A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: lostagain

Myoko Kogen part two

Ikenotaira and across to Nozawa Onsen

snow -4 °C

Once we are awake we do see something new for us – clear blue sky! This is the first time since day one of the trip. By the time we have had breakfast and are on the bus, life is back to normal and the grey clouds have rolled in, and the snow has started again. Back on the bus, today we head to Ikenotaira for the day. This is a small resort compared to the others we have been to recently, but still has a good variation in terrain. They are aiming at boarders, with a bit of terrain park and tree runs accessible too. G was getting into the tree runs now too, but finding it hard to keep the tip up to stop from bogging. I have had to dig him out a few times. And you can get an idea of how deep the powder is...Really deep powder

Really deep powder

Weather is a bit on the cold and windy side, great to have the bubble chairs to go uphill in relative protection – I reckon these are exactly what Hotham needs on the Summit to keep us all protected – sure it can be retrofitted. The cold does not bother the snow soldiers though they have followed us here and seem quite relaxed in the conditions.Gotta love a bubble lift

Gotta love a bubble lift

After another yummy lunch and more skiing we head back – the bus nearly leaves without us as G is in the toilet, and I have to block open the door while he ambles back. Here is where we should have got lunch from.
Lunch van, Ikenotaira

Lunch van, Ikenotaira

We are going to drop off our gear as we head are heading to Nozawa Onsen tomorrow. However, it turns out that we can just extend the hire and courier back the gear for a reasonable price. Myoko Snow Sports do this a bit. Back at the hotel it is time to wrestle all our gear into bags ready for our 9:30 departure, before heading back to G’s favourite yakiniku place for dinner again.
In the favourite yakiniku restaurant

In the favourite yakiniku restaurant

There has been a massive dump overnight, region of 80 cms, and we are leaving... That’s the plan anyway. We have breakfast and are ready in the lobby for the bus, on time. Well, we are. Because of the dump, there are major snarls on the roads all around the region so no one is willing to specify a time of departure. We while away the time using wifi, having cups of tea, snoozing and waiting. After noon, the bus rocks up. When I say rocks up, the driver guns it up the street we are on, and neatly turns into the parking area a little beyond the hotel. He backs out and then points down the hill, intending to stop outside the door so we can get in. As he applies the brakes, nothing happens and the van delicately slides down the slope and crunches delicately into a snow/ice drift. The hotel (like most places around here) has a front end loader they use to pull the van out of the drift, and then hold it while we get out. Once in with all our gear (only fell over a couple of times) we are cut loose and slide down the road, bouncing off the edges. Around the corner on the main road, road clearing has been carried out, so we are on our way with no more excitement.
Pulling our bus out of the snow

Pulling our bus out of the snow

We get to Nozawa around 2, and the driver, after repeated looks at the map and directions, gets us to Nakajimaya Ryokan where we are met by the lovely Yukiko. We are in a 6 tatami mat room, big for the two of us. We do not have time to get on the snow today, so we take a long stroll around town, see the hot spring that feeds the town, look at the souvenir shops and buy some hot dumplings on the street. With the load last night, they are clearing the streets and the roofs of the snow. People are out with their shovels, diggers and snow blowers trying to get back to normal. There was an 80 year old chipping away at the ice outside her shop to make it safe.Love the dumplings

Love the dumplings

We get sushi for dinner and it is very nice, prepared fresh in front of us. Sated, we head back to the hotel where we do some remote shopping with Lon in Hong Kong. We settle into our futons for a good night’s sleep. Or it would be, but I wake at 2:40 and cannot get back to sleep. I send a few texts to L who can’t sleep either (caffeine). Laying there, I work out the heater noise is keeping me awake – not just the air flow noise but a deep bass resonance in the wall too. Turn it off, no problem. A bit cool in the morning though.

