rating: 39159_large_light_blue_glitter_star_with_silver_outline39159_large_light_blue_glitter_star_with_silver_outline39159_large_light_blue_glitter_star_with_silver_outline39159_large_light_blue_glitter_star_with_silver_outline

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We chose to stay at Kyukamura Okunoshima, the only hotel on the island. It was a beautiful hotel, and from the outside we could see many rabbit holes.

Our rooms were really large and comfortable, and we definitely enjoyed ourselves taking a break. In fact, I fell asleep promptly on the sleeping cushions.

Dinner was served at the dining hall, where we had upgraded ourselves to have grilled beef as well as the buffet course that was available.

We happily enjoyed ourselves and our hot meal, ate our heart’s content – remember that we did not really have much for lunch, and we had cycled so far to get here!

The buffet spread was also equally good, and we enjoyd the various fruits available – we had not had fruits in awhile by then! Finally, with our stomachs full and satisfied, we headed back to our room, before heading to the onsen for a quick soak.

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Picture taken by Kyukamura Okunoshima

The onsen was really comfortable and lovely, and it was super nice to sit there in the hot water and have a chance to relax our sore and painful muscles. We soaked for a really long time, before heading back to sleep.


Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 and 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 |

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Autumn Japan 2016 – [Day 8] Shizuoka

Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 and 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 |


Hamamatsu Fruit Park

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DIRECTIONS:
Shizuoka Station to Kakegawa Station > SHINKANSEN KODAMA 633
Kakegawa Station to Fruit Park Station > Tenryu Hamanako Railroad  for SHINJOHARA
Cost: Y700

This was probably the day Sue was looking forward to the most. We arrived at the Fruit Park after about 2 hours of travel from Shizuoka Station. The good thing about Shizuoka was that the prefecture was mostly tropical, so the weather was pretty warm – perfect for fruits!

The front entrance was really colorful and filled with a lot of plants. Sue and I immediately got excited and started exploring the place using the map provided – we usually do not read the map!

The first thing we saw was an icecream stand. It was a hot day out, so we both opted for icecream! We bought 1 matcha and 1 raspberry swirl! The sun was really hot so the icecream was starting to melt, so we ate quickly while we continued to walk.

Our next stop was the tropical flowers exhibit. Despite being 2 girls who came from a tropical country, we spent a lot of time exploring the tropical dome, filled with plants we could even see from home.

Trust the Japanese to decorate even the simplest of things – the tropical dome was filled with green foilage and even a waterfall and a stream that ran under us.

Our next stop was the wine factory, where we tried out a few different types of wine, and Sue made fast friends – with a robot that was following her wherever she went, as though worried that she would break something LOL.

We stopped by the cafeteria, and shared a pizza while sitting in the cooling wind outside. After lunch, we decided to explore the other half of the fruit park – the part with actual fruits! This was the part we were both looking super forward to! And we weren’t even sure what fruits were available!

Rather than take the tram, we took a long walk around the compound. It was really sunny, and we were one of the only few people there. We enjoyed the long walk, before we reached the first fruits!

Here, we saw a lot of families exploring the area. There were different vendors who taught us how to pick the different fruits. Sue and I made calculations on how many we could eat, considering the variety of fruits that were available at that time. Our first stop was ORANGES!

We picked about 6 oranges, before making payment and moving to our next fruits!

The next fruits we saw were persimmons. Sue got quite excited by the persimmons, and we ended up picking around 5. They were really sweet and juicy, and considering the price we paid for fresh fruits, definitely worth the price!

We also took a chance at picking 1 pear – since Sue knew I didn’t really like pears. The family next to us had a little daughter who picked a pear that fell on her. She started crying but we both found it quite cute.

The land area of the Hamamatsu Fruits Park was large – and we spent the entire day walking through the landscape.

After a full day exploring the fruits park, we headed back to Shizuoka, got our luggage, and moved to our next prefecture! SHIZUOKA – DONE!

DIRECTIONS:
Shizuoka Station to Okayama Station > SHINKANSEN HIKARI
Okayama Station to Fukuyama Station > SHINKANSEN KODAMA

Our next stop was Fukuyama, where our next activity would take place tomorrow. Fukuyama was about slightly more than 200 minutes away from Shizuoka. By the time we had reached Fukuyama, it was almost midnight. We were tired, and glad that we could check in for the night.


