Travel: Japan Trip 2012 (Day 13 – Tokyo, Roppongi, Odaiba)

Travel: Japan Trip 2012 (Day 13 – Tokyo, Roppongi, Odaiba)

See: Japan Trip 2012 itinerary and summary

Day 13: December 8

Tokyo was the home stretch of our trip! For our first morning, we travelled from Shinjuku station to Iidabashi station. From there we walked to Koishikawa Korakuen, which is apparently known as one of the oldest and best Japanese gardens in Tokyo. It is located right next to Tokyo Dome. In true Japanese fashion, it is an incredibly serene and beautiful Japanese garden, but if you look up all you can see are big city buildings. I was once again in autumn foliage heaven!

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We then travelled to Roppongi Hills. We visited Mori Tower, which features what might be my favourite observation deck in Tokyo. Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Sky Tree might be the obvious and more popular tourit destinations, I personally enjoy Mori Toiwer more because if you visit the open-air sky deck on the roof, there is no glass obstructing your view, plus you can get beautiful views of Tokyo city with the iconic Tokyo Tower! I highly recommend paying the extra to visit the sky deck if the weather is good. My mum was actually too scared so I went up to the roof alone.

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It was getting late so we went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch (of all the things to eat in Japan, haha!).

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Then we wandered around Roppongi Hills some more. Apart from the shops and restaurants, there’s also the TV Asahi HQ building and Mori Garden. I always find Roppongi Hills quite confusing to navigate, for some reason.

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After that, we travelled from Roppongi station to Shimbashi station via two Metro lines, and then took the Yurikamome to Daiba station. I love taking the Yurikamome to Odaiba because of the views you get travelling alongside Rainbow Bridge. Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay, and while I am less interested in the shopping and dining attractions, it offers wonderful views of Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge, plus there’s the iconic replica Statue of Liberty. I’ve visited Odaiba every single time I’ve been to Japan, and I mainly go for the views, typically arriving in the late afternoon and leaving when dark so as to enjoy day time and night time views.

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There are a lot of malls for shopping, dining and leisure. There’s also the iconic Fuji TV HQ building.

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For dinner, we chose a simple and very busy Omurice restaurant in one of the malls.

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Following dinner, it was now dark outside. We went back outside to enjoy views of Rainbow Bridge lit up. There were so many people it was difficult to get a good spot to take photos!

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Travel: Japan Trip 2016 Souvenir Haul

I visited Japan again at the start of the year, so this is… quite a delay. I brought back a ridiculous amount of things. T and I went with one check-in suitcase between us. We came back with that suitcase full of souvenirs and our clothes and personal items downgraded into two carry on bags. Don’t worry, half of it was presents for other people! Here’s most (but not all) of the stuff I brought back for myself.

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These snacks were all for me (although some extra quantities were given to others)… I know I can get some of these in Melbourne, but I just couldn’t help myself! I adore Japanese fruit liqueurs, and especially pineapple, so I couldn’t not bring back the Okinawa Pineapple Liqueur, since I only am able to get one brand in Melbourne. I tried those Tohato spicy potato chips. They were numbingly spicy (for me) and so crispy! They were so addictive even though they made my nose run like a tap, haha. The Tohato spicy potato rings available in Melbourne are no where near as good. I’ve loved the Green Tea Melty Kiss chocolates so much but hadn’t seen them for a few months in Melbourne prior to Japan, so wanted to bring one for myself. Of course, as soon I returned to Melbourne, the Asian grocers all stocked it again. Typical. The yuzu-mitsu (yuzu stick honey) was an unexpected purchase. We were in a quiet little store and the lady gave us some of this to drink. I don’t like honey, but the combination with yuzu was so fragrant and soothing. I thought it was something quite different and of course, I love yuzu! I’m obsessed with trying every single flavour of Hi-Chew and we ate a lot of Hi-Chew in Japan. These regional limited edition ones must’ve been new because I had not seen them before (but again, they became stocked in Melbourne on arriving back). I also love tasting all the different Pocky and Pretz. Unlike Hi-Chew, I don’t buy them all though because sometimes the flavours sound too weird for me. I couldn’t NOT get giant rainbow Pocky though! To be honest the giant series is a bit overwhelming and I prefer the smaller packs. I am more of a Pretz girl, because Pretz is usually savoury. I tried a few new ones while in Japan, but this Hiroshima “Strong Passion of Chicken” (haha) Pretz was so damn good, I picked up one to bring back the next time I saw it. I can’t believe I’m saying this but it might be my favourite flavour of all time! Lastly, another category of snack collecting/tasting-them-all is Japanese Kit Kats. It’s a hobby that T drives and it’s become a tradition that he surprises me with new ones every few months. I’m proud to say we’ve got (or eaten) almost all the Kit Kats in recent years. Strawberry Cheesecake is not a new flavour, but they redid the packaging and I convinced him we had to get it because of the new packaging!