Posted by lostagain 19:57 Archived in Japan Tagged skiing Comments (0)

Skiing in Myoko Kogen

Akakan and Suginohara

snow -5 °C

Boring stuff - time to pack. In the morning it is goodbye Blue Wave Inn, you have served us well. We head out to the station and make sure L is on her train to Haneda, the we head over to Ueno to catch the Shinkansen to Nagano. Before we depart L checks in, she has arrived at Haneda no issues. We are soon whisked through the countryside, love the Shinkansen. Looks dry for a long way, wet on the ground at Takahashi, through the mountains to Kurizawa, where there is loads of snow on the ground. Before I get much of a chance to write anything we are arriving and have to duck over to the local train. This is a lot more characterful than the bullet train, but still whizzes along at a good rate of knots. Well as far as Kurushimae, where frozen lines stops the train in its tracks (I had to use that one) JR are organised with a shuttle bus getting us to Myoko Kogen station just a little behind schedule.
End of the line - local train snowed in

End of the line - local train snowed in

And guess who is there - the indefatigable Amy. The hotel we picked has its outside onsen closed, but there is another similar one which is closer to the action, so she has set us up there instead. So we settle into Central Hotel, head off to hire ski gear at Myoko Snow Sports, then head up to Akakura Onsen for our warm up ski. The snow is a little soft as the sun has been out all day, but still great by Aussie standards. Out on some of the runs, there is a great view to the north to the Sea of Japan. It is great how the snow legs come back quickly. We make the most of our limited time and ski until close.
G has chosen dinner at a yakiniku place. It is Spartan inside, but it is fun, we get to cook our own dinner on a little gas hot plate on our table. The pork is good, G enjoys chicken and I force the vegies on him. I go for hot sake to drink again - a little oily this one. Walk around the Akakura area of Myoko Kogen it is a small place full of hotels and restaurants and other ski places.
We head home with a plan to get to sleep and wake early so we can out to Suginohara on the 8 am bus. Three hours later we are still up reading, and we are similarly late waking in the morning, so we miss the bus and it is local skiing...
Local skiing means the Akakakan (Akakura Kanko) area which is pretty darn good. There has been snow falling the whole time and it is good hard packed stuff on the main runs. We get a few runs in, including doing a run from top to bottom – more than 5 kms. This is hard work, and we have a few stops for G to get over his foot cramps, something that will plague him a bit over the trip. Stop down the bottom to get G new goggles – a basic pair of Uvex as his others are too small and fog up all the time. But we have to get back to the snow sports for G’s lesson. Easier said than done as the lifts are in an upside down ‘Y’ – to cross from one arm to the other you have to go more than halfway up the mountain. So we race up the mountain to go back across to the other side, and do a big rooster tail stop with a minute to spare.
So while G is off having a lesson with cool instructor Damien, I head up to #3 Champion course and head into the trees out on the edge. This is a lot of fun making new tracks through the powder that has settled overnight. The hill is plenty steep enough to keep the pace up as I duck back and forth. No doubt at first run for the day it was pristine, but now there are plenty of tracks around. Mind, as this is the best tree skiing I have ever done, I make the most and cannot complain. Coming back down, I get to see G finishing off a lesson, including them throwing themselves off a cliff – but don’t tell L about it!
Lesson over, we go for lunch. It is now after 3:30 and the restaurants are closed. We do look into one, but everything has been cleared away. But the lovely people say it will be fine and in a short time we have a huge steaming bowl of noodles and curry – magic. With this in our bellies we ski the rest of the day out. The snow is great, good firm base with a bit of powder off to the side, if you know where to look.
After a refreshing bath I get to spend a while doing the accounts and checking the money. We then head out for a late, but easy dinner just down the road from Central. It’s looking good for tomorrow with a steady snowfall as we head back to the hotel.
In the morning we are called down for breakfast – need to get a move on as we are definitely heading over to Suginohara today. There has been a veritable dump last night and we are keen to get out there. We get ready, and I send G out, I will catch up. I was a bit frustrated to see G sitting in the street waiting for me. I yelled at him to get a move on or we will miss the bus ... and as my feet shot out from under me and I landed on my helmet, it did cross my mind that maybe he wasn’t just waiting for me. So he got to unload his frustrations on me, then we picked our way down the icy road to the bus stop.
The bus driver did not seem fussed about the ice on the road as he powered along. After the heavy falls last night, there is powder aplenty. We head right up to the highest parts of the mountain for a look around. Coming down the black side of Hell’s Valley G takes a fall and a hit to the head. My fault.
Out on the Mitahara side they have set up a terrain park, we head over here and do some of the easy stuff. G wants to go again, so we head over – and I notice a few tracks heading into the trees. I follow and have some great runs in knee deep powder through the trees – love it!! G is building up to it, ducking in along the edges here and there. G knee deep in powder snow

