Category Archives: Weekend Trips

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/

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 we 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)

 

Hiking from Mt. Mitake to Okutama

The hike from Mt. Mitake to Okutama is a gnarly one made even more adventurous with an overnight at an inn on the mountain.  I had a cousin of mine, a hard core hiker, coming to town so I researched some of the hiking options in the area.  My research led me to spend a night at the Shukobo Komadori-sanso Inn, a lovely little spot in the village near the top of Mt. Mitake.  This seemingly forgotten and a little bit dusty place (not perfect) was our introduction to the Japanese Inn.  My wife and I and my cousin and his girlfriend arrived after a short walk from the top of the cable car and a stop at the Mitake Visitor Center where we picked up a map of the hike (a map with Japanese letters is a must!).  Upon checking in, the innkeeper insisted that we change into our robes and return for dinner.  Dinner in the small dining room was surprisingly good!  Our room was good sized with futons on the floor and a table inside the room and on the shared patio.  A small onsen tub is available in both the women’s and men’s washroom.  The next morning we were served a hearty breakfast before we headed for Okutama.  This hike is no joke.  We summited two different mountains as we trekked up and down (it seemed like the trail was never flat).  A few of the spots had great views of Mt. Fuji.  Bring lots of food and water; there are no vending machines up here, baby. The trail leads down to Okutama where you can get some food and take the train back home. This hike is not for children. Teens may be okay.  This trip sure makes for a pretty simple 24 hour getaway from Yokota for those with only one day to spare.  Happy Travels!  – Zeke Lyons, January 2018

http://www.komadori.com/

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

Naruko Onsen

If you love Kokeshi and Onsen, I highly recommend a trip off the beaten path to Naruko Onsen in Miyagi Prefecture. It may take some time and trip planning to get there but this cute little town in Northern Japan is a must see for Kokeshi lovers. We stayed at the Naruko Hotel. They did speak a little English – enough to help when needed. We enjoyed the hotel very much! Very nice and helpful. They provide yukata to wear around the hotel in a cute Kokeshi pattern. They serve breakfast and dinner buffets which were very good! The buffets were filled with Japanese delicacies as well as enough recognizable food for tourists. They have a private onsen you can reserve for 50 minutes for a fee (approximately 2000-5000 yen depending on number of people). Highly recommend reserving before your trip to get a good time if you are interested in private onsen (the Yujo can help with your call!). The hotel also has their own vast Kokeshi collection on display and a cute gift shop. We reserved our room on japanican.com for a reasonable price. They do have a cancellation policy so please keep that in mind when reserving.

While in Naruko, check out the Japanese Kokeshi Museum and Naruko Gorge. The Gorge may take some planning to get transportation out to the site. The Japanese Kokeshi Museum is filled with Kokeshi from various Tohoku areas highlighting the different dolls and artists from each area. You can even paint your own Kokeshi! There is a small fee to tour the museum but it is under 500 yen. Painting the doll costs around 1000 yen. The town has many shops filled with Tohoku kokeshi! This trip could be a part of a Tohoku road/shinkansen trip or a fun girls’ trip weekend.

Also recommend following Naruko_Hotel and tohokukokeshi on Instagram for more information and tips.  – Jennifer McCarthy, October 2017

Town: Narukoonsen
Osaki, Miyagi Prefecture 989-6100, Japan
https://goo.gl/maps/PgNprr11Lvv

Hotel:
http://www.narukohotel.co.jp/
Naruko Hotel
Yumoto-36 Narukoonsen, Ōsaki-shi, Miyagi-ken 989-6823, Japan
+81 229-83-2001
https://goo.gl/maps/mhfH29qMWC92

Japanese Kokeshi Museum:
http://www.kokesikan.com/english.htm
http://www.kokesikan.com/
日本こけし館
Shitomae-74-2 Narukoonsen, Ōsaki-shi, Miyagi-ken 989-6827, Japan
+81 229-83-3600
https://goo.gl/maps/CXFbcMAEAaJ2

Gorge:
Naruko Kyo
Narukoonsen, Osaki, Miyagi Prefecture 989-6100, Japan
https://goo.gl/maps/3Fsngg2r5N42

Station: Naruko-Onsen Station
Kawarayu Narukoonsen, Ōsaki-shi, Miyagi-ken 989-6100, Japan
https://goo.gl/maps/tthPEQ5qpY32

3 day weekend in Shimoda and Hakone

Our favorite 3 day weekend in Japan was spent in Shimoda and Hakone over the July 4th holiday weekend.  I sent my husband a bunch of google pins I had seen shared on Facebook that I thought looked fun and he came up with an itinerary to visit as many spots as we could.  We have two boys, 8 and 4, so all our locations needed to be family friendly and fun for the kids.

We packed up our car early Saturday morning and started our drive to our first spot, a place called the seven waterfalls on the Izu Peninsula.  It took us about 2 hours to get there from base and we spent about ¥3000 in tolls.

