We were very lucky or god was smiling when we arrived in Tokyo on 4 April as the Cherry Blossoms were at their peak. We saw many Cherry Blossom trees in bloom throughout our 3 weeks of travelling through Japan. We stayed at Tokyo, Nikko, Matsumoto, Takayama, Shikoku (Iya Valley), Hiroshima, Kyoto and Hakone. Our hotel details and costs are at the bottom
of this posting and I have posted reviews and photos in the hotel section of TA.
Our overall impression was: the cities are very busy with people everywhere, the service you receive in a shop, restaurant or at a hotel is impeccable, very efficient and reliable train network, helpful friendly people, the mountains have stunning scenery, hotel rooms are small, just about all hotels had fibreglass capsule bathrooms, almost non stop development along the rail lines, a lot of restaurants in major cities open until very late (midnight), there were not many western tourists and unfortunately against our Australian dollar things were expensive. The weather was good to us with us having warmer days than expected, mostly all sunny and only 1 day of rain.
I have quoted prices below in Yen and when we went the exchange rate was 65.42 for the Australian dollar so 1000 Yen = A$15. I have included costs where known in Yen and with meals we usually only ordered 1 beer for hubby and 1 softdrink for me.
Day 1 – Tokyo. We arrived at Narita Airport at 7.00pm but by the time we got through the airport, found the JR office, validated our JR passes and got the Narita Express train to Shinjuku it was not until 10.50pm that we arrived at our hotel. Luckily there was a convenience store across the road as we had not had any dinner so we purchased 2 packaged meals (noodles & vegies etc), they heated them for us in the microwave and gave us plastic cutlery to eat them with.
Day 2 – Tokyo. On our first day in Japan (Sunday) Cherry Blossoms were the priority so off to Gyoen Park, Shinjuku we went only to find thousands of Japanese people doing the same thing. We waited with the crowd to pay our entry fee 200Y each and finally made it in through the gate. What an amazing sight, thousands of families, friends etc picnicking under the Cherry Blossom trees all through the park. People were having their photos taken in front of the Cherry Blossom trees and taking close up photos of the blossoms, also there were many cameras on tripods. There were a few people drawing and painting the blossom scenery. Although the park was absolutely packed with people it was relatively quiet and had a calm tranquil feel. We then went to Harajuku to see the cosplay girls but although it was shoulder to shoulder people, there were not many girls dressed up. Then went to Ginza and because I could not afford to shop in Tiffanys, Cartier, Versaci etc we moved on. If you are time short I would give Ginza a miss, unless you can afford to shop there. We had dinner at a local Yakitori Bar called Shinjuku Shousuke where we had chicken, beef, asparagus and mushroom kebabs. It was very expensive costing us 3,740Y for a beer, softdrink and about 16 kebabs. The kebabs were small with only 3 to 4 small pieces of meat or vegetable on each stick but mouth water food.
Day 3 – Syosenkyo Valley/Kofu. We were extremely lucky that our new pen/email friend who lives in Tokyo offered to take us out for the day in her car. We drove for about 2 hours North West of Tokyo on the Chuo Freeway to the Yamanashi Prefecture to visit Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. On the way we stopped at a Peach Festival at Ichinomiya-Misaka town in Fuefuki City. There where stalls set up in a field, offering all sorts of peach related foods, surrounded by blossoming peach trees and I tried some peach wine which was good. We arrived at the Syosenkyo Valley, parked in a car park and walked along the river through the gorge to the Senga-taki Waterfall. The river, gorge, trees, waterfall and mountains were spectacular. We walked further on past the waterfall to a small village and got the Syosenkyo ropeway up Mount Mitake-Syosenkyo. We walked a little higher up to the summit and our friend provided us with a picnic of traditional rice balls, cold sliced pork and vegetables. This will remain a treasured memory for us, having a traditional Japanese picnic lunch on top of the mountain with 360 degree views over the valleys and mountains below. Truly breathtaking. We returned to the valley floor and drove onto Kofu and went to Erinji where we visited the Shrine of Shogun Shingen built in 1330 and the adjoining cemetery with its very tall cedar trees. We then went to Kofu Castle. Only the massive black stone walls and parts of the moat remain, there we no buildings left on the site. We climbed the stairs to the top platform which gave us a great view over the city and we saw Mt Fuji in the distance. We then went to Fuefuki-Gawa Fruit Park which was high up on a mountain and overlooked Kofu city. There were very pretty gardens with lots of colorful flowers of tulips, pansies, azaleas and 2 unusual domed glass buildings. The sun was just setting so we had a great view over the city. Our friend took us to a local Japanese restaurant in Kofu for dinner where we enjoyed some of the local food which includes pumpkin and noodles. It was a long day leaving our hotel at 7.45am and returning at about 11.00pm but it was worth every minute. A fantastic experience made possible by the generosity of our new friend and her brother who both took time off work to take us on this adventure. We hope that one day we can offer them the same hospitality if they come to Perth, Australia.
