Sunday, July 18, 2010

Japan 2010

I did want to blog about the Japan trip earlier but right after the trip, I had a two-day course and then it was off to France I went, where I was busy first with prelim setting, then with enjoying the trip and interacting with the kids.

Our ten-day trip was focused on Tokyo, with side trips to Hakone and Nikko. I think after the hectic Term 2 and first two weeks of the June hols, I was really looking forward to the trip and the good company, the eating, sightseeing and shopping really did wonders to my mood. (And of course there was the French trip, but that will be in the next entry.)

One of the most memorable parts of the trip was the fact we arrived on a rainy evening, dragging our heavy suitcases around the JR station and wondering where on earth the hostel apartment was. To our surprise, we managed to find the place and it was unlocked! Quite amazing. We freshened up and decided to go to Namjatown for dinner. The gyoza was underwhelming but I think that was more due to the fact that we were cold and tired. Yes, Tokyo in the summer can be pretty cold!

But the next day things picked up with our shopping at Ameyoko, and then the fun afternoon trying out the rides at Tokyo Dome. I actually got the unlimited pass and went on a ride spree :)

At Tokyo Dome - thrilling rides

The third day saw an early start as we had to travel out to Hakone. The train system in Tokyo is easy to navigate and the people there are so friendly even if they may not always understand us so it made visiting Tokyo free and easy a good option. Anyway, we arrived at Hakone safely and proceeded to have fun. Gora Park was peaceful and lovely and we just enjoyed walking amidst the flowers. Hell's Valley had a sulfurous smell and it was freezing when we stepped out of the ropeway but nonetheless, trying to walk against the wind and find our way through the thick mist was an experience. Though I must say that HC and I spent a longer time indoors at the souvenirs shop than outdoors :)

At Gora Park

My travel companions and I

Lunchbox bought at Hakone Yumoto train station and enjoyed in Gora Park

Hydrangea season

Ropeway to Hell('s Valley)

Freezing Hell('s Valley)

Fujimien was a heavenly respite. We loved the room we had, and after a totally satisfying dinner with a splendid view of Mt Fuji, we proceeded to scald ourselves and soak away our aches at the onsen and enjoyed tea, sake and ice cream.

Lovely room at Fujimien

Scalding hot onsen that comes with a Fuji-yama view

One of the rare days when the peak was visible

The Hakone trip ended with a visit at the Hakone Glass Museum the next day. I love this place. Its European feel and excellent museums (and shops), as well as the way the glass crystals are weaved into the surroundings in artificial trees and chadelier curtains make it a lovely place and I even had the chance to make make my own glass pendant as a souvenir.

Hakone Glass Museum

Following that, we actually had to travel 4 hours to Tokyo Disney Resort. I think the trip was too rushed and we arrived tired. But we pushed on, and after checking into the Disney Resort Hotel, we got the Starlight Pass and went for some rides and enjoyed the parade (though fireworks were cancelled due to strong winds). And we shopped again. :)

We were really crazy.

The Disney Resort Hotel

Our luxurious $600 room

The happiest place on Earth!

Visiting DisneySea the next day was a first for me. I didn't really like the atmosphere at first because it didn't feel Disney enough but after I got used to the fact that the theme park was based on ports (and I was warmed up by an amazing underwater ride-20000 leagues under the sea), I was enjoying myself too much. The unfortunate thing was that it rained more than half the day! But the rides were quite worthwhile and I enjoyed the Indiana Jones ride (try getting chased by a boulder for the same adrenaline rush) and the Tower of Terror which was a free fall (and more!). We missed the BravoSEAmo show, which was supposedly spectacular but cancelled due to the weather. :(

Spot Rilakuma, HC's mascot

Not so Disney but equally fun

We were quite tired out and by the time we started our day at Asakusa on Day 6, it was lunch. And a pretty good one at that. Shopping at the area was fruitful, and we bought umbrellas, souvenirs, and useless puppets (we were conned!!). Odaiba was next and HC was really eager to go to the Sega Joypolis. After dinner, we did go there and although I was reluctant at first because virtual reality rides made me dizzy, I did enjoy myself with a roller coaster ride, some pretty good VR rides and a crazy spinning ride (google Halfpipe Canyon and you will see what we mean by crazy). HC was nauseas after that though :(

Shopping at Shibuya and Harajuku was on our list for Sunday, and we did walk around a lot and shopped even more. Yoyogi Park provided a brief respite and watching the cosplayers dance and the funny mime artist was again a uniquely Japanese experience.

Sunday Brunch at L'occitane Cafe

Ramen that we queued an hour for after a day of shopping

Our day trip to Nikko was next though sadly we were left with too little time for that as we missed the earlier trains and had to take one almost two hours later. But the peaceful afternoon walking around Nikko, trying its signature yuba, sightseeing at the Kegon Falls and Lake Ashi made the trip worthwhile enough. My advice to potential visitors would be to actually start early and consider staying there overnight as there were potential stops along the way (if you like farmhouses and onsens).

Delicious yuba (beancurd skin) and udon

Kegon Falls, here I come

The falls

Lake Ashi

Imagine if all trees were red like this during autumn - would have been so beautiful!

Tuesday was the last full day we had and after a heavy breakfast of sushi at Tsukiji (where we couldn't brave the long queue at the famous shop and settled for less, though nonetheless satisfactory enough, with the only regret being the sea urchin which we found disgusting), we visited Jiyugaoka. HC sourced this out, citing it as the neighbourhood most Japanese aspired to live in. It was easy to see why. Jiyugaoka is the Holland Village/Chip Bee Gardens equivalent and its rows of quaint shops and crowds of pram-pushing young tai-tais are evidence that if you can afford to stay in Jiyugaoka, you probably have made it. Nonetheless, desserts and shopping at Jiyugaoka were yet another greatly satisfying experience. We actually went shopping (again) at Shinjuku this time and walked through so many malls in search of some elusive Yoshida Porter bags. Let's just say that all three of us were satisfied with our purchases, and HC in fact hunted for more over the next two days during her extended stay. *evil grin*

Sushi breakfast at Tsukiji

Can you resist such cute desserts?

The holiday ended too quickly for me. Wednesday morning, XP and I trudged along in the rain (again!) to the pick up point, where I found my return shuttle ticket missing! *painful*

All in all, it was a fun trip, thanks to the research and planning of HC, the advice from XP on good places to visit, as well as their lovely company. I am looking forward to the potential Europe trip with them next June!

A sumptuous dinner on our last night in Tokyo!

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