Category Archives: 3 Day Weekend

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

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