We walked down from the free parking lot and first ventured down to view some waterfalls at the bottom of the hill.  It was just a short walk down some stairs and along the water.  Worth a quick trip down to check out the views.

We then went looking for the onsen we had heard about called Amagisou.  This was just a little farther down the road.  It was inside a hotel so we went to the front desk to pay.  They had a QR code you could scan with your smart phone for a discount as well.  After paying (¥2000/adult, ¥1000/child) we headed downstairs to the men’s and women’s changing rooms where we could change into our bathing suits before walking down to the hot springs.  Connected to the changing rooms were very nice gender specific no clothes indoor onsens. It was a short walk down some stairs to a beautiful waterfall with hot springs surrounding it.  One of the hot baths was too warm for the kids but most were just fine to sit in for a good time period.  There was also a pool that the boys enjoyed jumping and playing in.  We stayed for about two hours, most of which we had the whole place to ourselves.  The best part of the onsen was the beautiful scenery.  It was truly relaxing hearing the sound of the waterfall behind you as you soaked in the warm water.

From here we drove to our hotel, Pension Surf Rider, about a 45 minute drive from Amagiso.  Our room had one full bed and two single beds, a bathroom and shower.  The room was very small but we really just needed a place to sleep.   The people working there did not speak much English but they gave us plenty of handouts about the nearby area.   They had a wonderful breakfast in the morning but we realized we were probably supposed to book at the time you make the reservation.  We were also able to book a family bath time in their outdoor bath.  This was a new experience for us but we all enjoyed it!

Five minutes from the hotel we drove to Dogashima which is known for its stone formations, cliffs and caves formed by the lava flow of past volcanic eruptions and shoreline erosion.  There was a parking lot right at the park and a family mart across the street if you wanted to grab a snack.  The boys enjoyed climbing on the rocks and walking the trails.  The views were amazing and it was a great place to take photos.

The next day we planned for a beach day in Shimoda.  Before hitting the beach we visited Ryugu Sea Cave (about a 50 minute drive from our hotel).  The kids played in the water a bit and it was another great photo opp spot.

We passed 3 nice beaches within 1 mile of the cave but settled on Kisami Beach.  There was a free parking lot right across the road.  We spent most of our day here enjoying the sand, sun and water.  The waves were perfect for our 8 year old to boogie board.

We packed up the car late afternoon and started our drive to Hakone.  An estimated 2 hour drive turned into a 3 hour drive because of traffic.  We spent ¥2000 in tolls along the way.  We checked into our next hotel, Hakone Hotel Kowakien, where we stayed the next two nights.  We really enjoyed this Japanese style hotel.  The grounds were beautiful and the hotel was in close proximity to more of the locations we planned to visit.  There was also a Family Mart right next to it where we purchased easy dinners and drinks.  The hotel offered breakfast and dinner buffets but we chose to save money eating Yakitori and sandwiches from the Family Mart.  Our family room had 4 single beds, two vanities and a shower/tub room.

Our first full day in Hakone we walked across the street from the hotel to the Yunessen Resort and Spa.  The kids were able to enjoy a large pool and outdoor water slides while the adults enjoyed the wine, coffee, green tea, and pearl baths.  We also experienced the feet eating fish called Dr. Fish.  There was an eatery on site so we were able to grab lunch there.  You could also leave the resort and come back later if you wanted to take a break at the hotel.

Yunessun entry fee – Adults ¥3000, Child ¥1800 (hotel did offer a discount coupon with stay)

We took a break from the resort to visit the large Tori Gate on Lake Ashi (Shinto Shrine).  It was a short drive from the hotel and it was another great spot to take photos.

We checked out of our hotel on Monday and made one last stop before heading home.  We had heard great things about the Open Air Museum in Hakone and it did not disappoint.  The grounds were absolutely stunning and the art was unique and beautiful.  There were many structures the kids could play in or climb on.  We also enjoyed a family foot bath.

Museum entry fees – ¥1600/adult, ¥800/child

On our way out of Hakone we stopped in town for coffee and a bite to eat for our drive home.  We found a cute little bakery called “Bakery & Table” which had a wide variety of pastries and coffees.