Toyoko Inn Fukuyama-eki Shinkansen Minami-guchi

https://www.toyoko-inn.com/e_hotel/00259/index.html
Check In & Out: 5th November 2016 to 6th November 2016
Cost: Y8856 for 2 persons, Twin Room
Rating: 39159_large_light_blue_glitter_star_with_silver_outline39159_large_light_blue_glitter_star_with_silver_outline39159_large_light_blue_glitter_star_with_silver_outline

We stayed at Tokoyo Inn for the night, before our early start tomorrow morning.

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The rooms weren’t very large, but they were sufficient – the typical size of rooms that Japanese hotels had.

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It was clean enough, but it had a slight stuffy feel which made us both somewhat happy that we were only staying one night. The room definitely had all the necessary amenities for comfort, but we were definitely looking forward to our next hotel – as this hotel made us feel somewhat claustrophobic.


Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 and 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 |

Autumn Japan 2016 – [Day 7] Shizuoka

Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 and 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 |


Shizuoka

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Today was the first sporting activity that we had done on this trip – and that was to go white water rafting! We wanted to do something that we couldn’t do in Singapore, and stumbled upon this activity. Unfortunately, water rafting season had almost ended in Japan as summer was over, but fortunately for us we found NATURALACTION, who ran white water rafting activities all year round as long as the weather permitted.

We took a train to Shirakaba Station, where the staff of NATURALACTION was kind enough to pick us from. We were the only 2 due to ride today.


NaturalAction White Water Rafting

URL: http://www.naturalaction.co.jp/en/

The staff at Natural Action were really warm and nice. We were given wetsuits to put on, which Sue and I did, with a lot of laughing, commenting on how it would help us lose weight since it was so tight. With a lot of grunts and pulls, we finally managed to get our wetsuits on!

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They quickly explained to us the safety requirements, what to do if we were to be washed away (in which case they would throw a rope to us, how to catch it, which way to face when they are pulling us back in). The staff spoke good english, so it was pretty straightforward and easy to understand, and pretty soon we were off!

The sun was pretty hot, and the water was freezing cold. It was a good idea we both decided to wear old shoes (that we were not bringing back), because almost instantly our feet were soaked!

We started out sharing a raft, with our 2 guides on another raft guiding us (more like pushing us away from rocks when we got too close). Afterwards, we were each given a raft to maneuver on our own. I felt I did a lot better – at least Sue and I stopped clashing with each other LOL.

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The staff were also very fun loving, and more often than not we ended up splashing each other with water. While rowing, we also had very interesting conversations about food and sake – the fish, not the drink.

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One of the highlights was also jumping into the water. The guides showed us up the rocks where we climbed slippery rocks to the top. The guide wanted us to go higher, but Sue was adamant that she was not going any higher. Instead, we jumped off the middle ledge. It was quite frightening because we didn’t know how deep the water was – and we knew exactly how cold it was. After jumping in, we had to SWIM back to our boat, and pull ourselves back up on it.

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Pulling ourselves up took some training. One of the instructors kept making us “rescue” the other. I had to single-handedly pull Sue back up into the boat, before we rowed our way back to the starting point.

We quickly took a shower, before one of the instructors told us the train was due to depart in about 5minutes. The next train would not leave for an hour. Like mad, he drove us to the train station. I remember a conversation we had while going back – he knew Singapore had something called the merlion, he asked us what it was, and whether it was edible, or if it was some kind of god we worshiped. For lack of better explanation, I told him it was similar to the Tokyo tower, in the sense that it was a monument of some sort.


Nanaya Ice Cream

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By the time we woke up it was fairly late, so we decided to do some shopping, and chanced upon this unique ice cream shop. They sold different flavors, but their specialty was in matcha icecream, where they had different intensities to select from. Being in the prefecture famous for matcha, we decided to stop and get a taste.

Sue (obviously) went for the “darkest” purest matcha, whereas I chose matcha yuzu – you know I can’t ignore anything yuzu.

The icecream was really intense and really suitable for us who loved matcha – it was flavorful and strong just like how we enjoyed it. It was definitely a good place to stumble across and I wish we could have more of it. While there, we also bought some tea products to bring home.

After that, we shopped and laughed the rest of the night – talking about how Sue’s mom had lost her daughter once, who had wandered off (no prizes where she gets that from). We also ended up buying some winter wear for our future trips, which included thick winter leggings and some gloves for Sue’s daughter.

With our baggage full, we decided to buy a quick dinner and headed back to the hotel to rest, feeling fulfilled and tired from our adventurous day out.

All images of rafting were taken by the Natural Action staff, who kindly shared it with us.


Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 and 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 |

Autumn Japan 2016 – [Day 2] Takaosan

Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 and 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 |


Takaosan 高尾山

DIRECTIONS:
9:00am to 9:36am | Shinjuku to Kitano via Keio Line Special Exp.  for KEIO-HACHIOJI
9:38am to 9:52am | Kitano to Takaosanguchi via Keio Takao Line  for TAKAOSANGUCHI

Cost: Y1380 including round trip + cablecar/chairlift ride

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The next morning, we departed Shinjuku Station for Takaosan. It was the first time I would be at Takaosan, and I was looking forward to it!

There were many shops along the streets on the way up to Takaosan, and we spent some time looking at the various produce and items on sale.

The Chairlift/Cablecar station stood at the end of one of the roads, and we opted for the chairlift option. The cablecar option had more people queuing, plus I really wanted to try the chairlift option LOL

We took the chairlift up (remembering to put our bag in front rather than behind so we won’t fall off the chairlift), and made our way slowly up. The ride up was pretty smooth, but getting off was quite scary. We were instructed (in Japanese), to wait until we saw the yellow line, and then quickly stand up, step 1 or 2 steps and quickly walk away from the chairlift. We ended up standing up and running off just so we don’t get knocked over!

On the middle point there was a shop selling our favourite! We queued for over 20 minutes just to get this (because they had just opened and the charcoal wasn’t really hot enough to sufficiently cook them quickly). It was DEFINITELY WORTH IT.

After a quick snack and a toilet break, we started our climb. The climb was pretty easy and not too steep, and an hour or so we finally reached the top. OMG there was a TON of people!

The trail I wanted to take was not open for that day (SADLY), so we ended up taking the most popular route up! The signs of hornets, bears and all the other animals were a bit daunting – you couldn’t really tell if they were warning you because someone recently ran into an undesirable animal, or just because it’s a generic warning?!

We had a light snack here (thankfully carried up the mountain as part of our breakfast) – and saw many children and adults alike that had made it up having picnics here as well.

On our way down, we treated ourselves with a blueberry icecream! And then it began the perilous DOWNHILL. Seriously I did not even IMAGINE that the downhill would be so bad? It was really steep and it did not help that we were both wearing boots (stupid me did not check the elevation when I was researching).

This was on average how steep the trail was. On one or more occasions I actually twisted my ankle pretty badly – fortunately the boots helped to keep the ankle in place so it wasn’t badly hurt. Every few hundred meters, I would have to stop for a rest as the slope was so steep I was using so much energy not to roll off and walk slowly. I think we did see a few people tripping.

I remember all I could think of was complaining to Sue on how bad this is, and also the occasional “Are we there yet?” that I kept asking her. When we finally reached ground level, I wanted to just sit on the ground for a moment – but resisted the urge. Instead, we headed off to the bus stop to wait for the bus that would bring us to our dinner destination.


Ukai Toriyama うかい

Access from Ukai Toriyama via a free shuttle service from Takao Station. More information here. Please note that reservations (not required but recommended) must be done via phone only. I made my reservation via phone from Singapore about 2 months in advance and already the “private rooms” were fully booked!

Do note that the staff don’t speak much English so you would need to speak Japanese to explain your reservation to them.

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Ukai Toriyama was the recommendation of one of my colleagues at work, and Sue and I were super intrigued by the menu that we had seen online, so we decided to splurge and give it a try!

We waited at this bus stop (above) for a few minutes before the bus arrived on schedule, and brought us straight to Ukai Toriyama. We were the only passengers, verified by the bus driver when we got on. Since we were early, we sat for awhile in the waiting area before one of the attendants brought us to our room.

Our table was faced just next to the window, so we had a good view of the bamboo groves that grew outside where we were eating. We quickly ordered (having already decided what we were having), and sat back to relax.

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The first thing we (more like Sue) ordered was this specialty sake, called Japanese Sake / Take Sake. On the menu it wrote that it was “is cold in a bamboo”. We were intrigued so we decided to go for it. Sue ended up drinking most of the bamboo HAHAHA!

The first 2 dishes! We ordered the “Charboiled Beef and Chicken Course”, which had to be ordered by everyone on the table. The first dish that came was Walnut Tofu, Sansho Pepper simmered Sweetfish, Taro, and Potato, and seasonal tempura (which in our case was mushroom). It was a very delicate dish that preceeded the 2nd dish – Fry simmered Taro and Chicken Meatball. I really liked the meatball, not so much the Taro. Not really a fan of Taro but it didn’t have a very strong taste so I managed to eat it.

