Friday, 18 June 2010

Shibuya - Hachiko

I cried buckets when I watched the movie and almost cried when I saw Hachiko's statue :')

Take Yamanote line to JR Shibuya station and get out from the Hachiko entrance and you will see a train carriage (model). Opposite the train carriage is Hachiko's statue.

Shopping in Tokyo – GINZA!!

I LOVE shopping, especially in Ginza Tokyo. Sorry, not many photos. Where got time?? Japanese brands such as Burberry blue (ladies) and black (men) label,

uniqlo, fancl skincare and supplements, mikimoto pearls, namiki fountain pens from Itoya are cheap. I also find that the Forever 21 there is cheap with nicer variety not available in Singapore. I had to queue up with a large crowd to enter the shop in Matsuzakaya (near fancl) in the morning (open at 1030am). Before they open for business, they staff will sing some rara song then when you enter, they’ll stand on the stairs and applaud very enthusiastically… you feel like some VIP hahaha.

I love shopping for shoes in Japan because they’re so super pretty =) the service is excellent. The (very handsome) salesman will kneel down, hand you a brand new pair of stockings (for hygiene purposes) and sing praises when you try on the shoes, “Kirei!! Kawaii!!” (pretty! Cute!) give comments about whether the size fits you, insert insoles if necessary. You can’t help but buy at least one pair. Then he suggests other colours, styles and matching handbag for you LOL after the purchase, he will personally carry your shopping bag and walk you to the door, hand you the bag and bow, “Arigato gozaimashita!” and pause there until you have moved off before getting up. If it rains, they will wrap your paper bag in a plastic bag so that you paper bag won’t get wet. You know how women love keeping their paper shopping bags?? How thoughtful of them.

But I find that the service at fancl (ginza store) not as good… maybe because many singaporeans go there so their service becomes like that in Singapore hahaha…

Chris bought:
3 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of jeans from uniqlo

he also checked out the i-pad and almost bought it if not for the fact that a contract is needed... LOL

I bought:
I think I’ll keep that to myself to be safe… chris reads my blog =D
We went with 1.5 luggages, came back with 4! Golly…

Meiji Jingu Mae (Harajuku)

Go to Meiji Jingu Mae (Harajuku) station on a Sunday between 2 – 3 pm and you will be able see cosplay and Harajuku fashion. Before you shoot, do ask for permission. Some of them will pose for you while others will decline to be photographed. Bringing your cute kids will increase your chances of photographing them or getting a picture with them.

Before that you may want to check out Meiji Jingu (Meiji shrine) which is free of charge. Some parts require admission fees which you can skip if you don’t want to pay. The thing about Japanese shrines is that the pavement is always covered in gravel, as though they’re testing your sincerity so proper footwear is strongly encouraged.

After that you can have lunch at the famous Jyangara Harajuku (Kyushu) ramen. I liked the soup very much but the egg was a letdown =( nevertheless, as a tourist to Tokyo, you should still try it just so you can tell your friends, “Oh, I tried the famous Harajuku ramen!”

cross this bridge

walk down this street

here's the shop

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Unazuki Onsen, Kurobe Gorge and Tateyama Alpine Route - Video

Enjoy! It's pretty long though... 7 mins.

Tateyama Alpine Route

I was REALLY looking forward to this part of the trip because I have seen the beautiful photos on the internet. But two days before we were supposed to reach, Kobayashi san sent me an email to inform me about a sudden maintenance that needed to be done at one part of the route. Usually people start from Tateyama and end up at Shinnanoomachi or vice versa. Because of this sudden maintenance, you can’t go from one end to the other. You have to stop just right before the maintenance part and turn back... your Tateyama Alpine Route won’t be complete. I just broke down and cried in the hotel room in Tokyo because I was so looking forward to it. And since we have already booked Unazuki-onsen, we can’t really back out. Chris consoled me that we will only miss out on walking across the dam so we decided to go ahead.