Day 4 – Tokyo. We took the train from Shinjuku to Shimbashi Station and walked to Hama-rikyu gardens where we boarded the Sumida River Cruise to Asakusa. We paid 300Y each to enter the gardens which were not all that great. We found the boat dock at one end of the gardens and paid 760Y each to go to Asakusa. We had a nice relaxing trip along the river, under 13 bridges, for about 40 minutes. The boat had an open top deck and enclosed below deck with large glass windows and they have a small shop on the lower deck where you can buy food and drinks. Disembarked at Asakusa and walked to Sensoji Temple along the small street with all the stalls either side leading up to the temple. The temple had many Japanese people both sightseeing and going through their religious customs, one included standing by a fire in the courtyard trying to pull the smoke over themselves. Walked around behind the temple and over a couple of streets to the Edo-Shitamachi Traditional Craft Museum. This was very small and not worth the walk or time. On our way to Tawaramachi Station we passed through an entertainment area where we saw many places with business men playing a video game with silver balls. These places were very busy and very noisy. I found out later it is called Pachinco and is a gambling game. Caught the train to Ueno and visited the Ameyokocho Market. Hubby had an omelette type thing from a small stall in the market that he said was really good. It was here that we realised that you do not walk along eating food. You purchase your food and stand near the shop or stall to eat it and put the rubbish in the bin provided. This is why rubbish bins are not provided in the streets in Japan, unlike Australia where people often walk and eat and there is a public rubbish bin just about on every corner. Hubby also managed to buy 2 new leather belts at the market.
Day 5 – Nikko. We left Tokyo at 9.45am and arrived in Nikko at 12.30pm. Took a taxi to the hotel to drop the bags and walked the 1½ kms back into Nikko then up the main street of Nikko which runs up the hill. Stopped at the Tourist Information Centre which was helpful with the very talkative local staff member who wanted us to tell him about Australia. Up the main street further to the temples where we paid 1,000Y each entry. The buildings are surrounded by huge Cedar trees and some of the stairs in the complex are quite steep. We spent about 2 hours walking through a number of world heritage listed building spread over the hill. Some of the buildings had very intricate carvings on their outside walls. At 4.00pm we took the Tourist Information Centre advice and left the temple area from the left gate so that we could catch the bus to Lake Chuzenji. The bus fare was quite expensive at 950Y up and 1,100Y back to Nikko Station each but the trip up the mountain was very scenic looking out over the town of Nikko. The lake and Kegon Falls are well worth the visit but be sure to get to Kegon Falls before 5.00pm as they close the elevator that takes you down to the bottom of the falls then. We missed out unfortunately getting there about 5.10pm. We watched the sunset over the lake and found ourselves in a town that had closed up for the night. We did find a little café for a coffee while we waited for the bus to arrive at 6.50pm to take us down the mountain back to Nikko. There were not many restaurants open in Nikko but we found a small café near the station that sold kebabs where the prices were reasonable.
Day 6 – Matsumoto. We got the train from Nikko at 10.00am and after 3 train changes arrived in Matsumoto at 1.30pm. We went to the small Tourist Information Centre at the station where they spoke good English and were very helpful. They told us that the towns Cherry Blossom Festival would be on that night at the Castle, so we planned on going. After checking into our hotel we walked about half a kilometre to Matsumoto Castle which was built in 1590. This black and white castle with its wide moat and Cherry Blossom trees in flower was another spectacular sight. We paid 600Y each to enter the castle and climbed the many steep stairs to get to the top floor and look out over Matsumoto. During the afternoon we went to the International Tourist Centre to use their free internet but had trouble getting the pages in English. We had 3 staff come and reset the computer but it kept reverting to Japanese then another customer helped us and she manipulated something so the English pages stayed. We found a small café for dinner where you pick your meal from the vending machine near the front door, pay for it, it gives you a ticket, you give the ticket to the waitress and your meal is delivered to your table. We ordered roast pork rice, vegetable dumplings and a noodles dish with pork, onion, egg and seaweed. With a beer and softdrink this only came to 1,200Y which was a bargain. We went back to the castle grounds at 7.30pm for the Cherry Blossom Festival to find a traditional Japanese music group playing music from an open area on the first floor of the castle and all the locals milling around. There were hardly any western tourists there. The Cherry Blossom trees had spotlights under them and they looked very pretty by night.