It was an awesome 3 day weekend and we felt we got to experience a lot of great places in a short amount of time!  Our drive back to base from Hakone was only about an hour and 45 minutes and another ¥3000 in tolls.  Definitely close enough to also be done as a day trip!  – Angela Vaillant, August 2017

Ao no Doukutsu, Yoyogi Park Illumination

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This beautiful illumination is called “Ao no Doukutsu”, meaning Blue Grotto, was in Nakameguro in 2014. It has relocated to Yoyogi park this year (2016).
The illumination runs from November 22nd through January 9th. I didn’t have a chance to go to the Nakameguro Illumination, but I’ve heard they moved the illumination in favor of the much wider street of Yoyogi park.
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The Illumination starts on Shibuya Koen Dori (Shibuya park street) and those Japanese Zelkova trees were lit up for your 750 m walk. I recommend stopping by there when you are in the downtown Tokyo area. Check out the Illumination website to see the video for directions. – Mai Takahashi, December 2016

Ao no Doukutsu, Shibuya : http://shibuya-aonodokutsu.jp/
Illumination time in 2016: 5 pm – 11 pm, November 22nd – January 9th  (the illumination starts at 7 pm on November 23rd, December 4th, December 25th, and January 9th)

Direction:
To get to the illumination spot, the closest station is Shibuya. The street is on the opposite side of Meji Shrine in Yoyogi park, so make sure to get off at Shibuya Station, not Harajuku station.
To Shibuya station, take Ome/Chuo line to Shinjuku, and then transfer to Yamanote line towards Shibuya and Shinagawa.
From Shibuya station, exit from Hachiko exit and then cross the famous crowded intersection. And then take the street that is to the right of the building that is all glass and has a large tv display. You will see a Starbucks and TSUTAYA video store in this building. Keep walking until you see the blue lights on the trees.
img_2421Once you find the blue trees, follow them to Yoyogi park.
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Hakone Sengokuhara & Little Prince Museum

 

img_2008Susuki (pampas grass or silver grass) is known as one of seven autumn flowers in Japan. Sengokuhara is a popular spot to stop by to view and walk through beautiful seasonal field. Susuki season is October to November.

img_2014There are temporary parking lots for visitors to see the field in October to November. It was about 10-15 mins walk from the parking lot to the field.

img_1965There is a path in the middle of the field that you can walk through and it took us about 30-40 mins to walk to the end of the path and back. (We stopped for photos often.)

img_2007-1Only the beginning of the path was paved and it was mostly rocky. We left the base around 7 am and got there a little bit after 9 am. There were two parking lots for the field and the first parking lot was already full when we got there. The second parking lot was empty, but it was filling up by the time we left around 10:30 am.

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I recommend stopping by the Little Prince Museum if you visit the Susuki field. It’s only a 5 minute drive from the field. According to its website, the museum was built to celebrate the 100 year anniversary since the birth of the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

img_2036It’s a small museum, but has a European-themed garden and the French-themed scenery  were beautiful. Most of the museum displays were in Japanese, but there were binders that had all the translations for visitors.

img_2044If you are fan of the book, this is a place to check out. You can enjoy illuminations and a projection mapping show in the evening from November to early January. There is a nice restaurant next to the museum as well. The lunch set menu price was around Y 1500 – 3000. ( You don’t need to buy tickets to the museum if you are only dining there.) – Mai Takahashi, November 2016

Read more about Hakone sights here:
Hakonehttp://yokotatravel.com/hakone/
Hakone Kowakien Yunessun: http://yokotatravel.com/hakone-kowakien-yunessun/

Sengokuhara: http://www.hakonenavi.jp/season_special_contents/index/4
Hakone Sengokuhara Temporary Parking lot 1 & 2 Hours: 9 am-4 pm, October through November.
The museum of The Little Prince: http://www.tbs.co.jp/l-prince/
Hours: 9 am – 6 pm (Last entrance is 5 pm, The restaurant hours: 11 am – 5 pm)
Entrance Fee: Adult Y 1,600, High School and College student Y 1,100, Elementary and Middle School students Y 700.

Directions:
Hakone Sengakuhara (Temporary Parking lot (October to November, 9 am-4 pm. The coordinates: 35.265120,138.999927)
We took the Ken-O Expressway then Tomei Expressway. It costed Y 2,780 one way.

Susuki Field Parking  to the Little Prince Museum

Suntory Hakushu Distillery

img_2100-2My dad is a big Scotch fan so when my parents came for a visit, we drove them to the Suntory Hakushu Distillery for a tour and whiskey tasting.
The distillery is nestled in the southern Japanese Alps, surrounded by trees and running water. The tour was in Japanese but they provided English audio guides which worked fine. The whiskey tasting that was included in the tour cost (¥1,000/person) was interesting and I found it to be better than the one at their Yamazaki location near Kyoto.

p1030167fThey gave us samples of the white oak cask malt and the lightly peated malt whiskeys they blend to create their Hakushu Single Malt Scotch, which they gave a sample of as well. I didn’t see a tasting room that allowed you to try their other scotches. If you want that, your best bet is their Yamazaki Distillery.

