Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My faves (Japan)

Although there are still many parts of Japan where I have yet to visit (eg. Shikoku, Okinawa, most of Tohoku), but out of all those places where I've actually visited before, here are my list of favourites. 

I don't expect people to agree with this list, since this is simply my personal opinion just for sharing.

Coldest day:
Sounkyo onsen (Hokkaido) 
Temp: minus 20 degrees Celsius 
This was an extremely cold day during our visit to Hokkaido back in Feb 2012. 
It was about minus 17 degrees Celsius in the day, and minus 20 degrees Celsius at night. 
What made it even worse was that it was a very windy day as well (check out photo below taken during ice festival).
My husband went to an outdoor onsen (hotspring bath) at the hotel, and he said that within minutes, his wet hair became frozen.
You can see the wind in this photo. Everytime there's a gust of wind coming, people would turn to face the opposite direction so that the wind will hit their backs instead of faces.

Running at 2nd was our day at Nozawa onsen on Christmas eve back in 2012. 
(my blog entry)
Temp: minus 13 degrees Celcius
Our day at Asahikawa would have been a close tie for the 2nd place if not for the fact that I was walking around Nozawa onsen on this day with a hole in the sole of my shoe which got my socks wet. 
It felt like my feet were dipped in bucket of iced water during my walk around town on this day.
Nozawa onsen, on a snowy Christmas eve.

Favourite view:
Hakodate (Hokkaido)
(my blog entry)
This observation deck at Mt Hakodate has a great view of Hakodate. 
The view of Hakodate from Mt Hakodate was also listed as 1 of Japan's 3 best night views (along with Nagasaki's Mt Inasa, and Kobe's Mt Rokko).
View of Hakodate from Mt Hakodate.
Shirakawa-go (Gifu, Chubu)
Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO World Heritage site about 50mins by bus from Takayama.
The view from Shiroyama viewpoint has a lovely view of Ogimachi village in Shirakawa-go.
The view is even better in winter during the evening light-ups.
Tokyo Tower (Tokyo)
Some people prefer Tokyo Tower, whereas others prefer Tokyo Skytree. 
But for me, I would choose Tokyo Tower over Skytree...mainly because I grew up watching Japanese dramas, so I often see Tokyo Tower appearing in the dramas which made me wanting to go Tokyo and see a nice view of Tokyo Tower overlooking Tokyo city one day. 
So on my solo March 2013 trip, I went to the observatory deck at World Trade Centre building for a nice, unobstructed view of Tokyo Tower and spent 2hrs there, reading my ebook while waiting for sunset.

Favourite town:
For someone who likes photography, there is no shortage of photo opportunities in Kyoto. 
Red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine, bamboo grove at Arashiyama, scenic train ride at Arashiyama, red koyo at Kiyomizudera in autumn, and the list goes on, and on, and on...
red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine
Bamboo grove at Arashiyama
Scenic train ride at Arashiyama
Kiyomizudera during autumn

Yufuin (Kyushu)
This quaint little hotspring town in Kyushu is also 1 of my favourite towns in Japan.
It was a lovely stroll to Lake Kinrinko and there were many shops and cafes along the way which makes the stroll even more enjoyable.
Lake Kinrinko during winter.

Karuizawa (Nagano)
Although my visit to Karuizawa was pretty rushed, but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there during autumn. 
This town has a Europe feel to it since there are many western styled buildings around. 
This is probably the one place in Japan that I've visited where it doesn't feel like I'm actually in Japan. 
Kumoba-ike pond during autumn