Day 7 – Matsumoto/Hakuba. I stayed in Matsumoto and visited the castle again to see many school children doing black lead pencil drawings of the castle. The children were about 10 years old and their drawings were excellent. I also visited Kaichi School Museum which is the first school built in Japan in 1873 and considered an important cultural property. Unfortunately most of the exhibits had only Japanese signs but for me it was still worth the visit. Went to the Post Office to get some extra cash and luckily a staff member helped me with the ATM. I then went to the Nohi bus station to book our tickets for the bus to Takayama tomorrow but was told I could not purchase them until tomorrow which I thought was a bit strange. There was a large supermarket at the bus station so I had a great time wandering through the aisles looking at all the different foods and wondering what they were. I then returned to the hotel to use their laundry to catch up on the washing. Washing 200Y per load and drying 200Y.
My husband caught the train to Hakuba Goryu Ski area leaving at 7.00am so he could get as much time on the snow as possible. He arrived at the station with no taxi and no people in sight so he asked the station master who phoned a taxi for him. He got a taxi from Goryu town to the ski resort which was only 5 minutes and cost 1,000Y arriving at 9.15am. The season was just about over but there was skiable snow up the top of the resort. Some English signs and language spoken by some staff. Ski hire was 3,900Y and the lift pass was 4,500Y. He felt that the snow was good in the morning but chopped up by other skiers later in the day. It was surprisingly warm so he had to take off a few layers and open his jacket. There were only 3 short runs open all at the top but he felt it was very worth while for a beginner/intermediate skier. He said the scenery across the snow covered mountains was fantastic. He left the resort at about 3.00pm and walked 25 minutes back to the train station and returned to Matsumoto.
We really like this fairly small, modern, somewhat artistic city with its street sculptures and landscaping.
Day 8 – To Takayama. On advice from Trip Advisor members we did not use our JR rail pass for this trip but booked the Nohi bus for 3,100 Y each. We could not purchase our tickets until the day of travel so hubby went to the ticket office early in the morning to buy our tickets for the 11.10am bus. The bus took a route through the mountains and was much quicker (2½ hours). It stopped along the way for a quick toilet or shop break. The scenery along the way through the mountains was fantastic and we saw some snow. We checked into the hotel across the road from the train/bus station and then had a Hida Beef lunch in a restaurant along one of the main streets that lead from the station to the river, it has a full size cow in a glass box out the front. The food was great and we shared a platter of beef and vegetables with 2 drinks for 3,430Y. Each table had a gas burner in the centre where you cooked your food to your liking. We then walked to the area near the river where the traditional houses were and explored this area. After a big lunch our dinner was Cup of Soup (bought with us from home) which we had in our room.
Day 9 – Takayama. We walked to both the morning markets and found that they were not very big. The stalls were mostly selling fresh and pickled vegetables, fresh fruit, souvenirs and plants. We then went into the very interesting Government House Museum complex, entry was 420Y each. In one room there was a group of people playing traditional Japanese musical instruments and singing. We also visited the Miyaji Heritage House museum where entry is free. This is a traditional 2 storey house across the river in one of the older areas but it was hard to locate as there were no English signs at the entry.
We walked back to the bus station, next to the train station, and booked our tickets to the Hida Folk Village for 900Y each which included the return bus fare. We spent 2 hours exploring the village and various buildings. There were a couple of craftsmen displaying their skills but many of the craft areas did not have anyone there. I presumed that on a weekend all the crafts would be exhibited but that was not the case for us on the Sunday we were there. We had dinner in a little restaurant on the main street and I ordered Tempura Prawns which came with 2 very large prawns, tartare sauce, rice, miso soup, some sort of sweet white broad beans and a salad of shredded cabbage, cucumber and tomato. Hubby had miso soup, a small whole fish, rice, mushrooms, slivers of chilli and some other type of brown vegetable. We also had a beer and orange juice with the juice coming in a bottle and tasted like cordial. Total cost was 3,200Y. Today was Easter Sunday for Christians but there were no signs anywhere in Japan. I did not see one Easter Egg or Hot Cross Bun but I suppose this is not surprising considering that the Japanese are predominately Buddhists
Day 10 – Nagoya and Sakaide (Shikoku). We left Takayama at 8.00am on the train to Nagoya arriving at 10.30am, found luggage lockers for our cases, and made our way on the subway to Kakuozan Station. We were lucky that a friend organised a visit for us to a private girls school for children 6 to 12 years. I work in a school and hubby is involved in building new schools so we both had an interest in visiting a Japanese school. The Principal organised his English teachers to be with us to translate and we had a great tour of the school learning about the Japanese Education System. We were interested to see the children sweeping the school floors and stairs then polishing them with little white cloths. We were told that after lunch they clean the whole school including the toilets. This is not something that would happen in an Australian school. The school oval was dirt and this is common in Japan. The students have 3 pairs of shoes at school, the pair for walking to and from school, the pair for sport and the pair of slippers to wear inside the school building. We were also told that all schools in Japan have fences and a security guard at the front gate. This regulation was bought in apparently some years ago when a man entered a school and stabbed a number of children. The teachers work long hours from 8.00am to 5.00 – 9.00pm at school and they have no break from the children during the day having their lunch with them in their rooms. We left Nagoya at 3.50pm and arrived at Sakaide at 6.50pm. Sakaide is on the island of Shikoku (south of Honshu) and appears to be an industrial town. You cross over to Shikoku from Honshu on a very long bridge. I had difficulty finding a hotel here and the one we stayed in was terrible. I would recommend that you stay on the train for another 15/20mins and go onto Takamatsu which seems to be a much better town. There were no restaurants near the hotel and the hotel restaurant was not open so dinner was some terrible food from the convenience store across the road and Cup of Soup in our room.