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They had a whiskey museum but it was not in English, a lookout at the top of the museum with a 360 degree view, and a restaurant which had English menus. You do have to call them to make reservations for the tour. The website said we would need reservations for the restaurant but we were able to just walk in after the tour.

p1030132fThey spoke English on the phone and many staff members on site spoke at least some English. The distillery wasn’t hard to find using GPS and is approximately 2 hours by car from Fussa heading west. We took the Ken-O then the Chuo Expressway west and it costed ¥6,140 round trip for tolls on a Tuesday from Hamura. The drive to it was quite scenic as were the grounds of the distillery. The coordinates are: 35.826441, 138.302564. – Laura Nelson, October 2016

Suntory Hakushu Distillery: http://www.suntory.co.jp/factory/hakushu/?fromid=hakushubrandsite_banner
Hours: 9:30am-4:30pm (except New Year’s holiday) ※ Check their website to see the plant shutdown days. (November 11th and 29th are currently scheduled shutdown days, last operating day of 2016 is December 25th)
Phone: 0551-35-2211
Suntory Yamazaki Distillery(in Osaka) : http://www.suntory.co.jp/factory/yamazaki/

Suntory Hakushu Distillery (coordinates: 35.826441, 138.302564)

Yumigahama Beach, Izu Peninsula

DSC08531This is a nice beach with a relatively white sandy coastline, shaped in a 1 km arch. It is a 20-30 minute drive from Shimoda City. We went over Independence Day Weekend and the beach was almost empty, although this could have been due to the inclement weather in Tokyo at the time. Fortunately, the Izu Peninsula has a slight microclimate and we had fine weather.  For the most part, the surf is not big at Yumigahama Beach because it’s a sheltered bay. The waves are more suitable to boogie boarders, beginner surfers and kids.

Potentially, it can be a slow drive getting to the southern Izu coastline from Yokota Air Base, especially in peak traffic periods; during the weekends and summer months. It typically takes 3.5 to 4 hours in light traffic. We drove through the middle of the Peninsula on the way to the beach and drove up the East coastline on the way back to Yokota. The East coastline route was much faster and less windy than the other route, but slightly more expensive. The tolls to Shimoda/Yumigahama are quite costly, maybe $30 to $40 one-way.

From Yumigahama, we took a daytrip to Kawazu Seven Waterfalls, and on the way back to Yokota we visited iZoo, Mine Hot Spring and Geyser Park, and the Jogasaki Coastline. You can also visit Shimoda, where monuments (“Black Ships”) and parks commemorate Commodore Perry (U.S) who landed and started diplomatic talks with Japan in 1854. Shirahama Beach is also located near Shimoda and is apparently better for surfing. Jinja Shrine, a beautiful Shinto Shrine borders Shimoda Beach.

DSC08539We stayed at Yumigahama Beach Cottage (aka Yumigahama Seaside Garden), recommended by another Yokota family, and we were not disappointed. Mr. Morimoto owns three two-story cottages that can house up to five people each. The small cottages are equipped with almost everything you need, including kitchenware, small air conditioner, microwave and a small outdoor BBQ/grill. You will need to take towels and hand/paper towels. The mattresses are relatively thin, but we were able to use two and it was ok, but not great. The pillows were also small and hard, so you may want to bring your own. Boogie boards are available for free, as is parking. From the cottages, the Yumigahama beach is a 1 to 2 minute walk, approximately 30 yards. Rates for a cottage vary throughout the year, anywhere from ¥9,800 to ¥42,000 per day. Be aware that the price can really spike over the weekend. For more information and reviews, visit this link, http://www.beachside-log.com/english.html. Don’t be afraid to call, as Mr. Morimoto speaks great English. Linda Bell, July 2014.

DIRECTIONS: The Yujo has handouts with directions to Shimoda, but I found these to be a little confusing. There are a number of new roads and expressways on the way to the Izu Peninsula, and we found Google Maps (not our relatively new Garmin) gave us the quickest route. We enjoyed traveling via the coast. Yokota —> Route 16 —> Route 29 —> past Atsugi City and Ebina City —> Tomei Expressway —> Odawara- Atsugi Rd./Expressway —> Seisho Bypass —>Route 135. From Route 135 onward, you can choose between several toll expressways along the coastline, or continue on Route 135 which is more windy and has two-lane traffic. The inland route is quite windy, and once you get on the peninsula roads, passing can be difficult. GPS coordinates for Yumigahama Beach Cottage are N34.63572 E138.89020, but if you’re just going to Yumigahama Beach, I believe there are parking lots at both ends of the beach.

 

Mine Hot Spring and Geyser, Izu Peninsula

DSC08642This attraction is no Yellowstone Park or Hakone Hot Spring, but if you need a break from your drive along the peninsula, this place is relatively interesting and free! This attraction is composed of a single geyser, a footbath and an egg-selling gift shop. The geyser shoots approximately 200°F water  nearly 100 feet in the air. The geyser erupts at 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 13:30, 14:30, 15:30. While you’re waiting for the geyser to jet up, you can purchase and cook your own eggs in the Mine’s spring water; the staff will give you a timer and instructions for this process. Or, consider a footbath. It’s covered and warm at approximately 100°F.