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We also ordered Specialty Carp Sashimi, as we had not tried Carp Sashimi before. It was different from other types of Sashimi in that it was more textured and rough than the normal soft sashimi we normally would it, but was still delicious.

Next 2 dishes came, the mushroom soup, as well as Grilled Salted Fish. I loved both dishes though Sue had an initial confused moment about how to eat the salted fish on a stick. The mushroom soup was really flavorful compared to the more bland and fresh tasting first two dishes.

And then came the star of the night! The charboiled dishes! We had beef, chicken, as well as mushrooms and vegetables, which we happily grilled in front of us. I got to say though, I preferred the beef, as the chicken was a little harder to cook and we ended up tearing pieces of it to re-grill over the stove.

Next came the Saboro Rice, and miso soup, which was a really flavorful rice, but by this time we were stuffed and I think neither of us managed to finish the entire bowl! Dessert was Kurumi Mochi, which we both LOOOOVED – it reminded us of what we once at in Hakone, and we were still hoping to find something similar!

The whole set cost us Y8860 each, not including the sake and the carp sashimi. But without a doubt we both agreed it was completely worth it.

After resting for a loooooooong while (we were the last ones left in our public room), we headed off for the night. Catching some really nicely lit surroundings, we grabbed our bus and headed back down Takaosan.


Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu

URL: http://www.takaosan-onsen.jp/english/
Cost: Y1000 to Y1200, depending on season

takao.PNGPicture taken from the official website

We knew that tonight we were going to get on a night bus, so we opted to take a quick onsen dip in the nearby Takaosan Onsen Gorakuyu, which was a onsen facility near Takaosan station. It was a cold night, but a late evening onsen in the various cypress baths available made us both sleepy and happy, ready to tackle the night bus ahead! Also, nothing says onsen bath like a glass of cold milk afterwards – one of my favourite moments!


Night Bus to Toyama

URL: http://willerexpress.com/en/

top_splash.pngImage from Willer Express website

Willer Express is well known to be one of the night buses operating around Japan, and very English friendly. I have tried to take a night bus previously, but wasn’t able to do so because of the snow. This year, however, to save money, Sue and I opened our minds to trying it again.

We rushed back from Toyama to Shinjuku like mad people, and decided to try finding the Bus Terminal first (so we know how to drag our luggage rather than get lost later). We spent a good 10 minutes getting lost before realizing the Terminal was a huge building in front of us. And then we got lost trying to find our way from the Terminal to the Hotel. Once at the hotel we opened all the luggage, took out our “sleeping attire”, quickly changed, brushed our teeth and washed our faces, stuffed everything back in, snapped the luggage shut. AND THEN AGAIN got lost trying to find our way from the Hotel to the Terminal.

In general, it was a HUGE RUSH, but we made it in time. Dragging 1 luggage turned out to be a lifesaver here.

We got ourselves some water, Sue went to the toilet first, before we boarded the bus. Our luggage was stowed away at the bottom of the vehicle.

Fortunately, Sue and I reserved the better seats (3 in a row), instead of the 4 in a row seats which looked quite uncomfortable. Unfortunately, we did not think of where to put our smaller bags which ended up on our feet. I ended up resting my feet on my bags for most of the bus ride.

The bus ride was… let me put it this way, not meant for light sleepers. Sue and I hardly slept as the bus drove on through the night. It was OKAY for me in terms of comfort, but the bus noisily jiggling around the roads made me quite worried – it sounded as though the bus was falling apart (which of course it wasn’t).

We stopped for quite a few toilet breaks, but were FREEZING every time we stepped out of the bus. Finally when we reached Toyama at 5am, neither of us could be happier as we finally had the chance to stretch and get off the bus, despite how tired we were.

Would we do it again? Probably not, unless we were desperate. But I definitely was glad I finally tried it at least once.


Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 and 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 |

2016 | Undiscovered Paths

Countdown: Approximately 90 Days

As usual, before I even finish on 1 trip agenda, the next one has emerged. Partially I haven’t posted the next few posts in the “Nature Trails in Autumn” trip is because some of it will be replicated here.

[Updated 26/07 with changes in itinerary]

With every trip that I’ve planned thus far, there has always been a theme so I’d know how to go about planning it. With that in mind, this trip’s theme will be Undiscovered Paths. Reason being that this time, for the first time, I’m planning a trip that redefines my schedules – you’ll understand soon enough.

The general itinerary is below – I haven’t really gotten down to the details on timings and schedules! Will update again once I have the details! Hotels are already mostly booked though so I doubt there will be many changes from here on. 🙂 Excited!

