Category Archives: Uncategorized

Smokehouse BBQ- Shibuya

Smokehouse in Shibuya claims to be Tokyo’s first authentic BBQ restaurant. My husband and I recently visited on a date night and enjoyed the atmosphere and the food! They also offer a craft beer selection from T.Y. Harbor Brewery. We started with the smoked devil eggs which were delicious. For our main course, I had a hamburger and my husband had the Combo 4 meat platter with corn bread. We both really enjoyed our meals and I’d love to go back and try some of the other offerings on the menu. You can view the full dinner menu, in English, on their web-site. You can also link to their on-line reservations page. The restaurant is located on the 2nd floor above The Roastery, which looked like a great spot to grab a coffee. We walked to Smokehouse from Baird Beer in Harajuku. The restaurant is off of Cat Street which is a hip and pedestrian friendly shopping street. It was a great date night to celebrate my husband’s birthday with brews and meat! – Angela Vaillant, March 2019

Web-site: https://www.tysons.jp/smokehouse/en/

Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30am-10:00pm, Sundays/Holidays: 11:30am-9:00pm

Baird Beer Taproom

Baird Beer Taproom is a great spot in Harajuku to grab a beer. A short walk from Harajuku Station, it is located off the popular Takeshita Street where you can also find unique shops and giant cotton candy. This Japanese style pub has a a large selection of beers on tap and a food menu as well. We tried a sampler of beers and only had the pickled vegetables since we were heading to dinner at Smokehouse after. You can sample 3 beers for Y1100. They have 12 beers that are available year round and a seasonal beer menu. We enjoyed all the beers we tried. The bar is small with some seating on either side. We arrived around 3:30pm on a Saturday and had no problem getting a spot by the bar. The place was full by 5:00pm when we left so arrive early if you plan to go on the weekend. – Angela Vaillant, March 2019

Hours: Weekdays: 5:00pm-Midnight, Sat-Sun-holidays: Noon-Midnight

Web-site: https://bairdbeer.com/taprooms/harajuku/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/harajukutaproom/


Commune 2nd

Need a meeting spot in Tokyo or just a place to grab a drink and a snack?  Commune 2nd is an open air “restaurant” surrounded by beer and food trucks.  You can walk in and grab a seat at one of the long tables or on a small bench with table for 2.  It was a rainy night when my husband and I checked it out so we sat in the tent area under cover.  We only tried some Gyoza but there were many other food options including ribbon fries.  There were more seating options outside so I’d definitely go back on a nicer night.  The night we went they also had a DJ,  a wine tasting vendor, and an artist painting foxes on a large canvas.  Visit their facebook page to see what is coming up as far as events.  If you plan to go, go early, as they close at 10:00 pm.  Take the train to Ometesando Station, take the A3 exit and its about a 10 minute walk from there to Commune 2nd.  It was only a 15 minute walk to our dinner reservation in Shibuya (Trunk Kitchen) and a similar distance to Harajuku (Baird Beer), so you can easily walk to some other cool spots from here.  – Angela Vaillant, January 2019

Hours: Daily 11:00am-10:00pm

Web-site: http://commune2nd.com/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/commune2nd/

Legoland Japan Resort

My family of 4 recently visited Legoland Japan Resort in Nagoya.  It was about a 4 hour drive from base and approximately Y4000 in tolls each way.  We visited to celebrate my son’s 6th birthday and it was perfect for his age.  Our 9 year old son also enjoyed the trip.  We booked a single overnight package to include a themed room, 2 day entry into Legoland park, 1 dinner, 1 breakfast, and one single entry into SeaLife Nagoya which is also on site.  The cost was Y72,600 for everything.  Legoland Japan opened in April 2017 and SeaLife Nagoya opened in April 2018 so everything is new and as clean as you would expect from any Japan park.  Legoland has 7 different themed lands to include Factory, Bricktopia, Adventure, Knight’s Kingdom, Pirate Shores, Miniland, and Lego City.  The adults’ favorite was Miniland with Lego displays of iconic places in Japan such as Mt. Fuji, Shibuya Crossing, and Tokyo Station.  The boys favorite was probably Knight’s Kingdom because that is where the largest roller coaster was located.  We all really enjoyed the Submarine Adventure ride as it took you underwater with real fish and sharks.  The majority of rides are designed for younger kids but my 9 year old had fun with most.  There are also multiple Lego building areas throughout the park to take a break from the rides.  The park food was decent and not too pricey.  They have their own popcorn buckets, and you can choose Salt or Caramel flavors.