DSC08632There are rest rooms at this stop, but no restaurant. It’s open from 09:00 to 16:00. It’s closed Tuesdays and Fridays. Parking is free. Linda Bell, July 2014.

DIRECTIONS: This attraction is situated in Mine-Onsen Daifunto Park, in Kawazu township. It’s a 5 minute drive inland from the south-western Izu Peninsula coastline, or 15 minutes from Kawazu Seven Waterfalls. It’s also a short drive from iZoo, and a 30 to 40 minute drive north of the Shimoda and Yumigahama Beaches. The GPS coordinates for Mine-Onsen Daifunto Park are N34.75695, E138.98222.

Kawazu Seven Waterfalls, Izu Peninsula

DSC08470If you’re looking to escape the heat from the Izu Peninsula beach or take in a bit of nature, then Kawazu Seven Waterfalls hike is a good place to go. Mostly shaded, this gentle 1 km hike on the Izu Peninsula follows a river with seven waterfalls ranging from 2 meters to 30 meters in height. The 1 km hike begins at Mizutare Parking Lot (top) and ends at Kawazu Seven Falls Bus and Parking Lot (bottom). There are several ways you can do the hike.  You can park at the top or bottom of the trail and hike out and back, approximately 2 km total. Alternatively, you can park at the bottom of the trail, take the bus to the top of the trail, and walk back down the course to your car. Lastly, park at the Mizutare parking lot, hike down the trail, and then take the bus back from Kawazu Seven Falls Bus and Parking Lot. The third option worked well for our small kids. Busses run frequently between stops and when we did the hike, over Independence Day weekend, they ran every 10 minutes.

DSC08447There are detailed English maps about the hike located at Mizutare Parking Lot and Kawazu Seven Falls Bus and Parking Lot.  The hike is not very stroller friendly. Only three to four of the waterfalls can be accessed with a stroller. I’d recommend a baby carrier or kid’s carrying backpack. Alongside each waterfall, there are cute little stone Buddhas and stamps to collect, and along the trail there are also a few larger statues that depict the two characters in the short love story “Izu no Odoriko” (The Izu Dancer), by Kawabata Yasunari. The story and author are well-known in Japan. Towards the bottom of the hike, there are a couple of shops selling food, ice cream and woven items. You can also see the Kawazu Nanadaru Loop Bridge. This is an interesting two story spiral bridge located high above the valley floor on Route 414. Unfortunately, the last and most impressive waterfall, O-daru Fall, was closed when we did the hike. However, there is a lovely outdoor onsen, Izu Oodaru Onsen Hotel Amagisou, that offers a great view of the falls. Kawazu Seven Waterfalls hike is a small part of the Odoriko Trail so if you’re looking to go further, please refer to the picture provided. Linda Bell, July 2014.

DSC08399DIRECTIONS: We drove to this hike from Yumigahama Beach, near Shimoda City. It took approximately 1 hour from the beach. I recommend driving via the costal town of Kawazu, before heading inland to the hike. The more direct, inland route is very windy and slow. The GPS coordinates to Mizutare Parking Lot (top) are N34.80078 E138.93329.  The GPS coordinates for Kawazu Seven Falls Bus and Parking Lot (bottom) are N34.79475 E138.93536.

iZoo, Izu Peninsula

DSC08589iZoo is a reptilian and amphibian zoo on the Izu Peninsula. We loved this place for the hands-on experiences we had with snakes, tortoises, and a crocodile. It’s a relatively small zoo with a wide variety of reptiles and amphibians, but they also have owls, emus, and a few farm animals. It took us under two hours to see everything. A majority of the animals are indoors, which makes it a good venue to visit on hot/wet days. There are opportunities to touch and hold reptiles with a zookeeper, at no additional cost. We were able to drape a small boa constrictor and bull snake around our necks, and we got to hold a small tortoise and baby crocodile (with an elastic band around its snout). Outside, there is a large pen dedicated to giant tortoises. For ¥1000 you can sit on a giant tortoise and get a Polaroid picture.

The inside floor is covered with loose bark, so you might want to wear closed-toe shoes. We wore flip-flops and didn’t have any issues. The zoo has 2 to 3 stories of exhibits and I don’t believe there was an elevator. At the end of the zoo tour, there is a restaurant and large gift shop with a lot of reptilian and amphibious toys.

DSC08603Junior High School students and older cost ¥1500. Elementary School Students are ¥800, and kids under 6 years old are free. Parking was free when we went over Independence Day weekend in 2014. iZoo is open daily from 09:00 to 17:00 with the last admission at 16:30. For more information call iZoo’s front desk at 0558-34-0003 or translate their website, http://izoo.co.jp/. Linda Bell, July 2014.

DIRECTIONS: iZoo is a three and a half to four hour drive from Yokota Air Base in good traffic. The GPS coordinates for iZoo parking lot are N34.73121 E138.99453. It’s a great place to visit if you are going to spend time on the southern coast of the Izu Peninsula. It is only a 5 minute drive from Kawazu City or approximately 20 to 30 minutes from the Shimoda and Yumigahama beaches.