From Unazuki-onsen station, it takes about an hour and 45 mins to Tateyama station with a transfer at Terada. The entire Alpine route takes about 6-7 hours to complete. We went about ¾ to Kurobedaira then turned back so it took equally long. Left Unazuki at 8am,reached Tateyama about 10am, did the route, took more than 4 hours to get back to shimbashi and reached shimbashi only at 9:30pm =PPP very tiring.

But Tateyama is really beautiful. Murodo is the most exciting because you are virtually at the snowy mountain top! Right there is the highest hotel in Japan, Tateyama hotel, which I wanted to book but decided on Unazuki New Otani instead. I suggest that if you want to take it easy, you should stay one night at Unazuki-onsen and one night at Murodo then continue the trip. Or one night at unazuki-onsen and one night at matsumoto. We cheong like that v siong >.<|||

Hotel Review: Unazuki New Otani (5+5*)

We had to skype the hotel to make a reservation but once we established contact and got the front desk guy, Kobayashi san’s email address, everything else was very convenient =)

Very conveniently located, within walking distance to the train station and with a lovely view of the Kurobe Tram bridge, I will definitely choose this ryokan hotel again if I go there again. They gave us a huge room (enough for 4-5 people) with a beautiful view of the river and the bridges.

Hot spring is great (I had the hot spring to myself!)

Check out the range of amenities!!! NICE!

Japanese hot springs always sterilise the hair brushes... Singaporean salons should do that ya?

The white shrimp tempura is superb!!

And while you are there, make sure you drink lots of water cos Kurobe's water is famous!! If I didn't read it wrongly, I think it's the melted snow from Tateyama mixed with spring water.

The +5* is for Kobayashi san. He is very good-looking..OK he is not very photogenic but he looks VERY good in person.

when I saw him I was like, “WA! Did this guy just jump out from an anime/manga??!!!” and he is at least 1.8m tall, which is rare for Japanese guys.

OK, i am not some cheeky girl la! The +5* is for his service =) He has been most kind and hospitable. Speaks fluent English, he helped us to book our Kurobe Gorge tram tickets, made us feel most welcome, orientated us about the hotel and offered help whenever he can. I left our universal charger in the room (I am always leaving things in ryokan hahaha) and only realized it when we were back in Tokyo and I sent him an email to request for it to be delivered to shimbashi and he did.

He is one service staff chris and I will remember =)

We walked around the small town (the whole town can be covered on foot) and I had a footbath with some residents =)

Rate: less than SGD$500 a night (include dinner and breakfast)

Unazuki Onsen – Kurobe Gorge Tram

A very quiet town, unazuki-onsen is where you go to get to Kurobe Gorge. It takes about 4 hours to get there from Tokyo with a change at Echigoyuzawa and Uozu. You also have to top up JPY1300+ towards Uozu because the train travels on non-JR line. Then you cross to the Shin-Uozu station to take a train to Unazuki-onsen, it’s non-JR.

You then cross over to the Kurobe Tram station to board to tram to enter the gorge. Round-trip takes 3 hours. Basically you just sit on the tram and enjoy the scenery =) which I feel is nicer than Taroko Gorge in Taiwan. Take the cheapest most open carriage if you can stand the cold winds or the second cheapest which has windows so it’s not so cold. You can enjoy outdoor hot springs at Keyakidaira or Kanetsuri. I suggest at least one hour at Keyakidaira if you want to soak in the hot spring and more if you wish to eat there (we saw some udon shops).

During Summer holidays and Autumnal colours, the place is very crowded so making reservations (via your hotel for example) for train tickets is advisable. Here's the fare and time table.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Ryokan Review: Konanso (5*)

Nice view of the lake and they have a private family bath with splendid view of Mt Fuji (if the weather is good) which we booked but later cancelled because weather no good -.- the hot spring is very nice, with a resting area, massage chairs and many different yukata to choose from (ladies only).

The staff here speak only Japanese. Pick-up available after 3pm but you must call them. We just went there ourselves cos when we were on the bus to the natural living centre, we passed by.