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I’ve mentioned how obsessed I am with momiji (Japanese maple trees). Enough said.

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I’ve almost stopped buying toy-type and keyring sourvenirs. This tako (octopus) and takoyaki locked *by magnet) in a kiss is the most adorable thing ever! I’m not separating them because I want them forever smooching each other, thank you.

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I already have a set of solar-powered dancing maiko from a previous trip. But I’ve never seen a maneki-neko that sways side to side AND waves its arm. I was so enamoured (and bought three – two as gifts)!

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There’s quite a long story behind this. I had known I wanted to start my own Goshuin-chou a long time ago. I always expected I would just remember, but actually I completely forgot before the trip and well into the trip. By some chance, I happened to spot one from far away at Kinkaku-ji, and it all came crashing to me. To be honest, I was so overcome to receive my first goshuin that I had a few tears. Goshuin-chou (literally stamp seal book) is a book where you have priests or other temple/shrine officials write and stamp a goshuin seal stamp for you. This includes the temple/shrine name and date you visited. Each temple/shrine has its own unique stamp. The book folds out and each page is double sided. I think one book fits 48 goshuin in total (I need to double check this when I’m home) and I managed to almost finish my first book. I plan on writing about goshuin in the future since I’m so passionate about it. I’m disappointed I had not remembered in my first week, as there were many temples and shrines I missed out on!

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I realise I collect too many Japanese goods and spend way too much on them. I also collect Starbucks tumblers around Japan. I added quite substantially to my collection this trip. I never liked the Tokyo one, but it hasn’t changed since 2012 (when I passed on it) so I guess they don’t really change that frequently. I missed two from places we visited and I’m pretty gutted.

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This is probably the most ridiculous collection. Since my first trip, I have been buying these specific type of Hello Kitty towels from different places – picking the design that I feel best reflects the place. This time I realised that these towels must no longer be produced, and another style has taken its place. It’s only got Hello Kitty faces and the place name, which is so boring compared to these! So, anywhere I saw some, I would nab them. I probably only missed out in one city, which isn’t too bad. I’m glad I got the last in a few shops. I’m so sad that this means I probably won’t be able to continue this collection anymore. But my wallet is happy. A few of these are from previous trips and got mixed in, but I don’t remember which since I’ve visited numerous cities a few times.

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I don’t really like/drink sake and shochu. These were small regional variety sets from Hida and Kagoshima for my parents, which we recently started drinking together. I much prefer Japanese fruit sake/liqueurs.