After our first full day at the park we grabbed our bags and checked out our Ninjago themed room.  Other themes you could choose were Pirate, Kingdom, Adventure, and Lego Friends.  The room we chose had a queen bed and a bunk bed for the kids.  The TV on the kids side of the room played all Lego shows and movies, and one station was in English.  The hotel restaurant food was buffet style.  There was a play area for the kids next to the restaurant as well as a bar. Upon check in, we also signed up for the group birthday party held each night.  This was free, and our son received a Lego gift and photo opp with the LegoLand character.  It was all in Japanese, but he was able to play along.

We went Sunday-Monday and found that Sunday was much less busy with short wait times for the rides.  Monday was much busier, and we had double to triple the wait time for rides.  We took a break on Monday from waiting and visited the SeaLife Nagoya Aquarium.  It was small but the boys enjoyed seeing sharks and coloring fish on a computer screen that swam out on a big screen at the end.

I highly recommend a visit to this park if you or your kids love Legos.  It was definitely worth the travel time and cost! – Angela Vaillant, January 2019

Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat/Sun 10am-6pm (check their web-site calendar for closures and time changes for peak season/off season/holidays)

Parking:  There is one parking garage for the park and hotel.  Parking fee was not included in overnight stay.  We paid Y2500 for an overnight stay.

Web-sites:  Legoland Park  – https://www.legoland.jp/en/, Legoland Hotel – https://www.legoland.jp/en/legoland-hotel/hotel/

Oslo Brewing Co. Shibuya

Oslo Brewing Co. in Shibuya is a Japanese Beer Bar dedicated to Scandinavian culture according to their web-site.  About a 10 min walk from Shibuya Station Oslo Brewing Co. is down a small street that will feel like you are walking down an alleyway.  I’ve stopped in twice to grab a craft beer but you can also order a few light food options from their menu.  On my second visit they had a food truck outside with Mexican food options.  They offer 20 different draft beer selections from Japan and Scandinavia.  They also have their own beer available in bottles.  I tried the Norwegian Blonde and enjoyed it.  The beers are a bit pricy with most 12oz pours costing Y900-Y1500.  You can also get a smaller pour for less.  Inside the bar has a chill vibe, playing eclectic music.  You can choose to sit at the bar, a table, or a bench with pillows and small tables.  They also have outdoor seating available.  Stop in and check it out the next time you are in Shibuya!  – Angela Vaillant, November 2018

Hours: Sun-Tue 12pm-12am, Wed/Thurs 12am-1am, Fri 12am-2am, Sat 12pm-2am

Web-site: http://www.oltokyo.jp/

Phone number: 03-5738-7186

1/4 Karot – Hamura

I recently organized a lunch for the The Yokota Spouses’ Club Lunch Bunch group.  1/4 Karot in Hamura is a restaurant I had heard about but not yet tried so I thought this was a great chance to check it out.  They seemed to have an active Facebook page so I inquired on Facebook Messenger about making a reservation.  They responded within a day and we set up a day and time.  We weren’t sure how many would attend yet but they told me to just give them a final number by the day before.  The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and is a short 5-7 minute drive out the Fussa or Terminal gates.  They have 3 assigned parking spots just behind the restaurant.  The lunch menu included 5 meal set options ranging in price from Y800-Y1200.  Everyone raved about the mini vegetable soup and side salad.  Between the eight ladies that attended, we tried 4 different meal options.  Everyone was surprised how large the lunch portions were!  We all really enjoyed our meals and agreed we would come back again.  The restaurant is small so I would recommend making a reservation.  They also have a small bar with seating.  The dinner menu had many more food options so I look forward to going back! – Angela Vaillant, November 2018