Walking distance to ropeway and cruise station. Very family friendly (which we didn’t like cos kids are bleddy noisy -.-)

Rate: about SGD$500 a night (include dinner and breakfast)

Kawaguchiko - Video

I have been to Hakone and I think Kawaguchiko is much nicer. Hakone is further away from Mt Fuji. One of the Fuji 5 lakes, Kawaguchiko is the most visited lake among the 5 but it was cloudy when we were there =( recommended places to visit and things to do include the Ukai music museum where the roses were in bloom (check the season) and you get to listen to a short recital by a Prague string quartet! The roses were so beautiful! My mother-in-law would have loved it! =D the natural living centre is where lavender will be in bloom in july and where you can see Mt Fuji (if it lets you). You can learn how to make blueberry jam (blueberries are grown near Mt Fuji) for JPY800 per person (min 2 persons) and take home your jam =)

For JPY2000, you get a retro sightseeing bus ticket (it’s a retro bus), a cruise ticket and a ropeway ticket. The bus ticket allows unlimited rides for two days. You can request for the tour info staff to forward your baggage to your hotel/ryokan at no charge =) so that you can do your sightseeing and check-in.

To get to kawaguchiko, we took the JR from Shinjuku to Otsuki then transferred to the Fujikyu limited express (non-JR), a very cute train with Mt Fuji cartoon painted on the outside. If you pay JPY100 extra, you get to sit at the wide-view or lounge seats =) Coming back, we took the Tozandensha, an old-style train with beautiful interior =D very very nice. Every station we stopped at, people were taking photos of our train hahaha.

Shizuoka - Updated Video

I added in the stills as well so for those of you lazy bums who don't want to read (i know who you are -.-), this is quite comprehensive =)

Hotel Review: Associa Shizuoka (4*)

In terms of accessibility, this hotel is the best because it’s right next to the station. And the room is rather spacious. Expensive though. We took the room without breakfast and it cost almost $200+ a night.

Shizuoka is indeed the home of green tea. Even the bathroom amenities are green tea based LOL

The hotel lobby toilet is very sophisticated... so many buttons!!

From top left:
more water, less water, mop (it goes round and round LOL this one i went, "oooohhhh....!"), massage (it comes out in pulses pss..psss... LOL), next one donno, dryer, all covers down, top cover up toilet seat down, all covers up.

From bottom left:
stop, i don't know what's the diff between 2 and 3 cos they felt the same to me, bidet (for girls), water pressure, water angle and position.

coolz =)

Shizuoka - Videos

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Shizuoka – Oigawa Railway

I was really deciding whether to take this because it’s very expensive (about SDG$80-90 per person return) and the duration of the entire return trip takes one whole day.

On the second day, it rained in Shizuoka so we went to take the railway. You have to get to Kanaya station, cross over to the Oigawa railway station (which is just right beside the platform where you alight) and order tickets in Japanese (the uncle cannot speak or understand English at all). In Spring and Autumn, the seats will be sold out very fast so reservations (via the Japanese website) is necessary to avoid disappointment.

The first part of the trip from Kanaya to Senzu is where the SL (steam locomotive) plies. This is the only place in Japan where you can take a steam locomotive. There is ONE round trip a day on normal days and 3 during peak periods. Of course you can take the normal trains that run the Oigawa route but most people will pay the extra JPY540 to take the SL. Along the way, you can see verdant tea fields =) The second part is from Senzu to Ikawa (non SL) and the landscape transforms into tall trees and running waters.

You can buy the SL bento if you want.

At one part, the ABT system is attached to the train. It's a saw-toothed system that helps the train climb slopes. This is the only ABT system in Japan.

We didn’t go all the way to Ikawa. We took from Kanaya to Senzu, then from Senzu to Okui-kojo, one of the top 100 train stations in Chubu because it sits over a dam. We rested at Okui-kojo,

ate something (we brought food, there’s no food there) then came back to Senzu, then changed train to Fureai Kawane-onsen to have a dip in the open-air hot spring before heading back to Kanaya. If you’re there at the right time (12pm and 4pm) you can soak in the bath and watch the SL pass by… choo choo choo… We usually bring our own towels. The hot spring was super crowded with lots of old fogeys and some of them weren’t even soaking… they were just sitting around chatting… naked -.-

At Okui-kojo, if you’re up to it, you can actually hike down and walk on the dam. We didn’t hahaha...