Travel: Japan Trip 2012 (Day 12 – Matsumoto & travel to Tokyo)

Travel: Japan Trip 2012 (Day 12 – Matsumoto & travel to Tokyo)

See: Japan Trip 2012 itinerary and summary

Day 12: December 7

Last day of 7-day JR pass

We checked out of our Nagano hotel in the morning and left our luggage with the hotel. We stayed in Nagano not to see the city, but as it is a major city and transportation hub from where it would be easier to travel to Yamanouchi (yesterday) and Matsumoto. I choose to settle in these kind of cities because access to food and hotels is better and cheaper, and we can easily just leave our luggage and go on a day trip without lugging it around to a different city every night. Of course, given the opportunity I would have loved to see Nagano itself, but there are only so many days available for travelling…

We headed to Matsumoto for the afternoon because I wanted to see Matsumoto Castle, one of the most highly regarded original castles in Japan. I eventually want to see every single castle in Japan. From Nagano station, we took a limited express train to Matsumoto station. Limited express trains take just under an hour but regular trains will take over an hour. From Matsumoto station, it takes about 10-15 minutes to walk to Matsumoto Castle. The city streets are nice to walk through on the way to the castle.

The castle grounds of Matsumoto castle are really pretty and incredibly peaceful to walk around. Matsumoto castle is indeed beautiful, with its large moat and bright red bridge.

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We also went inside the castle. As with all castles, the floor is very cold in winter. The ceilings are low and the stairs are very steep and narrow. I really hate climbing up and down those stairs.

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After spending some time at Matsumoto Castle, it was time to head back to Nagano. We returned to the hotel, retrieved our luggage and headed on to Tokyo, the home stretch of our trip! Of course this was timed so all our longer distance journeys would fit in the 7-day JR pass. From Nagano station, we took a shinkansen to Oomiya station (Saitama), and transferred to a train for Shinjuku station. During the shinkansen ride, we experienced an earthquake. The shinkansen actually stopped (and we were profusely apologised to for the delay) and for the first time I witnessed Japanese passengers talking on their phones on public transport. The whole situation was very calm and I never felt very worried, though (different story for my mum). I know these things happen in Japan. I’m told that earthquakes need to be pretty serious for the shinkansen to stop. I don’t think there was severe damage or injury where the earthquake originated from (quite far away).

At Shinjuku station, we had some difficulty finding the appropriate exit to get to our hotel… as always. No surprises. I am used to this by now. We stayed at Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku. Luckily this is quite a major hotel and most train staff or officers on the roads would know it. It is about five minutes walk from Shinjuku station (if you exit from the correct side!). It is a large, modern hotel, with a lot of tourists. Hence it is quite English and Western-friendly in their service and amenities. We stayed in a simple and small room, which was clean but showed some times of age. I actually chose to return to this hotel during my most recent trip to Japan, so I think that says a lot about it. I find it the perfect hotel for Tokyo since I prefer to stay in Shinjuku, and the location, rooms (and amenities) and prices are exactly what I’m after. Because it is such a major hotel, airport shuttle buses will also stop here.

It was getting late so we walked down the street and decided to eat at a sushi train place. It was one of those fast and cheap sushi train places. My mum doesn’t really like this kind of sushi (like the actual Japanese kind, haha), but I enjoyed myself.

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Travel: Japan Trip 2012 (Day 11 – Yamanouchi Jigokudani Monkey Park – Snow Monkeys!)

Travel: Japan Trip 2012 (Day 11 – Yamanouchi Jigokudani Monkey Park – Snow Monkeys!)

See: Japan Trip 2012 itinerary and summary

Day 11: December 6

Sixth day of 7-day JR pass

I never ended up writing my travel journey from this day on, so everything is quite hazy.

Today was another big day! We left early in the morning, following instructions I had gotten from the staff the night before, taking the Nagaden train to Yudanaka station. From Yudanaka, I then took another bus to Kanbayashi-onsen, from where it is over half an hour walk into the forests of the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Buses on other lines will stop at Monkey Park bus stop, which is much closer. I had planned to take the Nagaden bus straight from Nagano to Kanbayashi-onsen, but when we looked it up, it was not running so hence had to take the two modes of transport. Please note the Kanbayashi-onsen bus stop is rather confusing. There is a stop A, B and C and depending on whether you arriving at or departing the park, it will be from a different bus stop. I recommend asking the friendly staff at Yudanaka station. Even if communication is difficult, they have plenty of English explanations and maps that make it very clear.