Day 11 – Shikoku. We picked up the Mazda hire car in Sakaide at 9.00am, which we booked on the net for 9,500Y for 2 days through Toocoo. We asked the staff member to put the location of our next hotel in the GPS for us. This was a godsend as it helped us navigate through the beautiful gorges and valleys of the Iya Valley which is south of Sakaide. We followed route 32 most of the way and stopped at a great little café called ‘Woody’s Rest’ where the food was good and they gave us a tourist map of the Iya Valley. We arrived at our ryokan ‘Iya Bijin’ at 2.00pm which has been built on the side of the mountain and overlooks the gorge. As check-in was 3.00pm they sat us in the restaurant and served us green tea. They checked us in at about 2.30 and our room was gorgeous with the mineral water bath on the balcony overlooking the gorge. See my review and photos in the hotel section. Although our stay here cost us 34,230Y it included a huge traditional dinner and breakfast where we wore the traditional Yukata’s (a cotton Kimono) that they provided,we felt it was well worth the splurge. We could not fault the ryokan on anything and our stay here was one of the highlights of our trip.
Day 12 – Iya Valley. We jumped in the hire car at about 10.00am, noticing that all the windows had been cleaned by the ryokan staff and headed into the Iya Valley leaving the ryokan carpark with a staff guard of honour bowing as we drove past. We visited the main touristy vine bridge over the river and the waterfall but also drove further east past Iya Bijin to visit the twin vine bridges that cross the river close to each other. Entry is from a small car park on the right hand side of the road and you pay 500Y each at a little shack on the side of the road and walk down the stairs to the valley below. The 2 bridges are close together and there is also a waterfall near the first bridge. There was also a little timber car suspended on cables above the river that you could sit in and with a pulley system you pull yourself across the river. These bridges were less touristy, in fact at 11.00am on a Tuesday we were the only people there and the area was much more peaceful. Signage was not great so you need to keep your eyes peeled otherwise you will drive straight past. We continued driving along the valley with a lot of the road being single lane only and going through some small villages, we averaged 40km an hour but it did not seem that slow as we gazed over the beautiful scenery. We returned the hire car to Sakaide at 4.00pm and decided to make an unplanned trip to Takamatsu. We jumped on the train using our JR passes for the 15 minute trip to Takamatsu, put our cases in a luggage locker there and got a local train to Ritsurin Ko-en Kitaguchi Station. We walked a short distance to Ritsurin Gardens which are considered by many as a good example of Japanese Gardens. Entry was 400Y each and when we arrived at 5.00pm the sun was starting to go down so we raced around the gardens for an hour and then returned to Takamatsu by the train. It was a worthwhile journey with very pretty gardens. We had dinner at a small café at Takamatsu station while we waited to catch our train at 7.40pm for Hiroshima. We arrived in Hiroshima at 9.30pm and got a taxi to Hotel Sunroute for 1,010Y. We were very lucky to be upgraded by the hotel to a bigger and better room with fantastic views over the river and Peace Park.
