Monday, March 28, 2016

Snow Monkeys and a Ryokan in Shibu

Having finished the skiing we headed back on smooth bus to Nagoya.  There we bought tickets to the town of Yudanaka.  Once there we checked the bus timetables to the Shibu area and the bus was a 45 minute wait.  So we strode off dragging our suitcases for 20 minutes to our accommodation for the night.  The distance wasn’t too far, but it was on a definite uphill incline.  Dropping our bags we raced back down to the main street and with 2 minutes to spare we caught the bus that had come from the station – we recognised some of the passengers.  The bus ride was less than 10 minutes, but it was definitely uphill all the way.

We looked at the site restaurant but it was teeming – it was just after 12 – so not surprising.  We needed something to eat because the walk we were about to go on was going to take at least an hour return – so standing in the snow we chose to buy an ice-cream each.  A natural choice!!! But it did the job

We were off to see the snow monkeys.  Japanese Macaques, that bath in the natural hot pools.  Because we were there in the afternoon I was worried we weren’t going to see any because more swim in the mornings – but there were hundreds around – but only a few swimming at a time. 


Andrew finally got to wear his 1970’s ski hat this trip – so old it is almost fashionable again.  So we wandered back down to the mountain restaurant for some surprisingly good ramen before returning to  town.


And the location was an ideal place to stay at an up-market Ryokan (Japanese traditional inn) so we treated ourselves to Kokuya Ryokan which came with it’s own private onsen (hot pool) on the balcony of our room.  We were shown to our room, along the way looking at the six different ‘public’ onsen in the building. 


This is Andrew sitting in our room.  The low table on the tatami mat had a heating pad under it and was toasty warm.  What you cant see is Andrew looking around the room while the staff member poured the tea, took our choices for dinner and breakfast.  Eventually it got too much for him and he asked ‘where do we sleep?’  The young man smiled and explained our futon would be prepared while we were at dinner.

Staff gone we headed out to the hot pool.  The water was really hot and did need cold water to be added. 


We had a brief lesson on wearing our Yukata robes.  And because it was winter there was a overcoat.  People walk the streets of the town to visit the 9 public baths.  Each bath is supposed to cure a different ailment.  However we hung about our room, bathing reading and waiting for dinner


And dinner was certainly an event.  High class japanese dining with a series of 9 small courses.  Some were delicious some,…interesting but all beautifully prepared and presented.  Wagyu beef, ginger shoots, soba noodles, tofu and even a desert. 

We returned to our room and Andrew was relieved to see bedding laid out – even with a note saying one was extra long. And he slept like a baby.


Our trip report for Japan would NOT be complete it toilets were not mentioned.  We got rather used to the special heated toilet seats, nice!  It took Andrew more than 2 days to get the courage to push the side buttons on the toilet.   The pictograms describe what happens.  At the airport looking through the shops we did see deluxe toilet seats for sale, not something you see in most airports


For breakfast I chose the Japanese style breakfast and Andrew the western.  My breakfast was interesting, not something I feel I need to repeat.  Mmmm half raw egg, I’m not huge on egg at the best of time.  The little dried fish on a layer of raw turnip were not my cup of tea.


Then back to the train, to Nagoya and the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.  We dropped our bags and had a wander around before returning to the airport hotel to prepare for a morning return flight to Thailand.
A sight we had not seen before was the airport ground-crew lining up as we taxied away from the departure gate and they bowed in a very Japanese manner to the plane.  They then proceeded to wave to the plane until we couldn't see them any longer.

We had superb views of Mt Fuji from the airplane.

We really enjoyed our short time in Japan- I’m sure we will return!


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Skiing in Hakuba

We packed our bags and headed across to Tokyo station to catch our Shinkansen – bullet train - across to Nagoya.  We left plenty of time but it all worked well.  Andrew did some peering in the windows when the train pulled up to the platform to work out where our seats were.  The windows look tiny but were fine from the inside.  The two hour journey went seamlessly.  At Nagoya we walked out of the station to find the bus that would take us to Hakuba village.  We got front seats and Andrew described the drive as the smoothest he had ever had on a bus.

Our hotel, Panorama,  was a short walk away from the bus station and a 5-10 minute walk to the bottom of the ski-field.  They kindly took us around to the ski rental shop where Andrew was kitted out for 4 days of skiing

Skiing conditions were not the usual metres of powder (about half normal falls this year) but he managed to have a wonderful time.  Skiing conditions got better half way through our stay with a couple of 20cm falls.  Four days up and down the slopes he managed to meet 2 people from Wellington and a Japanese man who spent his winters in Wanaka. He noted that the equipment was sized for smaller framed people.


Lunch was routinely at a restaurant at the bottom of the gondolas.  Ordering through a self service machine – no problem for us with our lessons in Tokyo.  Every day Andrew had the TonKatsu curry.  And we watched the locals taking 10 minutes naps after their lunch.


I spent my days walking around the village and turning up at the restaurant for lunch – amazing how the day disappears on that routine. 


I did have one day trip out to Matsumoto, home of the 16th century Wooden Castle


We didn’t manage to get into the restaurants we wanted to in the evening – note to self – MAKE RESERVATIONS!  We survived and on our last day in Hakuba managed to have a good Japanese restaurant even if Andrew was a bit dismayed at the idea of sitting on the floor at low tables.  But give him an indoor grill, some sake & a beer and put him in charge of the tongs and all discomfort is forgotten.

dinner hakuba

Friday, March 25, 2016

Tokyo Days 1 & 2 18-19th February

We left Vientiane after work, had an overnight flight from Bangkok to Tokyo, so we arrived slightly bleary eyed into Tokyo at 7:00am local time.  So the plan for day one was to drop our bags at the hotel and just wander around the ‘local neighborhood’.  We also opted to take the bus rather than the metro system.  That was a good decision because 1). we got the best view of Mt Fuji, clearly visible on a clear day and 2). we didn't have to negotiate Shinjuku station on day one. Over the three days we were in Tokyo we passed through Shinjuku many times, with varying degrees of success.  The station has 200 exits and over 3 million people can pass through in a day.

We got to our hotel and were really lucky we could check in immediately. After a tidy-up we headed out, wearing warm jackets – cooler than SE Asia.  It was nice just wandering around.

I had a list of restaurants to look out for, and we just happened to find one for our first Japanese meal.  There was a reasonable queue, but I managed to convince a slightly bleary eyed Andrew the line would move quickly – normally we NEVER play the line game.  And it did move fast (phew!) His little eyes certainly lit up when he took his first bite of the lightest, most tender ton-katsu (fried pork cutlet) with a sesame sauce he had hand ground himself. Katsukura, a Kyoto restaurant chain, is truly highly recommended!
Dinner was a random down-town Yakatori bar.  Nicely done, and a couple of beers – day one was a success

After a good sleep it was a day with a few goals.  In the morning we headed to the residential district of Nippori because I wanted some fabric.  This is the fabric district and I bought a number of pieces which we then carried around all day.  Andrew did well on the patience and so was allowed to choose the lunch spot.  He chose a burger joint and we ended up with a rice burger (rice patties not bread) filled with teriyaki beef, which was actually rather nice. 

The afternoon was heading to Asakusa and our first experience of loads and loads of tourists.  The district is full of character.  We visited the Senso-ji Buddhist temple which was teeming with people.

asakura 1
We even managed to master the metro system – which was great outside peak times.  At the rush hour end of the day it was an experience being packed in like sardines – a step up from any any experience in London!  The lack of telephone noise was also very noticeable - no one spoke and certainly no ringing or pinging sounds.

So far so good....