Hours: Daily 11:3oam-2:30pm and 6:00pm-12:00am – Closed Wednesdays

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/14karat-120365548667443/

Web-site: http://q-karat.com/

Phone Number: 042-579-2347

Arrabbiata

Mushroom and Anchovy Genovese

Carbonara

Beef Curry Rice

Shibuya Cheese Stand

If you love cheese, then Shibuya Cheese Stand is a must visit spot for lunch or dinner.  I recently stopped in for a solo lunch since a friend had told me how good it was.  I trained from Akishima station to Shibuya station (Hachiko exit) and walked about 15 minutes using google maps to the restaurant.  I arrived right before opening and stood in a short line.  They opened 15 minutes late after the cheese arrived on a refrigerator bike.  At least you know it is fresh!  I decided to order one of the cheese plates (fresh tomato, Burrata, oregano, and dill) and the mozzarella, tomato, basil and arugula sandwich.  It was a little more than I could eat alone but I wanted to try at least two cheeses.  The cheese plate was beautiful with a Buratta cheese bow.  The majority of the Burrata was super soft but the bow was a little firmer.  The tomatoes were really fresh and paired well with the the oil and herbs.  I also really enjoyed the sandwich.  The cheese plate was a little pricey at ¥1680 but the sandwich was only ¥500.  The lunch menu also included pizza and dessert. Bring yen as they did not take credit card.  Definitely a spot I will recommend to friends!  – Angela Vaillant, October 2018

Hours:  Tuesday-Saturday 11:30am-11:00pm, Sunday 11:30am-10:00pm, Closed Mondays

Web-site: http://cheese-stand.com/

3.14 Italian Restaurant – Fussa

I recently visited 3.14 Italian Restaurant in Fussa for lunch and dinner.  The restaurant is a short walk from the Seiyu Department Store if you have shopping to do and can get your parking validated.  There are also paid parking lots nearby.  My first visit was for lunch with a friend.  We did not have a reservation but after some google translating we were sat inside the smaller area of the restaurant with just a few small tables near the kitchen.  The menu was in Japanese so we went with the safe lunch set of margherita pizza.  It was only 1100 yen and came with a small salad and a drink.  This was probably my favorite margherita pizza I have had locally, and I’ve tried a lot.  Later in the week we had a last minute couples date night to say goodbye to friends.  We called just 30 minutes ahead for a table for 6 on a Saturday night and were able to get in.  We were seated in the larger dining room this visit.  The dinner menu was much more extensive and many of the options were more family style so we were able to share and sample each others dishes.  The waiter spoke some English and informed us the food would come out at different time intervals which was fine since we were able to share most dishes.  We started with a caprese salad, bruschetta (we never figured out what it was called on the menu but pointed to the table next to us) and a very large salad.  We sampled entree’s of spaghetti and linguine with crab, parmesan risotto and a few other Italian dishes.  We finished the night off with a giant slice of chocolate cake and tiramisu.  All of the food was delicious and reasonably priced and we would definitely go back again!  – Angela Vaillant, July 2018

Phone number – 047-530-0815

Hours – Lunch 11:00am-3:00pm, last order at 2:30pm,                                              Dinner 6:00pm-10:30pm, last order at 10:00pm.