Day 13 – Hiroshima. We requested the hotel reception to book us into an English speaking tour of the Mazda factory. They phoned Mazda at about 10.00am and booked us in for a 1.00pm tour that day. You can also book on the web. We got the train to Mukainada Station which took about 10 mins then had a short walk to the Mazda reception office. The Mazda site is HUGE they have their own roads and even a huge bridge over the river. On the site they produce 4,000 cars per day and over 1 million cars each year. They took us by bus to the assembly plant where there was a museum and a walkway over the assembly line. I suspect that this was only one assembly line of many on the site. It was very interesting to see and hear how the cars are put together. The tour took 1½ hours and the museum had old Mazda cars and new concept cars. We returned to Hiroshima Station and found a café on the 6th floor where hubby ordered mixed tempura (fish, prawns, onion, pumpkin and some type of leaf and hot chips (fries) that came with crispy bacon and I had a beef stew with rice. We ordered 2 softdrinks and the total cost was 2,820Y. We then got the local train with our JR passes to Miyajima Guchi Station which took about 30 mins. Walked the short distance to the ferry terminal and used our JR passes to catch the ferry over to Miyajima Island. We did not arrive until 4.45pm and the island was relatively quiet with not many tourists. The tide was out so we did not see the Tori Gate in the water and there was no water under Itsukushima Shrine. We walked around the waterfront and streets for about an hour but most of the shops were either closed or closing. On our return to Hiroshima Station we went to a large supermarket in the basement of the department store where we bought a beef salad and some bread. The bread was very sweet by Australian standards and cut very thick, about 2cm. We had trouble finding butter so asked a shop assistant who showed us the butter which was in a small long box, about the same size as a box of toothpaste. We took this back to our hotel for dinner.
Day 14 – Hirsoshima/Kyoto. Today we walked across the river from Hotel Sunroute to the Peace Park, paid our entry of only 50Y each and entered the museum. The displays, photos, videos etc were amazing but confronting and sad. It was pleasing to see that it was a very balanced overview of the events leading up to and after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August, 1945. We walked around the Peace Park and over to the Atomic Dome then back to the hotel to pick up our luggage. We spent about 3 hours seeing the museum and walking around the grounds. We hailed down a taxi to go to the station but he ripped us off taking a long route and charging us 1,340Y which was 330Y more than we paid for the taxi from the station to the hotel.
We arrived at the JR Ticket Office to book the next train to Kyoto which was at 1.50pm and only had to wait 40mins. We arrived at Kyoto at 4.00pm. We got a taxi from Kyoto station to our apartment in Gion which was situated about 6 streets West of the Kamo River and off Gojo Dori (Gojo Street). The apartment is in a one way street and the taxi driver had trouble locating the address. He stopped in the street and went into a shop to ask and indicated to us that the apartment was back up the street, we had driven past it. We told him we would walk back but he insisted on taking us and switched off the meter at 970Y and drove around the long block and back to the street again. This was great service after the experience we had just had at Hiroshima with a taxi driver. The apartment was fantastic, modern, roomy, well equipped, good size bathroom, balcony, good information left in a folder on the coffee table and a washing machine. It was great to be able to catch up on the washing and hang it out on the balcony for the wind to blow through. It is situated about 1km from the main Gion area but there are a few restaurants on Gojo Street and a great supermarket with directions on how to find it in the information folder. In the early evening we walked north to the heart of Gion. The streets were very busy with lots of young people and not many western tourists. We found a restaurant with an English menu and I decided to order the local drink made from Sweet Potato. Well it just about blew my head off with the strong alcohol content and it tasted like straight Whisky. We ordered roast pork which came cold and sliced, pork rice and dumplings which were like steamed dim sims. Hubby had a beer and dinner cost us 2,850Y. Walked back home through the dark streets.
Day 15 – Kyoto. We used our JR rail passes to get the train from Kyoto Station to Saga-Arashiyama station to explore the Arashiyama area. We walked from the station to the river and the Togetshukyo Bridge. There were many Japanese people congregating around the shops, café’s and walking across the bridge. Along one of the streets there was a Geisha sitting on a chair outside a shop but when I got my camera out a lady rushed over, stood in front of me and explained I would have to pay to take a photo. I expect she was not a real Geisha but one dressed and made up for tourists. We booked tickets for the Sagano Romantic Train 600Y each but had to return 2 hours later for the next available seats. We walked from the station to the famous Bamboo Forrest, which to be honest we found a bit disappointing, it is not a very big walk through the bamboo. We imagined a huge forest with little walks through the bamboo, well the only walk was about 300 metres long stuck in the middle of suburbia. We returned to the train for our train journey along the river. We were lucky to get seats in the open carriage and on the side of the train that had the best views over the Hozu River and valley. The train stops at a couple of stations and at one station there were a number of bells on a tower that played music as we pulled up. We got the one way trip so after being on the train for about half an hour we got off at Kameoka Station and walked about 500 metres along a road through paddocks to the JR station. We used our JR pass to return to Arashiyama Station which was 2 stops. We explored the streets of Arashiyama then got the train back to Kyoto arriving at 6.30pm. We got a bus back to our apartment. Most buses around Kyoto are 220Y each per trip, money well spent after a long day walking. After a bit of a rest we walked to Gojo Station to get the Keihan Line subway into the heart of Gion, ticket 150Y each. Gion was very busy with people crowding the streets. We found a ‘Pronto’ Restaurant, which appeared to be a chain type restaurant. We sat and ordered then two young women next to us started smoking and they chain smoked the whole time. When we asked to move to the non smoking section we were told that they let people smoke in the whole restaurant. We did not think to ask if they had a non smoking section before we sat down and ordered. It was very unpleasant with the cigarette smoke but the food was good and reasonably priced. All the clothes we had on that night went straight into the washing machine when we got back to the apartment as they had the terrible smoke smell. We ordered Chorizo sausages, potato wedges, pizza and vegetable tempura which were cold potato chips, pumpkin chips and onion chips, not at all what I imagined but more like a snack food. We had a beer and softdrink with total cost of 2,850Y. We walked down Pontocho Street which was a small alley full of bars and discrete restaurants behind closed doors. This is the street we understood that Geishas frequented but we were unlucky and did not see any. We walked back to our apartment along the Takasegawa canal road where we saw many small restaurants overlooking the canal.