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For privacy purposes (again), I will not be listing our travel dates until we return.

  • Day 1 – Head to Airport, depart Singapore | Night on Plane
  • Day 2 – Arrive at Tokyo Narita Airport, Tokyo DisneySEA| Night in Shinjuku
    • Highlights: Sukiyaki Lunch, Tokyo DisneySEA
  • Day 3 – Takaosan | Night on Night Bus (to Toyama)
    • Highlights: Exploring Takaosan, Ukai Toriyama, Takaosan Onsen, Night Bus
  • Day 4 – Tateyama Alpine Route Part 1 | Night in Murodo
    • Highlights: Bijodaira, Midagahara, Murodo
  • Day 5 – Tateyama Alpine Route Part 2 | Night in Matsumoto
    • Highlights: Murodo, Daikanbo, Kurobe Dam, Matsumoto Horse Meat Dinner
  • Day 6 – Oku Hida, Shin Hotaka Ropeway | Night in Hirayu Onsen
    • Highlights: Shin Hotaka Onsen, Hirayu no Mori, Hirayu Ootaki Park, Kaiseki Dinner
  • Day 7 – Kamikochi, Hirayu Onsen | Night in Shizuoka
    • Highlights: Kaiseki Breakfast, Kamikochi, Travel to Shizuoka
  • Day 8 – Shizuoka | Night in Shizuoka
    • Highlights: White Water Rafting
  • Day 9 – Shizuoka| Night in Fukuyama
    • Highlights: Fruits Park
  • Day 10 – Shimanami Kaido | Night in Okunoshima
    • Highlights: Cycling through: Mukaishima, Innoshima, Ikuchijima, Oomishima, Okunoshima
  • Day 11 – Shimanami Kaido | Night in Fukuyama
    • Highlights: Cycling through: Okunoshima, Tatarajima, Ooshima, Imabari
  • Day 12 – Miyajima & Hondori | Night in Himeji
    • Highlights: Miyajima Hiking Trails, Shopping Street, Hondori Shopping Street
  • Day 13 – Himeji, Yumura Onsen | Night in Yumura
    • Yumura Onsen Town, Refresh Park Yumura
  • Day 14 – Yumura, Hamasaka, Osaka | Night in Osaka
    • Yumura Onsen Town, Hamasaka Free and Easy, Dotonbori
  • Day 15 – Arashiyama, Osaka | Night in Osaka
    • Kuromon Ichiba Market, Arashiyama, Shinsaibashi
  • Day 16 –  Arashiyama, Osaka, Return to SG | Night on Plane
    • Kobe, Osaka Kaiyukan

Autumn Japan 2015 – [Day 5] Kurobe Gorge

Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8+


Toyama 富山

DIRECTIONS:
Toyama Station to Kurobe Unazuki Onsen Station
9:45am to 9:57am > SHINKANSEN HAKUTAKA 558

Shin Kurobe Station to Unazuki Onsen Station
10:20am to 10:44am > Toyama Chiho Railway Main Line  for UNAZUKIONSEN

The next morning, we slept in a little, and left the hotel slightly before 9, in order to catch the train to Kurobe Gorge. Stopping at Toyama Station, we decided to get some breakfast prior to heading out. I purchased a Chiraishi set.

Upon opening the bento, only then did we realize the ride was actually only 12 minutes. We scarfed down our meal urgently and managed to finish before we arrived at Kurobe Unazuki Onsen Station.

Walking down to the outside of the Station, we arrived at Shin-Kurobe Station, where we got somewhat lost. There was no staff at Shin-Kurobe Station, and we had no idea how to purchase train tickets. We realized later on that these tickets were purchased on the train directly. When the train came, we boarded it, following the rest of the tourists.

At that time, we didn’t realize the same tracks were being utilized by both trains going towards Tateyama and Unazuki Station. It was only later on, when we were halfway through the train, did we realize that the train was actually heading towards Tateyama instead. So we quickly turned around, thanks to some instructions from the train conductor.


Unazuki Station 宇奈月駅

DIRECTIONS:
Unazuki Station to Keyakidaira Station
11:06am to 12:24pm > Kurobe Gorge Railway
Cost: Y1710 1 way
Note: Reservation is possible at http://www.kurotetu.co.jp/en/

From Unazuki Station, you will have to utilize the Kurobe Gorge Railway for access. This is not covered by the JR pass. The Kurobe Gorge Railway only runs from mid-April to mid-November, and is inaccessible for the rest of the year.