Once we got to the Kanbayashi-onsen bus stop, the walk through the forest (there was some snow) to the Jigokudani Monkey Park was straightforward and not at all tiring. There were very few people around although I’m not sure if that was because it was not yet peak winter season, or if people just don’t visit as much during the winter season – I suspect the former. The park/forest is famous as it is inhabited by wild Japanese Macaques, who enjoy bathing in the hot springs, and are now encouraged to do so for tourism. Nearby towns are also onsen (hot spring) towns. The major attraction is the man-made pool where all the monkeys gather and bathe in, or wander around (they are fed there). While they are nicknamed “snow monkeys”, they will bathe in the hot spring all year round although are encouraged with food to do so in warmer months. Personally, I think it would be most scenic during colder months and especially if there is a lot of snow. Yamanouchi does get a lot of snow as the climate is quite cold – the largest ski resort in Japan is in Yamanouchi.

This will mostly be picture heavy. I took hundreds in the hour I was there, while my fingers were basically freezing off. The monkeys are incredible, with such delicate and expressive features. It was fascinating watching them socialise and relax. Coming here was really a big one to tick off my bucket list. I highly recommend this day trip even though it is quite out of the way.

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My mum was freezing and I wouldn’t stop taking photos. Sorry, Mum! I’m pretty sure I was there longer than everyone else. The main attraction really is quite a small area. In the office area, there are a lot of photos of the monkeys that other people have taken. There are some epic ones.

We walked back to the bus stop. We met a girl travelling alone. I want to say she’s from the Netherlands, but I can’t be sure after so long. I was happy to be able to help her with some directions! The buses were infrequent, the area rural and very quiet. We barely saw anyone. I would be very worried to be lost there! We took the bus back to Yudanaka station, and then the train back to Nagano station. Back at Nagano, we headed back to our hotel and found a restaurant close by. We were sitting in our own private and enclosed little dining table area, and it was probably the best meal we had during the trip! It was a great find.

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Travel: Japan Trip 2012 (Day 10 – Kawaguchi-ko to Tokyo to Nagano)

Travel: Japan Trip 2012 (Day 10 – Kawaguchi-ko to Tokyo to Nagano)

See: Japan Trip 2012 itinerary and summary

Day 10: December 5

Fifth day of 7-day JR pass

Following on from the previous day where we weren’t able to get a clear view of Mt Fuji all day because of persisting clouds, I hadn’t expected much waking up on our last morning. We were checking out in the morning to head off to our next city.

I woke around 6:30am to have a peek outside. The skies (and our view) were beyond perfect.

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There were really no words to describe the feeling. We had come all that way, the stars had lined up for us, and we were treated to this beautiful view during our last few hours in Kawaguchiko. It was probably the happiest moment in Japan.

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After a long time of taking photos and admiring, we went back to sleep because it was still too early. When we woke properly, the sun had fully risen and it was the most glorious day with clear blue skies. I can’t not include another set of select photos in broad daylight…

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One thing I hadn’t touched upon was how everything is “Mt Fuji” themed in this area. For example, the complimentary bread we received from the hotel? Mt Fuji. The trains? Mt Fuji! (But I expect no less, because it’s Japan.) Fuji-san is the region’s pride and mascot, as it should be!

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After checking out of the hotel, we took the hotel shuttle to Kawaguchiko station. From there we took the bus all the way to Tokyo station (around two hours). At Tokyo station, we had some high drama.