 

Ashikaga Wisteria Flower Park

DSC07361This park has a wonderful array of flowers throughout the year, but is most famous for its spectacular wisteria displays from Mid-April to Mid-May. It is thought that one of the wisteria trees was planted in 1870. For more information about this park, and its other flowering seasons, please see this website http://www.ashikaga.co.jp/en/index.html.

DSC07399During the wisteria season, English maps of the park are available at the entrance. Restaurants and eating stalls can be found throughout the park. Various food items range from ¥400 to ~¥2000. Restaurant Wisteria has the largest selection, but is probably the most expensive. They have pork cutlets, a sushi-type bowl, club sandwiches and a kids’ curry meal. The park is stroller-friendly and there is a large resting/play field for kids to play in. A few playground items are located near the “Local Delicacies Corner” and tunnel of white wisteria. The gravel pathways around the park can be quite dusty so be prepared to bring extra clothing.

DSC07556Ashikaga Flower Park is open daily except for New Year’s Day. Opening hours vary however, so please check the park’s website. During the wisteria season, the park is open from 7am-9pm. At ~5:30pm the park is illuminated and the wisteria looks amazing. It seemed to be less busy during the afternoon and evening. Admission to the park changes on a daily and seasonal basis. In May 2014, Adults were ¥900- ¥1700, and children over 4 years old were ¥500-¥800 during the wisteria season. There are also evening admission prices (5.30pm-9pm).

DSC07604Because we incorporated this visit with a trip to Hitachi Seaside Park, we rented a base van to offset the cost of the road tolls. We took the Kan-etsu and Kita-Kanto Expressways most of the way to avoid traffic and it took 1½ hours from Yokota Air Base. We stayed at Chisun Inn Sano Fujioka. It was inexpensive and basic, but had everything we needed. Breakfast was an extra ¥500 per person, but free for young children. GPS coordinates for Chisun Inn Sano Fujioka are 36.29690 139.60001. The hotel is about a 20 minute drive from Ashikaga Flower Park. Linda Bell, May 2014.

DRIVING DIRECTIONS:  There are 2 entrances to the Flower Park, the West Gate and Front Gate. Parking is free near both gates. The GPS coordinates to the Front Gate parking are 36.31520 139.52274. It is located in Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo’s center.

Ukiyo-e Museum – Nagano

Ukiyo-e2If you happen to be in the Nagano Prefecture checking out the Nagano Snow Monkeys and/or the Matsumoto Castle, you may consider stopping by the Ukiyo-e Museum as well. Only a 15 minute drive from the Matsumoto Castle, it’s an easy stop.

Ukiyo-e1The museum building is very contemporary, which is a starch contrast to the ancient art that it displays. When we entered the museum, we watched a 20 minute video presentation on the making of wood block prints. It was very interesting to learn about the superb skill it takes to make these wood blocks and prints. After the video, we viewed an exhibit of these prints, to include samurai and Mt. Fuji. The exhibits change every few months. English information is limited, however you can get a pamphlet in English upon entering the museum.

The museum is open from 10:00 to 17:00 everyday except for Monday, doors close at 16:30. It’s ¥1050 for an adult, and  ¥530 for students. GPS: 36.231847,137.934662. For the most current information, please check the Ukiyo-e Museum website. http://japan-ukiyoe-museum.com. – Kelly O’Donnell, November 2013.

Kamicochi

kamikochi inn andrew campbell 2.pngKamicochi is often described as Japan’s Yosemite.  Located west of Matsumoto along highway 158, this alpine plateau sits at nearly 5,000′. It hosts a small cluster of Ryokans and a camp site, well developed hiking trails along the Azuza River, and spectacular views of the surrounding peaks.   You can access the area between 19 April and 15 November; the area closes through the winter.  Personal cars have been banned from Kamicochi since 1975, visitors are required to park at one of several parking areas along Highway 158, then head up the mountain by bus or taxi.  (Japan Guide offers a great overview:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6040.html).

kamikochi area andrew campbell.pngKamicochi offers great day long family hiking along essentially level and easy to navigate paths extending up and down the Azuza river as well as world-class technical climbing on the surrounding peaks.  The scenery is outstanding.  We were also lucky to enjoy a large troupe of monkeys feeding right outside the hotel each evening, and bear sightings, while uncommon, happen.

DIRECTIONS: It’s possible to get to Kamicochi from Fussa by train alone.  There’s a train station on the west side of Matsumoto (Shinshimashima) that terminates at the Highland Express bus terminal where there are regularly scheduled buses to Kamicochi.  However, most Yokota travelers will probably go by car.