There is an online reservation site, but please take note that reservations require a transfer of cash from your local bank to a japanese bank (no Credit Cards), which may incur additional costs on your end. For me, I was able to email them to inform them that I could not make such a transfer and therefore had to pay onsite. They agreed, fortunately. However, this conversation had to be held in Japanese as the staff did not understand much English. The good thing about such reservations is that you can be assured of a seat.

Upon arriving at Unazuki Station, we quickly collected our tickets and headed off to the train. We were one of the last few to board, and by then, we didn’t have a very good seat – instead we were seated in the middle.


Towards Keyakidaira Station

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The train took slightly more than 1 hour to reach Keyakidaira Station. The chairs were by no means comfortable (there wasn’t a backing unless you sat in the last row), and the trains trudged along at a super fast pace.

The journey was, although not the most comfortable, was one of the most beautiful rides we’d ever see for awhile. Beautiful autumn leaves, amazing gorges and bridges. The 1 hour journey flew by in a blink of an eye, and it was a completely worthwhile experience.

Alert Note: Parents who are with children, please avoid letting your child take the side seats, as the trains tend to go through tunnels at a deathly fast pace. It may be dangerous for kids who would try to stretch their hands out of the train compartment – there are many poles and trees near the trains that could hurt them.

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Upon reaching Keyakidaira Station, we took a break for lunch. I tried the famous Shiro-Ebi rice bowl, a specialty of Toyama prefecture. They were fairly delicious, but the shells kind of made it a bit harder to swallow. After lunch, we had some time, so we took the chance to explore Keyakidaira.


Keyakidaira Station

Our first stop was walking across the Okukane Bridge and Sarutobiko Gorge. It was a really wide bridge, but the views were breathtaking – from where we stood, we could see cold streams rushing below us.

From there, we headed to Hitokui Iwa – we walked up a little trail that led us to an observatory deck. There was a little house in the middle of the trail, which we stopped to take a look. They sold pretty nice looking dishes, but by then we were too full to try anything else. The walk was pretty long, but it was completely worth it.

The weather was really nice, but eventually we had to turn back as we had to catch a train back downwards. Just in time, we caught the next train back down. This time, the train wasn’t fully packed, so we had the opportunity to sit at the sides for better views.


Kanetsuri Station

DIRECTIONS:
Keyakidaira Station to Kanetsuri Station
3:19pm to 3:39pm > Kurobe Gorge Railway
Cost: Y490 1 way

We took a brief stop at Kanetsuri Station, which had a little station shop for us to explore. There was supposed to be what was described as Mannen Yuki, a portion of a cave that had snow for the entire year – that was supposed to be so cold that the snow would last until the next year’s snow.

Unfortunately, by the time we had reached, the snow had completely melted (so much for Mannen!). Disappointed, we decided to head back down to Unazuki Station. The ride down was chilling. Hair was flying, but at least the trip down had more space for us to stretch out.


Towards Unazuki Station

DIRECTIONS:
Kanetsuri Station to Unazuki Station
5:03pm to 5:58pm > Kurobe Gorge Railway
Cost: Y1210 1 way

The last stretch of the trip was to head back towards Unazuki Station. The views were similarly as breathtaking, but this time we had more space to take photographs without being involved.

At around 6, we reached the base at Unazuki Station. I purchased some souvenirs before we headed back to Toyama Station. Shiro-Ebi flavoured souvenirs were the specialty of Toyama Prefecture, so I bought some chips and crackers home.


Toyama 富山

DIRECTIONS:
Unazuki Onsen Station to Shin-Kurobe Station
8:02pm to 8:24pm > Toyama Chiho Railway Main Line  for DENTETSUTOYAMA
Cost: Y630

Kurobe Unazuki Onsen Station to Toyama Station
8:46pm to 8:58pm > SHINKANSEN HAKUTAKA 573

At night, we chose to go for a grilled BBQ dinner. My mum had spotted the small stall earlier in the morning. We didn’t have much of an idea of how much we were ordering. We only knew it was a chicken set, that came with gizzards and chicken skin.

We also bought an extra set of beef and pork. Unexpectedly, the chicken set also came with rice. By the end of the meal, we were exhausted and full to the brim.

Upon returning to the hotel, we packed up our luggage and sent it off back to Tokyo, setting aside only what we needed for the next 2 days.


Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8+

 

Autumn Japan 2015 – [Day 2] Osaka

Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7


Next morning, we woke up early to settle some miscellaneous.