We arrived around 11-12pm, and our shinkansen out from Tokyo station to Nagano station was at 3pm. The plan was to eat some lunch and have a look around the shops. My mum needed to use the restroom, and there was a sign for one on the lower floor, so I waited at the stairs with our luggage while she went downstairs. I waited over half an hour, worrying whether she had gotten lost or if there was just a ridiculous queue. The problem was once I left my post, we would both officially be lost and looking for each other. Finally I decided it had been long enough and it was time for me to look for her. The coin lockers weren’t far away so I stored our luggage away, and went down the same stairs. The restrooms were very close so I couldn’t imagine how she could have gotten lost. Nonetheless I decided she must have logically taken stairs to go back up to the floor we started on (she couldn’t have forgotten which floor we were on). I decided I just have to walk around on that floor. I mentioned previously about Japanese train stations, but to reiterate, major Japanese train stations are HUGE, often over several floors, and seem to be arranged something like a grid or labyrinth. There are countless exits and arcades. Now Tokyo station was newly renovated (completed just over a month prior) and it was a monstrously complicated station, probably one of the worst in Japan. I had absolutely no idea where I was walking. My only hope was that as long as we were on the same floor, we might eventually bump into each other. I literally had no choice as there was no other way of contacting her. Surprisingly I wasn’t panicked yet, just walking around and keeping my eyes wide open. I planned to continue aimlessly like this, hoping for a miracle, before resorting to figuring out how to get the train station to put out an announcement for me.

Actually after about half an hour, somehow my ears picked up my name over the announcement system. This was already kind of remarkable as I wasn’t paying attention to the Japanese but somehow caught my poorly pronounced name. I guess there’s something about name recognition! Unfortunately I didn’t hear the announcement at all. I went to a gate staff and tried to explain that I had lost my mother and had heard my name over the PA system but needed to know what it said. He called someone (I guess wherever the announcements come from) and got a location. He got a map and circled the JR East Travel Service Centre. Despite holding a map, I still had trouble finding it and needed more help along the way. Eventually, I arrived, all flustered, at the centre… BUT WHERE WAS MY MUM?!

I was telling the staff that I thought my mum would be here and that I had lost her. When they realised I was “the daughter”, they got excited, telling me they had taken my mum to the other building where the bus stops were (probably since we arrived by bus they would try to find me there). The staff contacted their staff to bring her back while I waited. In the mean time I explained how we had gotten separated. I also confirmed out shinkansen was at 3pm, and they were relieved because my mum had told them it was 2pm (it was already 1:30pm) and they had been most worried about that (haha!). Then my mum arrived and we were reunited!!! I think you can imagine how incredibly relieved we were. We thanked everyone profusely and left to retrieve our luggage. My mum explained how difficult it had been communicating to anyone in English and how long it had taken for someone to vaguely understand that she had lost someone and they eventually dropped her at the JR East Travel Service Centre. The staff actually assured her that since the newly renovated Tokyo station had opened, heaps and heaps of Japanese people were also getting lost every day and ending up there! I was proud of my mum for holding it together and figuring out a way!!!

We ended up grabbing some conbini food, found our way to the shinkansen platforms and just waited for our shinkansen. We didn’t feel like trying to tackle the labyrinth of Tokyo station anymore. The shinkansen to Nagano station took around 1.5 hours. At Nagano station, as always we spent some time trying to figure out which exit to take for our hotel. A kind man noticed our struggles, knew our hotel and pointed to and exit and that it was straight down the road (and visible).

In Nagano, we stayed at Hotel Sunroute Nagano. I’ve stayed at many hotels in the “Sunroute” franchise. This hotel is located on the main road that leads from Nagano station and only about a couple of minutes by foot (the majority probably just crossing the road), so it is super convenient. It’s not it’s own building, but occupies the upper floors of a small building. The room was very standard for Japanese business hotels, incredibly compact and simple, but efficient and very clean. I really liked this hotel.

It was already night time, and we were so beat from a day of travelling (and the drama) plus we would be getting up really early the next day, so we just went downstairs and ate in the first restaurant. We both ate doria (Japanese rice gratin).

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Returning to the hotel, I spent some time getting help from the staff with some transportation queries for the next day (the lady was incredibly helpful, printing out maps and timetables and double checking dates when things were/weren’t running)…