Favourite onsen towns:
Yufuin (Kyushu)
(my blog entry)
As mentioned earlier in this post, Yufuin is 1 of my favourite place in Japan. 
Interesting shops and cafes, nice view of Mt Yufu, a lovely little town to stay overnight at if you happen to visit Kyushu.
View of Mt Yufu from our ryokan room at Yufuin.
I've visited Kinosaki onsen twice. Once in Nov 2013 when I'm on my solo trip, and again a few months later in Feb 2014 when I brought my hubby and my in-laws there for a visit.
Most foreign tourists skips Kinosaki onsen since it takes about 3hrs by train from Osaka and instead, they opted to visit nearby Arima onsen in Kobe instead, which is much nearer to Osaka. However, this place is popular with the local Japanese.
Kinosaki onsen is an old hotspring town with a nostalgic feel with many public hotspring bathhouses. 
During evenings, guests who are staying overnight at Kinosaki onsen will wear their yukatas (provided by the ryokans they are staying at) and wooden clogs and stroll around the town. 
In winter (which is also crab season for this area), you will find many shops selling crab cuisines.
Canal area at Kinosaki onsen

Favourite hotel/ryokan stays:

This is my favourite room throughout all my stays in Japan. 
And that's because the room is spacious, has a nice view of the ski slopes, and there's an en-suite hotspring bath tub in our room.
Our 1 night stay here cost us 26100yen (room only, without meals) on Christmas day 2012.
you can see the hot tub in this pic, somewhere near the coat hanger.
Our own hot tub in the room.
View from the room and hot tub.

Hotel Miyarikyu at Miyajima (Hiroshima)
(my blog entry)
Another memorable stay which we had was our 1 night stay at Miyajima. 
While most people who visits Miyajima would stay at Hiroshima instead of Miyajima, however we were glad to have stayed overnight at Miyajima. We were able to walk right up to the torii gate during both low tides (once at 7pm and then at 7am the following morning during our stay) when most day visitors would have already left the island and headed back for Hiroshima.
This room which we booked had a sea view, and we were also able to see the torii gate from our window as well.
Our 1 night stay here costs 32000yen (room + dinner served in the room + buffet breakfast)
Dinner served in our room.

The thing I liked most about this particular stay is the view from our hotel room.
Our 1 night stay costs 18900yen (room + breakfast) in Feb 2012.
The Tower hotel at Hoshino Resort
Living area in our room
our room
View from our room.

Favourite trains:

Twilight Express (overnight train between Sapporo to Osaka)
It was extremely difficult to book this train, since local Japanese would be able to start making reservations for this train long before foreign tourists like us arrive at Japan. Therefore, I consider us lucky to be able to succeed in making a reservation for this train after we arrived in Japan.
The entire journey from Sapporo to Osaka will take about 23hrs onboard the train, however, since we boarded from Toya station instead of Sapporo, so we spent about 21hrs onboard the train.
Even though I was using a 7days JR Pass, we still had to top up additional charges to pay for the express surcharge and private cabin charges.
We stayed at a Twin cabin, and paid 16320yen for the cabin (total for 2 pax), plus 3150yen (per person) for the express surcharge. If you are not using JR Pass, you will have to pay even more than that to also cover for the basic train fare.
It was worth it. Totally enjoyed the journey.
Twilight Express overnight train.
Our Twin cabin. 1 bed above, and the bottom 2 seats can be transformed into another bed.
Viewing gallery
Dining car.

This special themed train (seasonal) runs between Sapporo and Asahikawa.
Recently, they have done a renovation on this train so although this is still a Zoo-themed train, but it looks different from the photos shown here which I took during my trip in Feb 2012.

Tama (Cat) train (Wakayama)
This train runs from Wakayama station to Kishi station.  This train operator also operates 2 other themed trains along this train line. The Ichigo (Strawberry) train, and the Omocha (Toys) train.
But out of their 3 themed trains, i prefer their Tama train. 
It is at the last station (Kishi station) where the Cat stationmaster Tama-chan is stationed at.
1 thing to note though, this train doesn't operate every day, so if you want to catch this particular themed train, you'd have to go to their website and check operations schedule (click the link with the word "PC" and you will see a page with calender. Click on a particular date to see train timings. Blue timings for Cat train, Pink timings for strawberry train, Green timings for toy train. "和 歌 山" = Wakayama station, "貴 志" = Kishi station).

Tama the Cat Station Master at Kishi station.

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