Facebook –  3.14 Italian Restaurant

Tempranillo Tapas & Wines – Tachikawa

My husband and I recently tried out a Spanish Tapas restaurant in Tachikawa called Tempranillo Tapas & Wines.  We called for a reservation about 5 days out and had no problem booking a table for two.  They did let us know it was a special night with Flamenco dancers and a set menu.  The restaurant has recently re-located to a red brick building a short walk from Tachikawa station, in the basement (level B1 off the elevator.)  We were the first to arrive and the owner greeted us and again let us know that is was Flamenco night and the set up of seats was different from a normal night.  They started us with 2 glasses of champagne, prosciutto, and a Spanish tapas platter.  Little did I know the pig leg was sitting nearby on the bar being shaved for the dish.  We were also served mussels before the main dish of Paella came out.  The performance started at 7:30 and food service seemed to stop for about 45 minutes.  We were at a distance from the show but Jose asked us if we wanted to move closer at the end of the bar for the second set.  We moved and shared a bottle of wine finished off with a dessert of churros covered in chocolate sauce.  We really enjoyed the food and Flamenco performance!  The second set finished by 9:30 and we were full and happy.  We asked Jose how often they do Flamenco night and he said it happens once a month.  The set menu price was 5500-6000 yen per person.  The regular tapas menu has a lot of variety and we look forward to going back to try more dishes.  You can check their website for upcoming events.  If you are looking to escape your typical Japanese experience, this is the place!  Jose gave us his card which includes his restaurant philosophy….”We are real people, we make mistakes, we say sorry, we give second chances, we have funny moments, we give hugs, we ask forgiveness, we make noise, we are patient and grateful, and especially we love each other and we love you a lot.” – Angela Vaillant, July 2018

Web-site: http://tempranillo-tachikawa.com

Phone: 042-524-3913

Hours: Mon-Sat 5:00pm-11:30pm, closed Sundays

Canyons – Canyoning at Minakami

If you want a one of a kind of adventure while living in Japan, try canyoning with Canyons Adventure Tours.  My husband talked me into doing a trip to Canyons, Minakami with Yokota Outdoor Recreation for my birthday in July.  It was about a 2 hour bus ride from base.  The first canyoning tours in Japan were started by Canyons in Minakami in 1988 and it has grown into one of the biggest canyoning destinations in the world.  The season typically runs from late April to late October depending on the water flow in the canyons.  The water can be cool but they provide wet suits and all the proper gear you will need.  You can also sign up for a tour using their web-site.  They have many English speaking guides.  We had 3 on our tour and one Japanese guide for the Japanese couple that joined us.  Everything was very well organized, instructions were thorough, and the guides were very attentive to questions and concerns.  We did the Fox Canyon trip which was a half day, approximately 3 hour tour.  From the main Canyons base you take a short bus ride to the start.  One of the guides will take photos the entire trip that you can access after the tour for free.  They also take videos but they were un-savable from their site.  I personally was challenged by parts of the Canyon but my husband thought the entire trip was a blast.  I had a moment of being sucked under a waterfall where they had to pull me out and push me to the other side but I survived to tell about it.  I would definitely recommend this trip for any thrill seekers wanting a challenge.  You cannot be pregnant or have any heart conditions and will sign a waiver before starting.  After the tour was complete they brought us back to the Canyons office for a snack.  You could purchase beer and additional food also at their snack bar.  Canyons also offers White Water rafting tours and you can do a combo trip if you want to make a day of it.  They also offer tours at an Okutama location.  – Angela Vaillant, May 2018

Website: https://canyons.jp/en/
Hours: office is open 8:00am-5:00pm daily

E-mail: info@canyons.jp
PHONE: 0278-72-2811

 

Goo Italiano – Shibuya

While getting my hair done in Shibuya, my hairdresser recommended a nearby Italian restaurant for lunch after.  Goo Italiano is a cute little Italian restaurant on a corner not far from Shibuya crossing.  I have been twice now for lunch and enjoyed their Paccheri Tomato Sauce dish on both visits.  Their sets range for 1000yen to 1500yen for lunch and include focaccia bread, salad, pasta choice and a drink.  Their iced peach tea is worth a try!    My husband also enjoyed the pasta of the day special.  Their dinner menu has a lot more variety and includes family style meals.  The dinner grand menu includes pizzas, pastas, salads, lasagna, and Italian appetizers.  They also offer carry out.  – Angela Vaillant, April 2018

Website: http://www.take-5.co.jp/goo-italiano/shibuya/
HOURS: Weekdays 11:30am-3pm, 5pm-12am and Weekends 11:30am-12am
PHONE: 03-6418-8300

Hakone Venetian Glass Museum

Last August my family of 4 visited the Hakone Venetian Glass Museum. My husband found this place on Google maps and knew I was missing Europe’s charms during a particularly wet August here and wanted to give me a piece of Tuscany!  We escaped the rains of Yokota one Saturday and enjoyed beautiful sunshine in Hakone where we visited several museums and the infamous ropeway.  I am writing just about this museum, lesser known among Americans, though the entire Hakone area is beautiful and definitely deserves much exploring! This complex consists of a garden, Venetian glass museum, modern glass museum, cafe, gallery shop, and glass experience studio.