For this trip, we were going to utilize 2 passes – Japan Rail Pass & Osaka Amazing Pass (1 Day). The Japan Rail Pass was to be activated the next day, but we wanted to get all the train bookings out of the way first.


Japan Rail Pass

URL: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2361.html
Cost: Y29110 for 7 days

What is it: The Japan Rail Pass is a 7, 14, or 21 day pass that allows you all-access transport via JR lines across Japan. It covers almost all Shinkansen (except Nozomi, Mizuho and other select berths and special carriages), and is valid for both trains and buses.

Japan Rail Passes have to be purchased in your home country, and an exchange order will be issued. EXCHANGE ORDER must be brought into Japan and exchanged for the actual pass. This pass is only valid for foreign visitors, and cannot be used by Japanese nationals.

To use a Japan Pass:

  1. For normal trains that don’t require booking, simply walk through the manned gate and show the attendant your JR pass. They will simply wave you through.
  2. For Shinkansen: JR Pass allows you to reserve your seats for no extra cost, so simply head to any JR office and book these tickets when you exchange your JR pass. You can also take non-reserved, but that just means you may not have a seat. You will be issued a greenish ticket per reserved seat. Japanese trains fares are usually calculated BASE FARE (cost from 1 area to another) + RESERVED FARE (cost for limited express / reserved seating). JR Pass covers both costs, but a separate “receipt” will be given to you (it’s green and looks like a ticket) should the conductor check your ticket. You will still have to enter via the manned gate as the receipt does not work through the unmanned ticket gates.

Worth It?: The JR Pass is not cheap, costing at Y29110 for 7 days. This is approximately the same cost as a round trip from Tokyo to Kyoto. To know whether it’s worth it, you’d have to calculate all your major trips around Japan to determine. You can use Hyperdia.com to determine costs from 1 place to another. There are also other types of passes that are available, with different areas of availability.


Osaka Amazing Pass

URL: https://www.osaka-info.jp/osp/en/index.html
Cost: Y2300 for 1 day, Y3000 for 2 days

The Osaka Amazing Pass comes in a 1 or 2 day version. It comes with free entrance to a few areas, as well as free transport on the subway trains (NOT JR) during the valid periods.

Worth It?: The Osaka Amazing Pass is only worth it if you visit a lot of places / the entrance fees to the places you want to go is covered by this pass. For example, Umeda Floating Sky Garden and Tombori Cruise would justify this cost with a few trips to Osaka and Dotonbori. If these are not the places you intend to visit, perhaps go for the 1 day train pass, which can be bought at the subway machines (English language available) for Y800.

The lady at the counter who we were trying to purchase our passes from kept insisting it would not be worth it to purchase such a pass – so please calculate your costs properly first before you decide on purchasing this pass!

In the end, because the Nishimaru Garden was closed that day, the price did not justify the original cost, so we decided to purchase the 1 day train pass instead.


Kuromon Ichiba Market 黒門市場

DIRECTIONS:
Osaka Station to Nipponbashi Station
Walk to Umeda Station, Umeda to Namba Station via Osaka City Subway Midosuji Line, then transfer to Nipponbashi Station via Osaka City Subway Sennichimae Line. This trip should take approximately 15minutes.

Kuromon Ichiba Market is located relatively near the station, with a lot of fresh food and fruits to sample. I love going to markets in Japan because it’s so clean, and I get to eat a lot of fresh food! We spent almost 3 hours there sampling different types of food, including an uni which I got to eat from its shell!

Kuromon Ichiba Market is a good place to start the day – it’s where you’d get the best fresh food, the cheapest as well! Fruits are also really fresh when we went. And we got to try so many different dishes we totally did not regret not eating breakfast first! We ended up buying a few different items to eat while we walked, and also bought some sushi and bento to share.

My sis and mum also spent a lot of time perusing the shops there – there were many different grocery shops selling everything in the world – whereas my Dad and I just aimed for the food. The food was pretty cheap and totally worth the trip there for lunch!


Osaka Castle 大阪城

DIRECTIONS:
Osaka Station to Nipponbashi Station
The recommended approach to Osaka Castle is through Otemon Gate at the park’s southwestern corner. The closest station is Tanimachi 4-chrome Station along the Tanimachi Subway Line and Chuo Subway Line. – japan-guide.com

DETAILS:
Opening Hours: 9:00am to 5:00pm, Closed from December 28th to January 1st
Cost: Y600
Note: It requires climbing 3 flights of stairs. Not advisable for elderly who are not very mobile

Osakajo was a beautiful castle set in the middle of the city. Impressively standing in the middle of a beautiful garden hosting a small festival, we walked closely towards it, amongst school children who were on their field trip.