The childhood residence of Ieyasu Tokugawa (you know who this is anot? He unified Japan) and also the place he chose to retire, Shizuoka used to be called Sumpu. The Sumpu gardens is what used to be his residence. Only the East gate is still there though.

Inside Sumpu Park is Momijiyama, a small but beautiful Japanese style garden (admission fees) which I believe is most brilliant in Autumn from the name (Momiji means autumn maple). When we were there, the irises were in bloom =)

You can sit down in the teahouse and enjoy some wagashi (Japanese sweet) and matcha (whipped powdered green tea) for JPY500. You may also visit the inner rooms if they’re not in use. When we visited, there was a function so we were not allowed in.

Two other places you MUST visit are Nihondaira 日本平 and Kunozan Toshogu Shine 久能山東照宫. On a good day, you can see Mt Fuji from Nihondaira. Kunozan Toshogu Shrine is the original shrine built by Tokugawa’s son. The one in Nikko and all other shrines in Japan copy its architecture. The weather in Shizuoka was not very good when we were there =( cloudy throughout and drizzled for two days.

I recommend a day-trip to Nihondaira and Kunozan Toshogu Shrine. Shizuoka is only one hour from Tokyo.

There are two ways to get Nihondaira and Kunozan Toshogu Shrine:

The (kay kiang and siao on)"I want to show my sincerity” way:
Ride the Ishida-Kaido-Line bus (#12 or 14) from JR Shizuoka station (#22 bus stop) for 35 minutes to Kunoyamashita (which means the bottom of Mount Kuno) with a change at Ooya stop. Then, CLIMB UP 1159 stone steps to reach the shrine. From the shrine, take a 5-min ropeway up to Nihondaira. Back-track to go back.

The “everybody goes by this way” way:
Ride the Shizuoka-Nihondaira-Line bus (#42) from JR Shizuoka station(#19 bus stop) for 35 minutes and get off at the terminal Nihondaira bus stop. The route up has many curves and turns so be prepared. Then take a 5-min ropeway down to Kunozan Toshugu Shrine. Back-track to go back to Shizuoka station.
You may get the bus times from the tour info counter at JR Shizuoka station and ask for the discount ticket for the ropeway and shrine entrance.

Of course, you can do a combi of the two routes i.e. go by Nihondaira, come back from Kunozan Toshogu Shrine. But whatever it is, make sure you check the bus times. Don’t miss the last bus otherwise all the best to you.

Shizuoka is the home of green tea in Japan. We visited the Ocha-no-sato in Kanaya. Not very accessible. Buses are not frequent. We took a taxi and paid about SGD$15 one way. It’s basically a place for tea-lovers. Go only if you LOVE tea. You can experience grinding your own tea leaves (FOC) and tea ceremony (JPY500) in a tea garden. You can also come up close and personal with the tea fields of Shizuoka. The museum is nothing much. Just some mock-up rooms of tea culture in the whole (china, Nepal, India, turkey) wonder why no English tea culture... the explanations are all in Japanese so hm... the shop sells EVERYTHING that has got to do with green tea.

On the way back, we stopped by at Kakegawa castle, a tiny castle not worth seeing if you have seen Himeji hahaha.

In Shizuoka, make sure you try the Unadon (unagi rice). It’s quite similar to Nagoya’s Hitsumabushi, except that they add raw yama imo (huai shan) cubes which gives it a gluey chewy texture and sakura ebi (cherry shrimps), another local produce of shizuoka. The shop recommended by both the hotel and tour info is Unagi Harakawa. Only Japanese menu but with pictures so you can point. While waiting for your unagi, the smoky smell of the BBQ eel teases you and makes you very hungry =) nice. I like. But very expensive. About SDG$20-25 per person for a bowl of eel rice.

Do also buy the tea and wasabi products before you leave as these are specialties of Shizuoka. Pictured below is the wasabi plant. Yes, i have the shark skin grater for grating wasabi but it's difficult to find wasabi in singapore -.-