The beautiful spring through fall blooming garden features paved walks lined with many statues and sculptural elements – both glass and other elements.  When we visited mid August, some late blooming blue hydrangeas were still hanging on to life.  There are also rose features, a Christmas feature, a mountain of glass leaves and Autumn foliage feature as well as a permanent light corridor and outdoor gigantic hanging crystal glass twinkling and glittering in the sunlight. I loved the glass sculptural elements playing off the sun, combined with the natural flowers and water features to create fantastic photos! We spent our time walking through every inch of the gardens looking for hidden surprises in each nook and cranny.

The museum buildings housed Japan’s only collection of Venetian glass – both from ancient times, through the Renaissance period, up until modern times. The exhibition was very nice and somewhat extensive but I felt just a bit underwhelmed having toured Venice, Murano and Burano, Italy glass factories just 4 years ago. In the small rotunda of one of the museum buildings there was an area roped off where, several scheduled times a day, 3-4 talented Italian men would play the filled water glasses in a 30 minute concert – featuring a famous Japanese song, a classical music repertoire, and even a Disney favorite! It’s much more than Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde”! The glass concert alone made the visit to the museum worth the trip!

The cafe was gorgeously situated on the manmade link with outdoor covered seating overlooking a panoramic view of the lovely gardens.  There was also an Italian music show featuring piano and singers.  Unfortunately, this is where the similarities to Italy ended as the small menu only offered one Italian dish!! I have to tell you the quality was bellisimo, though the portion size was rather small! The rest were Japanese curry and beef stew and, I believe hamburger. However, looking at the website as I write this, they seem to have amended their menu and now offer only 1 seasonally changing Italian selection along with a variety of teas, coffee and pastries!

The glass experience studio we walked by and didn’t partake as we have done glass blowing before in Europe and didn’t want to spend the money and wait in line for a turn.  They have a special Venetian mask creation studio right now for those visiting in the winter of 2018!  The price for creating your own work of art is on the webpage as varies based on what you create but is not included in the museum visitation price but an additional charge. – Julie O’Leary, March 2018

Web-site:  http://www.hakone-garasunomori.jp/entrance/english/

Oriental Bazaar Harajuku

This Harajuku area Bazaar souvenir and all things authentic Japan is worth taking your guests to for a great selection of souvenirs and Japanese mementos if they are not visiting during base Bazaar weekends!  It is located on the very glamorous and wide Ometesando shopping street parallel to the Takeshita street, sharing the sidewalk with the likes of high end retailers Mikimoto, Rolex, and the like.  However, the prices here in this 3 story Bazaar on mostly new merchandise, though they do offer some used vintage kimono, obi, accessories  are not glitzy at all and are actually very affordable. They also offer tax free for foreigners with passport at checkout. Everything, including custom wood cut panels, new and vintage kokeshi dolls, pottery, weapons & new and used kimono, yukata and obi are to be had here! – Julie O’Leary, March 2018

 

 

Keio-Mogusaen Garden – Plum & Wisteria Blossoms

This lovely, private, flowering tree and floral garden is atop a very steep hill not too far from Takahato Fudo temple in the Tokyo -Hino area.  It is an inexpensive 40 min drive from Yokota and not to be missed if you are a flower lover like me! In late February through early March they have a plum blossom festival which just means the private garden is open to all visitors with a small charge of 300¥ for adults and 100¥ for children, when the trees are blooming in all their pink, white, and yellow glory!  The garden features 500 plum trees in 50 varieties!