The exterior was beautiful, and even from afar it looked impressive. Inside the castle were relics of Iyesu Tokugawa (I think, I could be wrong). Featuring his life and the war, as well as his family tree. Most of it was in Japanese, which made it hard to appreciate, but there are also English explanations on the various plaques. A museum over 8 stories high, with a beautiful view from the roof.

It was definitely worth the trip, though the climb up and down nearly made me collapse. Initially we were also supposed to visit Nishimaru Garden, but it was closed that day for some maintenance.


Dotonbori 道頓堀

DIRECTIONS:
Osaka Station to Namba Station
The Midosuji Subway line connects Shin-Osaka and Osaka/Umeda Stations directly to Namba Station. It takes approximately 8 minutes and 240 yen from Osaka/Umeda Station and 15 minutes and 280 yen from Shin-Osaka Station.

DETAILS:
Opening Hours: Never Really Closes

Our next stop was Dotonbori. Osaka, hailed as Japan’s kitchen, Dotonbori is one of the main attractions for the stomach. Lined with streets and streets of different food, its really easy to get disoriented.

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We arrived at Dotonbori slightly after 5pm, and decided to give our weary legs some rest. Deciding on a little café in the heart of Dotonbori (facing the canal), we took a break as we had a coffee. My dad decided to order a pancake, not prepared for the monstrosity that arrived.

We then took a walk through Dotonbori, admiring all the little shops that sold everything from Takoyaki to freshly roasted chestnuts. I also finally got to shop at DonQixote, which was basically a shop that sold aloooot of things at a relatively cheap price, especially after you consider the fact that it was also tax free! My mum ended up buying wine, which we had to carry back, while i stocked up on more perfume – only $10!


Kani Doraku かにどらく (Main Shop)

DIRECTIONS:
Namba Station
Walk. It is next to the canal. There is a giant crab on the front. You can’t miss it.

DETAILS:
Opening Hours: 10:00am to 7:00pm
URL: http://douraku.co.jp.e.at.hp.transer.com/kansai/honten/
Reservations can be made online

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There is more than 1 Kani Doraku in Dotonbori, and definitely more than 2 in the whole of Japan. But the most famous one stands next to the canal, with tables overlooking the beautiful canal at night. Reservations are needed, and can be done online in English, and without reservations would take approximately 1 hour. Menus are also provided on their website above.

For us, I had pre-ordered Autumn Special Kaiseki Course, which is only available during August and October. It comes with a mouthwatering list of dishes, including raw crab, cooked crab, roasted crab, crab chawanmushi as well as crab gratin, porridge or rice.

It also came with a matcha icecream dessert, which thankfully had no crab in it. There is also their specialty crab sake, which I have heard good reviews of, but never had the chance to try.

It was an amazing dinner, and definitely worth trying if you are a fan of crabs. ESPECIALLY if you’re in Osaka. Albeit it’s a bit touristy, but I feel that it’s worth it for the food served.

If you reserve online, you can also choose smoke-free rooms, which are only located on 1 floor. If you go without a reservation, you may have to wait, and you probably would not be able to get a room of your choice. Our reservation was at 7:30, and we were told that if we had no reservations, the next slot available was at 8:40pm.

Completely full and tired from shopping, it was decided that we would skip the observatory that night, as we still had to pack our luggage for shipping the next day as well.

We headed back to our hotel after dinner, took a few coupons for luggage shipping, and went to bed.


Luggage Shipping

If you have not read before, luggage shipping is a lifesaver. It not only saves you the hassle of dragging your luggage from 1 hotel to another, but you also save worrying about dragging it through multiple train platforms (not all platforms have lifts in Japan by the way), and train space as well. Costing approximately Y1500 to Y2000 per piece depending on size, it’s a very efficient way to handle your luggage while you continue your journey – and in my experience, my luggage has always arrived before me!

Most hotels would even have this service, all you’d need to know is the next hotel’s name and address (preferably in the official Kanji writing). Check with the staff if you could ship your luggage – probably just mentioning “Kuroneko Yamato”, they’d understand what you want.

Typically you’d have to fill it in yourself, but sometimes if the staff is free enough they would help you fill in the forms. Leave your luggage with them and pay the allocated amount, and then continue on your journey! Your luggage would arrive within 1 – 2 days – perfect if you’re taking a day trip somewhere (especially if you’re going up the mountains) and don’t want to drag the luggage along.


Trip Posts: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8+