Google maps predicts a 3.6 hour drive from Fussa via the Ken-O, Chuo, and Nagano Expressways to Highway 158.  Take 158 westbound into the mountains along the Azuza River. Driving west along 158, you’ll  come to a traffic light with a ‘guard shack’.  Proceeding straight through the light would take you up route 24 directly to Kamicochi—-you can’t go that way without a bus or taxi.    To access Kamicochi, you’ll need to park at one of the parking areas between this intersection and Matsumoto, or make a left at the intersection and proceed westbound for about 10 minutes where you’ll pass through another toll booth, then hit a traffic light.  At the traffic light, turn right onto “old 158” toward Hirayu Onsen.  (Map 1) Pulling into the onsen town, you’ll see a large parking area at what looks like a standard rest area.  If you’re spending the night at Kamicochi, drive past that up 158 a bit further (you’ll go up hill and feel like you’ve gone too far), until you reach the entrance to the Akadama parking area (Map 2).  Make a left, and snake down a few switch backs to the parking gate, get a ticket, then drop your things off at the bus terminal in the parking area.

You can buy bus tickets from a machine at Akadama Parking Area.  1000¥ one way for adults, 500¥ for kids.  The bus leaves Akadama every half-hour until 1650 for, first the Hirayu Onsen lot you past on the way, then up to Kamicochi terminal.

Once on the bus and headed up the hill, you’ll have a choice to get off at Taishoike Pond bus stop or continue all the way to the main terminal. Many travelers disembark at Taishoike then walk (about 1 hour) to the main terminal (near Kappabashi Bridge) for the return trip.  As overnight travelers, we took the bus all the way to the main terminal then walked, with luggage, about 10 minutes, across the Kappabashi bridge to our hotel.

The return trip was very easy.  Back to the terminal, caught a bus back to Akadama Parking, then paid the machine (500¥ per day) for parking.

kamikochi innLODGING: We found our lodging, the Nishi Itoya Inn, through internet search.  Their website, http://www.nishiitoya.com/ns-eng/eng-home/eng-index.html, looks a bit amateurish.  Rest assured, the accommodations and service are absolutely top notch.  They have a few western style rooms, but we stayed in a large and comfortable Japanese style room overlooking the river.  In standard ryokan style, breakfast and dinner are included with the lodging cost.  Both were outstanding, but understand that they serve Japanese style breakfast only—a challenge for some western pallets.

In preparation for our trip, we corresponded regularly with the hotel staff via email.  They were quick to respond and completely helpful.  In addition to meals, the hotel offers free wi-fi, free coffee in the mornings and evening, and a nice Japanese style bath. – Andrew Campbell, November 2o13

Map 1kamikochi map 1: click on map to see close up.

 

 

 

kamikochi map 2Map 2: click on map to see close up

Edo Wonderland in Nikko

edo wonderland odonnellEdo Wonderland in Nikko is sort of like Colonial Willimsburg for the Edo period of Japan. The whole park recreates the Edo period with buildings from the era and actors and actresses all in costume of the day interacting with the crowds. The best part are the ninjas! There are many shows throughout the day to watch the ninjas. They also walk around so there are many free photo opportunities. For an extra fee you can have your kids dress up as ninjas. The ninja costume rental was pricey at 3,900¥ per child, however, they were able to wear it for the entire day and it made for great photos and lots of fun. The costume rental is near the entrance so if you plan on doing it I recommend getting it first thing upon arrival. They will hold your street clothes for you so that you don’t have to carry them around. There were other less expensive costume rentals too, including kimonos for adults.

edo wonderland odonnellBesides the shows there are also concerts, a boat ride around the park, and some huge koi that the kids really enjoyed feeding. While some restaurants are available they are all Japanese. I was happy that I had packed a lunch for my kids as there was nothing there that mine would have eaten. There were some picnic tables available and vending machines are available for drinks.

edo wonderland odonnellDay passes include admission to all the shows. The cost is 4,500¥ for adults and 2,300¥ for children 7-12. Children ages 6 and under are free! Check their website for additional discounts that are often available to print. Also, the Youth Center and ITT often have bus trips from base. This is a great option because you get a discount for group admission and don’t have the pay the 700¥ parking fee or tolls. – Kelly O’Donnell, November 2013.

 

edo wonderland odonnellFor more information check their webpage: www.edowonderland.net/html/en/.

If anyone gets GPS coordinates for this location, please let us know!

For more on Nikko, see our Nikko entry.

Hakone Kowakien Yunessun

Water Slides by Linda Bell HakoneHakone Kowakien Yunessun is a water amusement park and spa resort in Hakone-machi, Hakone. It has over 25 water attractions with fun and kitschy theme pools like the red wine pool, green tea pool, Greek Santorini pool, and Roman baths (see photos below).  There are also different spas, water slides, and kiddie pools. Water temperatures vary between the different pools from ~100F to cold spring water. This park is great because it can entertain a wide range of ages from babies to grandparents.