We visited on a late Saturday afternoon, Feb 24, 2018 and it was only slightly busy.  Besides the stalwart walkers, there were several groups arriving by taxi up the steep hill coming from nearby Mogusaen station.  It’s 1/4 mile up a 20% grade slope to give you an idea of the steepness for those with elderly or mobility impaired visitors.  The gardens were absolutely gorgeous! There were some flowering plum trees that I’d never seen before! There was one field even featuring small yellow and white daffodils in full bloom as far as the eye could see! I am a flowering bulb enthusiast and seeing daffodils in February made my heart happy!
 
Even my teenage sons agreed it was a beautiful place.  There are many beautiful uneven stone stair steps as well as some gravelly inclines leading up to the top past the restaurant where in nice weather you can barbecue and several 30 minute walking trails leading through the garden. At the summit are nice views of Tokyo! Lots of climbing and exercise for energetic kids as well as a man-made tree lined, koi – filled pond with traditional Japanese building housing an art exhibition.  I’m not sure strollers could visit all the trails and do the steps leading up to the cashier at the entrance without difficulty.  A better bet might be a carrier for babies.  We will definitely visit again during their wisteria festival and I will report on this garden again!  – Julie O’Leary, March 2018

 

Unfortunately I could only find a Japanese language webpage but the photos and map on one of the page links were helpful.

Here is the pinned location (actually of the BBQ garden restaurant 200 or so meters straight up many stone stairs from the cashier booth at the entrance to the gardens) on Google Maps:

There is NO parking at the gardens but if you’re lucky you can find places along the street going up to the gardens or in pay parking lots at the bottom of the hill.  Note: It is about a 5 minute steep walk up a paved hill to the gardens from parking. Below is information from their website’s lavender link and it’s in English!
  • Traffic Get off at Keioi Jusugyoen Station 10 minutes on foot or 10 minutes by taxi from Sacred Sakuragaoka Station · Takahata Fudo Station.
    There is a steep slope partway from Hakusakuen Station to this garden.
  • Address Hinohikusa 560, Hino City, 191-0033
  • Telephone number phone042 (591) 3478
  • Closed holiday Wednesday
    (in the case of a holiday, next day, New
    Year ‘s holiday from 30th December to 3rd January※ It is closed every
    day during the event period
  • Opening Hours 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
    (November and December until 4:30 pm)
    Entrance fee Adult / 300 yen Child / 100 yen

Kyoto Fire Ramen Restaurant

After a full day of sightseeing in Kyoto, our 5 and 8 year old boys were beat and ready to eat.  My husband had read about a unique restaurant called Kyoto Fire Ramen so we decided to check it out.  Upon arrival they were full so we checked in on a computer and waited outside in the cold with some others for the tables to open up.  Luckily it was only about a 20 minute wait before we were allowed in.  We sat up to a bar where we were given full body bibs.  They took my phone and hung it behind the bar to record our fire ramen experience.  The owner spoke very good English and chatted with us a bit before the official start of the cooking process.  It was fun to watch how the ramen was made.  Once they sit the ramen in front of you, they go down the line of the bar setting them on fire.  My 5 year old was increasingly concerned as the fire got closer and closer to him.  He cried but recovered quickly and ate all his ramen.  It was probably one of my favorite ramens I have had in Japan, and the whole family agreed!  The owner also made everyone take a funny photo eating the ramen.  When we left there was an even longer line of people waiting so I would recommend getting there early.  We arrived at 5:00pm.  They allow approximately 3o minutes for you to complete your meal.  If we ever make it back to Kyoto, we’d definitely visit this restaurant again! – Angela Vaillant, March 2018

Check out the web-site for more info on how the ramen is made and pricing.  Set prices range from ¥1480-¥2150. They also want children to be at least 110cm tall.  http://www.fireramen.com/home/index.html

Open daily – 11:30am-11:00pm (no reservations)

 