Day 16 – Kyoto. Today we went back into the heart of Gion to walk through the Nishiki Markets. The markets were really just a narrow covered street with small shops opening onto the street. There was lots of interesting looking food with little bowls of offerings that you could taste. We even saw live eels, fish and a tortoise, which were not going to be on our menu. We did buy some really cute jelly type lollies decorated beautifully with flowers for 70Y each. We then walked to the Kyoto Handicraft Museum, which was actually an upmarket shop of expensive Japanese items, but interesting to look at, however we did buy a couple of souvenir gifts to take home. We continued walking up to a main street and caught a bus to the Kyoto Handicraft Centre. This was a huge shop with 7 floors of Japanese items, some exquisite and expensive and some cheap. I purchased a couple of things but one was a small teddy bear dressed in a Kimono, it was so cute and cost 578Y. On the top floor of the building was an internet café so we stopped there and bought an hour of internet use for 600Y. We then walked one block to the Heian-Jingu Shrine and out of the front of the shrine were stalls selling souvenirs and guess what, the teddy bear I had just paid 578Y for was on sale for 400Y, they were identical. We walked into the Shrine courtyard and admired the buildings and then paid 600Y to go through the left gate of the courtyard into the gardens that sweep around behind the building. The gardens were great with a creek, lakes and a large timber bridge over the big lake where we saw many fish and a couple of turtles swimming under the bridge. There were still some Cherry Blossoms in flower and some red Japanese Maples. The Azaleas were just getting ready to bloom. The garden is a must see if you go to this shrine. We walked up the hill to the Philosophers Walk and was surprised to see that it was a canal with stone walls, I had imagined it as a nice pretty river. There were still some Cherry Blossoms in flower weeping over the canal walls. We stopped at a little shop by the side of the walk that had a cat theme to it, just about anything and everything with pictures of cats on them. Nice refreshing ice-creams sold here too and of course I had to taste the Cherry Blossom flavour which was a soft serve that did taste like cherries and very yummy. A good price too at 250Y each most other places charge 300Y for soft serve ice-creams. We continued along to the end of the walk and onto the Golden Pavilion but unfortunately is was now closed so we walked down the hill to the main street and caught a bus back to our apartment. We did not want to go too far for dinner so walked down to Gojo Street, turned right and found a great café where they serve the best tempura prawns. We had tempura prawns, broccoli, mushrooms and even tempura cherry tomatoes. Also we ordered sausages, cesar salad, garlic bread, a beer and a softdrink. Cost 3,400Y and delicious. The café has a glass window with glass door on the right with the phone number 5412020. It only has a few tables but really good food.