Red wine spa pool linda bell hakoneTo buy tickets to the park proceed to the second floor of the building.  There are three main tickets you can buy, depending on what zones you want to visit. A ticket to the Yunessun Zone gives you entry to the swimsuit-wearing zone. Admission, here, is ¥2800 for adults and ¥1500 for children over 3 years old. A ticket to The Mori No Yu Spa Resort Zone gives entry to two separate nude areas for men and women, and admission here is adults ¥1800 and children over 3 years old ¥1200. A combo ticket can also be purchased which allows entry into both zones. This costs ¥4000 and ¥2000 for both adults and children respectively. I believe tickets for just the afternoon session can be purchased for 1pm til close, but check. Discounted tickets may be bought by using Google Translate at this web site www.yunessun.com/ticket/. A map of the park, in English, is available on the second floor, but you may need to approach a staff member in order to get one.

Greek Santorini Pool by linda bell hakoneEach ticket holder will be given a plastic bracelet which will act as a key to your locker and also allow you to purchase items at the various restaurants and vending machines. Once you pass the ticketed turnstile and take off your shoes, the locker rooms are basically down the hallway, to your right, on the same floor. The first number on your bracelet does NOT denote a particular floor for your changing room. I don’t believe there are any family changing rooms.

Roman Baths linda bell hakoneThe men’s and women’s locker rooms exit into the same area, the “Clock Square”.  There are a number of restaurant/fast-food places inside the park that range in price and variety. Tattoos are not allowed to be seen at the park. You may need to use sun block/swim tops as part of the park is outdoors. I would not recommend bringing a stroller as the park has many stairs and potentially crowded hallways, and swim diapers need to be accompanied with a swimsuit. In general, the pools aren’t very deep. Our three year old (100cm) was too small for only one of the pools.

When you’ve finished at the park, you leave through the same hallways that you entered, and pay off your bracelet’s amount at the park’s machines. We used cash, but according to the park’s website the reception takes credit cards.  We only visited the Yunessun portion of the park on a Sunday, in summer, and it was relatively crowded so I would suggest trying to go during the week to get the most out of your experience.

The Yunessun Zone opens at 9am, year round, and closes at 7pm from March-October. The rest of the time it closes at 6pm. The Mori No Yu Zone is, however, open from 11am-9pm throughout the year.  For more details about this destination, please visit their website: www.yunessun.com/english/.

Parking at Hakone Kowakien Yunessun park is ¥1000 for the day, but it might be free for the first two hours of your visit (this needs to be confirmed). Parking fees are paid to the automated machine on your way out of the parking lot. Large notes are not accepted e.g. ¥5,000. We arrived at the park after 10am, after we’d stayed the night in Hakone, and we got one of the last parking spots.  – Linda Bell, September 2013.

DIRECTIONS: The GPS coordinates to the entrance of the Park’s parking lot are 35.23916, 139.04460.

For more on Hakone check this separate entry: Hakone.

 

Sapporo Ice Festival

While stationed at Yokota AB one of the best things to do in the winter is to take a trip up to Sapporo for the annual Snow Festival, one of Japan’s largest winter events.  About two million people come to Sapporo to see a large number of massive snow statues and ice sculptures which line Odori Park, the grounds at Community Dome Tsudome, and the main street in Susukino.  For seven days in February, these sculptures turn Sapporo into a winter dreamland. Many of the ice sculptures are larger than houses and are really a sight to behold!
We took our two young children, ages 4 and 7 and they had a great time. They loved the giant ice slides! There was plenty for kids to do and see. We watched the extreme snow boarders jumping and enjoyed the ice skating rink.
It took us one full day to see all the sculptures. There are many other things to do while in Sapporo as well if you would like to stay a couple of days. Some other highlights in the area include the Sapporo Bier Garden for some great beer and BBQ, the chocolate factory, many museums, and “Ramen Alley,” for what people claim is the best ramen in the world. The area is also famous for their giant crab, sort of like Alaskan king crab. We had some for dinner one night and it was delicious.
Please note that they do not shovel the side walks or plow the roads there and the streets are very slippery. I definitely suggest snow boots with good traction to avoid falling. The festival is not at all stroller friendly though. I think a baby in a back or front carrier might be OK if they could be kept warm enough. The day we toured the festival it was in the 20’s and snowing hard!
Yokota ITT offeres two tours a year during the snow festival which are a great value. Their trips sell out quickly and usually go on sale the first of December. There were many people waiting in line that morning so book early if you would prefer their package deal. The Yokota Recreation Center also has a ski package to Sapporo which is usually a couple days before the festival but you still get to see many of them being built or even completed before the festival officially kicks off. Many people also book the trip by themselves. The flight up to Hokkaido, the northern island where Sapporo is located, only takes about 1 1/2 hours from Haneda Airport.  It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience! Very “cool” (pun intended)! – Kelly O’Donnell, February 2013