J.S. Foodies – Tachikawa

If you are looking for a good burger, check out J.S. Foodies in the LaLaport Mall in Tachikawa.  My husband and I stopped into the mall after doing some shopping at nearby IKEA.  We weren’t in the mood for Japanese cuisine so I suggested we get a burger at J.S. Foodies.  I had already visited the restaurant twice for lunch and I thought my husband would enjoy it.  He ordered the bacon cheeseburger, and I had the Maple Butter BLT.  Both meals came with a side of fries which were some of my favorite I have had in Japan.  The burger and sandwich were really good so it’s definitely worth checking out if you looking for more of an American style burger or sandwich.  My husband compared it to a Moose Hills Burger, which is another burger joint near Mt. Fuji we have tried.  At lunch you can get a set that includes a salad.  Burgers and sandwiches are around ¥1000 and they also have kids sets.  If you are craving something sweet, they have waffles (with fruit or fried chicken) on the menu.  The Mall is an easy 15-20 minute drive out the East gate, but you can also access it from the Monorail.   Angela Vaillant – January 2018

Location – Lalaport Tachikawa Shopping Mall – 2nd level (2F on mall map)

Website: http://foodies.journal-standard.jp/
HOURS: Daily 10:00am-9:00pm
PHONE: 042-540-6276

Goshuin – Shrine Stamp Collecting

A wonderful souvenir from Japan is your very own book of Shrine Stamps or Goshuin. Called Goshuincho, your stamp book can be stamped at most shrines and temples throughout Japan. Buy a book at any shrine where offered for around 1000-1500 yen. Shine books are available at some souvenir stores as well but if you buy from shrines they will likely feature a design unique to the shrine or local area. Find the Goshuin area of the shrine/temple and the monks will stamp and sign in calligraphy the name of the shrine and date usually for 300 yen (for each stamp in your book).

Goshuin used to be a way for pilgrims to show proof of their visits to shrines but they have gained popularity among young people and tourists. Please be aware that monks see these as religious symbols/objects so extra writing or other souvenir type of stamps included in the book may be seen as insult or defacement.

If you forget your book, you can ask for a loose paper stamp and glue it in your book later. Shrines usually have a stack available for this purpose.

Blog posts to read more about goshuin:

https://www.thewanderingsuitcase.com/collecting-goshuin-as-a-souvenir/

http://www.kyotoursjapan.com/goshuin/

https://www.japanhoppers.com/en/features/temples_shrines/320/

Stamp collecting can become addicting and the shrines feed into it by offering special stamps and colors for different holidays. Instagrams to follow for shrine stamps and special stamp happenings:

cinzano_limetto
chille0229
mikko0718
holakanappe
or search #goshuin

It’s a fun way to track your time in Japan and the places you visit along the way.  Jennifer McCarthy – January 2018

 

 

Sayama Ski Hill

The indoor ski hill at Sayama at the Seibu Dome is a uniquely Japanese place to learn to ski or snowboard before you hit the big time at a real resort.  A short and scenic 20 minute drive from the base gets you to the Seibu Dome. Most of the signage is in Japanese, but I’ve been fine just mumbling and pointing (as usual) to the very friendly and accommodating staff.  The best part is that kids under 13 are free.  When you arrive, purchase a lift-ticket at the counter and enter through the booth.  If you plan to go a few times, the 500 Yen membership card is worth it as Thursdays are “Guys night” for members. The lifts are one-person at a time and easy enough to navigate for kids.  For the first time, you can walk up the hill slightly to let your kids try it out before getting on the lift.  At the bottom of the hill is a nice sitting area with hot food and drinks available (my favorite part). I’m not sure about coming in as a non-skiing observer, but there is at least one bench on the outside. *Note, if you are considering teaching your kids to ski/board, think twice about whether you really need to do it yet. I’ve seen some dads/kids up there looking pretty miserable (including myself). Also, it means a few years of bunny slopes only.  A day at Sayama helps you figure it all out for less.  Good luck!  Zeke Lyons – December 2017

Open from late October until April

Lift tickets starting at 3100 Yen for four hours (Guy’s night on Thursday for 2000 Yen)

Parking: 1200 Yen

Lockers: 500 Yen (you can change in the parking lot and skip the lockers – you can also leave a bag at the bottom of the slope)