Day 17 – Kyoto. This morning we walked to the Kiyomizu Temple which is situated on the side of a mountain. After a steep walk up the streets we came to stone steps and climbed these to the temple. There were crowds of Japanese people, lots of school children and a few girls walking around in Kimonos. We paid 100Y each to enter one of the temples. We were handed a card in English that explained we were entering the womb of Buddha’s mother which would bring us peace and fulfilment and to hold onto the hand rail as it would be dark. We removed our shoes and descended down some steep stairs to a very dark corridor. A little way into the corridor it got pitch black so much so you could not see your hand in front of your face, so that is why you have to hold onto the hand rail. I must admit I found this a bit unsettling walking along not able to see a single thing and I could hear teenagers behind me and thought they are going to bump into me soon, but they didn’t. We turned a corner and saw a round stone that was dimly lit and apparently it represents the Budda’s mother’s womb. We continued down the pitch black corridor and at last saw light again. It seemed like we had walked 200 metres because we were going so slow in the pitch dark but it was probably only 20 metres. We came out of that temple and turned left and paid 300Y each to enter the main temple up a few more stairs to a platform that had a view over Kyoto. There was also a timber platform that projected out from the mountain. We walked through the temple and down a path to the right along the mountain where we came across another building that had water coming from the roof beams over an opening where many Japanese had cups on long handles and they were collecting the water and drinking it. We came out of the temple complex down a street on the right which was filled with tourist shops selling all sorts of souvenirs. On our way back to our apartment we stopped at the local supermarket that was hidden in a small laneway in the centre of a residential area. We purchased a Bento Box 600Y and a tray of Pork Sushi 400Y that we took back for lunch. In the afternoon we went to Kyoto Station to the International Tourist Centre which is on the 9th floor of the Isetan Department Store. We purchased ½ an hour of internet 230Y to check the train departure schedules to Odawara the next day and to email home. We then went down to the JR ticket office and reserved our seats to Odawara. It was now about 5.00pm so we caught a bus back to the heart of Gion to see if we could find any Geisha’s as we had been told that dusk is a good time to spot them. We were unlucky again roaming up and down Pontocho Street with a few other tourists.
Day 18 – Hakone. We left Kyoto Station at 8.30am for the 2 hour trip to Odawara Station. We purchased our 2 day Hakone Passes 3,900Y each at Odawara Station and boarded the train to Hakone. When we arrived at Hakone the heavens had opened and the rain was heavy so with help from the locals we jumped on a bus, and located our Ryokan with help from the bus driver. The Ryokan did not have any English signs so without the bus driver pointing it out as we drove past to the next bus stop we would not have found it. We left our luggage and got a bus back to Hakone Station.
Even though the rain was heavy we still decided to do the Hakone loop and later realised we did not have an umbrella. We got on the cable car and a little way up the mountain the fog came in and we could not see more that a few metres in front. My hubby was very keen to see the Hakone Open Air Museum so we jumped off the cable car at Chokokunomri Station and walked the short distance to the museum. We paid our 1,400Y each entry fee and grabbed one of their provided umbrellas. The museum has many sculptures in the grounds and an indoor Picasso exhibition and a Henry Moore exhibition indoors. The grounds are well manicured with pretty trees, shrubs and flowers. We had lunch at a café in the grounds of hot homemade Minestrone soup with bread which was great on a cold wet day. The serves were not all that large for the 650Y each that we paid. In the grounds there was also an onsen foot bath where you could sit and dangle your feet in the hot water. We spent 2 hours at the museum wandering in the rain. We thought about going back on the train to Hakone Station but with the pass it was not going to cost us any more to go on so on we went to the ropeway, which was very quiet of course so we got a gondola to ourselves. All we saw through the fog were the empty passing gondolas going back. As we arrived at the Lake Ashi terminal the fog started to clear and we boarded the boat for the trip across the lake. Although it was raining heavily still we had a view of the lake and foreshore. We got the bus back to Hakone Station then the bus to the Ryokan but I was bitterly disappointed with the weather. A lot of the restaurants were closed so we bought some bread from the bakery at the station and had Cup of Soups in our room. We settled into the Ryokan for the night which was also disappointing. It had very strong cigarette odours, the bathroom was about 30 years old, it was not very clean, the bath did not drain at all but the stone hot springs bath on the balcony was good, although I did wonder how clean it was. This place was way overpriced at 22,770 Y for the night which did not include dinner but did include breakfast in the dining room of a small assortment of rice, fish, miso soup, pickled vegetables, pork meat balls, tea and coffee.
Day 19 –Hakone. We woke to a bright sunny day with clear weather so I said to my hubby “Guess what we are doing this morning, the Hakone loop again” I am sure he thought I was joking but I wasn’t. He agreed so we left our 2 cases and 1 carry bag at the luggage room at Hakone station at a cost of 1,350Y. When we arrived at Gora we left the station and walked up a steep climb to Gora Park. Entry is free with your Hakone Pass and we realised later that you can get off at the first stop of the cable car and walk a short distance along a flat road to the park. The park is set with gardens that go up the mountain, a large fountain, a couple of glass houses with ornamental plants, a craft shop with glass blowing demonstrations and a couple of cafes. Certainly worth a look if you have the time. There are lots of steps and steep paths so probably not appropriate for people with disabilities. We walked back to the station to catch the cable car and then onto the ropeway. The views were fantastic and we had a great clear view of Mt Fuji from the ropeway. The view of Lake Ashi coming down the mountain on the ropeway was also amazing. Today it was a lot busier on the loop and we had to stand in lines for a short time to get on to the different types of transport but it was well worth it. After crossing the lake in the boat again we got a bus back to Hakone Station, then back by train to Odawara and then Tokyo. At Hakone Station a class of about 25 young school girls about 7 or 8 years old boarded the train with a teacher and they all sat quietly reading books. The teacher got off at the next stop and the girls remained on the train reading their books quietly. There was very little talking amongst them and they slowly disembarked at various stations along the track. At Odawara station a number of the girls got off and caught connecting trains. We were amazed at their good behaviour and that they travelled on public transport at such a young age, it certainly would not happen in Australia.