Rentals available, including clothing. At least one English-speaking instructor is available for lessons. 

http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/kids/sayama.html

4 day family weekend in the Japanese Alps – Nagano, Matsumoto, Hirayu

We did this trip over Fourth of July weekend with two boys ages 4 and 6; I think it would work nearly year-round as a chance to see a nice circle of sites from Nagano, Matsumoto and up to the Japanese Alps as a 3 or 4 day weekend.  On Friday, we took off for the 3-hour drive to Nagano (approx $25 dollars in tolls or so) where we checked into the no-frills-but-well-located business hotel Chisun Grand Nagano (cheap parking). Nagano itself is not a city of sites but we enjoyed seeing the huge walls of sake barrels lit up at night outside of the Shinshu Nagoya Sakaba.  This izakaya was completely empty when we stopped by for dinner, but it was one of those places that was “sorry, fully reserved.” In the morning, we checked out and headed to see the pretty grounds of the Zenko-Ji temple and it’s pitch-black-slighty-scary underground passage to the “Key to Salvation” (it’s worth the extra 500 yen). After the Zenko, we drove about 30 minutes to the dinosaur statues and a nice walk through Chausuyamakyoryu Park (free or cheap parking and entry). From there it’s another hour drive to Matsumoto’s castle where we went inside and climbed up to the top for a great view.  After Matsumoto’s castle we drove another hour into the mountains up a crazy curvy road to our Japanese Inn at Hirayunomori (English available at www.hirayunomori.co.jp).  We loved this place!  Couples can opt for rooms in the inn but as a family we settled comfortably into one of the large two-story cabins in the forest just a few steps from the rest of the inn and it’s outstanding indoor/outdoor onsen.  The eight different pools on each side ranged from warm to hot and even our 4 year old was happy in a couple of them. This was our first Japanese Inn experience and our only mistake was wrapping our yukata like a dead person (should be left over right, I think).  Most of the time, we had the pools to ourselves . We did not try the restaurant, but we did bring a lot of our own food for cooking in our cabin – plus some beach chairs (American-style!) so we had somewhere to sit in our room.  The next morning, we walked down the street to the bus station to catch a short 25-minute bus to Kamikochi – the Alpine Japan hiking base accessible only by bus.  We did a short circular walk up and across the famous lookout at Kappa-bashi and back.  This would be another great overnight stay and as an afficinado of alpine lodges I had to check out the Kamikochi Imperial Hotel, but it was less impressive than I thought.  A short bus ride back and we were in our pools at Hirayunomori.  If we had more time we would have loved to go to the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway or (gasp) tried mixed bathing at Shin-Hotaka-no-yu. This was our first trip up into the mountains and I highly recommend this weekend trip.  During Fourth of July it was perfect: we were bathing in 50s and 60s degree weather but reading about Yokota really heating up – so we enjoyed the mountain cool. There is also a ski hill right around the corner from Hirayunomori!  Happy travels!   Zeke Lyons – December 2017

Shinshu Nagaya Sakaba

Zenko-Ji Temple

Dinosaur Park

Matsumoto’s Castle

Hirayunomori Cabin

Yukata’s at the Inn

Kamikochi

Honke Bankyu Onsen

Honke Bankyu is a remote, traditional ryokan located approximately 1 hour north of Nikko.  They have fabulous accommodations, unbelievable kaiseki dinners and breakfasts, and amazing onsens. There are multiple private as well as public indoor and outdoor onsens within the ryokan; public onsens have separate spas for men and women. The ryokan has been owned and operated by the same family for 25 generations. All outdoor onsens are situated alongside a crystal emerald-blue river. We received a special treat while there last week,…beautiful snow! I’ve now stayed in 3 ryokan onsens and this by far was my favorite! Even the futon was luxurious and plush!

Note: the onsen has limited options for eating outside of the establishment. The area is a resort area, but primarily consists of ryokans (most of which all serve meals).

The resort provides yukata, tabi socks, and toiletries. Dinner is served nightly across a swing bridge that crosses the river!  Robin Kidder – December 2017