These girls were weighted down with 3 bags, a leather backpack/case and 2 cloth bags they carried in their hands. In Australia our students usually only have one bag or backpack.
Day 20 – Tokyo. Our last day in Japan. We checked out of our hotel and got a taxi to Shinjuku station. We knew there were luggage lockers through the station as we had walked past them numerous times but we did not realise you had to have a card to pay for them instead of coins. When we enquired at the JR Office we were told that coin lockers were on the outside of the station building so we finally found these and secured our 2 cases and carry bag for 1,300Y as we needed 2 large lockers. Today we met our Japanese friend again in her local neighbourhood catching a train to Seigo Guakuen-Mae Station. She met us at the station exit gates and we entered a large modern shopping complex going up several floors to a local Japanese restaurant for lunch. It was fantastic to have her explain to us the eating customs and help us with our menu choices. We had bowls and bowls of food delivered with a never ending supply of cooked rice and shredded raw cabbage. After lunch she took us to the top floor of the complex where there was a rooftop garden with grass, beautiful flowering Azaleas and view across the city. I asked her to take us to a local supermarket so down we went to the supermarket on the lower floor. She gave me a present of a recipe book on Japanese Family Meals which was in English and Japanese. I love Tempura so she helped me find some Tempura Flour so that I could make this when I returned to Australia. We purchased a few souvenir lollies and biscuits to take home. She knew that hubby was an Architect so she asked if we would like to see some new Japanese houses which we were delighted to do. We jumped on a local bus for a short trip to the housing display village and on the way we walked past Toho-Movie Studio where we stopped to have a photo with the Godzilla statue out the front. We walked on to Jutaku Tenji-jo, the housing village and visited two display homes. We would have loved to look at them all but we were time short having to get back to Shinjuku to get out to the airport. They were typical 2 story houses with an entry foyer where you remove your shoes then take one step up onto the timber floor. There was timber everywhere through the house, it was a light coloured timber like cedar and pine and the houses had a strong timber smell. They were like modern western homes with a kitchen, bedrooms, study but also had at least one tatami mat room and the bathrooms had the big soaking bath with the washing area beside with the hand held shower on the wall. The kitchens had a huge long sink or stainless steel rectangular bowl about 1.2 metres in length and when we asked why the sinks was so big we were told that these are required to prepare the fish and vegetables. They only had what we would call a small electric dishwasher, about 50cm wide by 30cm deep and when we said the dishwasher is small we were told, no that is a large one. In the more expensive house there were bathrooms and kitchens on both the ground and first floors. We were told by our friend that this type of house is popular for families whose parents live with the son or daughter and their family. She also told us that the home stays in the family for generations with it being passed down to the first son. He will marry and move his wife in and when they have children they will all live together including any siblings that have not married who also live at home. We were sorry to say goodbye to our new friend and got the train back to Shinjuku then the Narita Express train to the airport, waited in line to check-in and then found a huge line to go through Security and Customs. We must have waited nearly an hour to get through. We survived the horrible all night flight leaving Narita at 8.30pm and arriving back at the Gold Coast in Australia at 6.15am.
We particularly enjoyed learning about the Japanese culture, the friendly helpful people, the beauty of the mountains, the interesting cities and visiting the Syosenkyo and the Iya Valleys.
Hotels used, city, my rating and price per night for 2 adults:
Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku - Tokyo 8/10 Y13,153
Nikko Park Lodge – Nikko 5/10 Y8,900
Richmond Hotel – Matsumoto 9/10 Y10,082
Country Hotel – Takayama 6/10 Y12,000
Sakaide Plaza Hotel – Sakaide 1/10 Y5960
Iya Bijin – Iya Valley, Shikoku 10/10 Y34,230
Hotel Sunroute – Hiroshima 9/10 Y13,954
Gion Apartment (http://www.vrbo.com/105639) – Kyoto 8/10 Y14,494
Ichinoyu Honkan – Hakone 4/10 Y22,770
Citidines Apartments – Shinjuku, Tokyo 7/10 Y13,497
I have also posted more details of our spending in Japan on a separate post for those of you wondering about your budgets.