G knee deep in powder snow

At one point, I am heading along and all of a sudden, there is a 6 foot drop off and G is stopped at the bottom. I go over the edge, and land too steep so I am over the tips and thump into the snow right next to G – with a small whack in the head from my pole. I haven’t popped out so the bindings may be a bit stiff.
It continues to snow the whole day, so a warm cafe and hot lunch is welcome. Back out, we head into the trees on the lower slopes as well, ducking in and out off the groomed runs. We get to see the JSDF training up the next group of alpine soldiers on the flatter areas. They are obviously tougher than me as some have no hats, no goggles and thin gloves.
We head back up to the higher slopes. We do the big long run right down the hill, 8.5kms long. We are doing some of the terrain park when G has a big stack, which puts an end to the day’s ‘boarding. So we head back to the bus for a steamy 30 minute ride back to the hotel.
After our onsen, we have dinner in the hotel – a traditional multi course Japanese dinner with a steamboat on the table. It is very fresh and tasty, and goes down well. A beer certainly helps. We are getting pretty tired and are early to bed this time. Not that it matters - it is still difficult to wake in the morning. Once we are awake we do see something new for us – clear blue sky! This is the first time since day one of the trip.


Posted by lostagain 18:26 Archived in Japan Tagged skiing Comments (0)

Tokyo Panda Bus

And Kappobashi Dori, and other stuff...

snow -1 °C

Back home we are quickly to bed and I get my best night’s sleep yet, through to 8am. Today is colder than yesterday, drizzly but no snow. After brekky we catch the first Asakusa Panda bus of the day. We are only going a short distance, but the Panda bus route first does a loop across to the Sky Tree, then past Asahi’s Golden Sperm and back to closer to where we wanted to be. Yes,it may have been quicker to walk, but that isn’t the point is it? Panda Bus

Panda Bus

Yellow eared panda

Yellow eared panda

We head over to Kappobashi Dori, the restaurant supply street. L is lusting after a lot of things here and we spend a good hour and a half here, stopping only for a loo break in the local park. It is okay for G and I, but a pitiful yelp comes from the ladies as L’s derriere reaches the ice cold seat... We have finished here and great self control has seen us limited to a few ceramic pieces.
At this point the cold overcomes, and we head back to Ueno station and the warmth of a hot chocolate (much cheaper than on Ginza) After we have recovered, the group splits up. L is heading to Fabric Town on Nippori Chuo Dori. G and I head back to Akiba.
G finds another Nerf gun, and I may have located two extra things I want to get here too. But we are not buying anything yet – the deal is that we come back on the way back to Haneda at the end of the trip. This way at least I don’t have to carry a whole lotta stuff around. We head back to the hotel to rest up and warm up until we get to meet up with L.
We meet up outside one of the Unagi restaurants but it is booked out, and rather than let us wander around looking for another place G says, right we are going next door and marches in. It is a place with your own little hotplate in the table. We have a stilted conversation about what to order and do, but with some encouragement from other diners, we get our own okonomiyaki going and do three courses along with atkasan – hot sake! It is a lot of fun and we should listen to G more often.Okonomyaki dinner

Okonomyaki dinner

L has had good fun with several hours in Fabric Town not enough for her to cover a fraction of what she would like – no doubt if she were to return there would be a solid day spent there. We get to see her enthusiastic purchases – a wide selection of fabrics and trims, and so little time...

Posted by lostagain 18:25 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Cold Day in Tokyo

snow 0 °C

I am up early and super Amy has been working it again and has got our skiing leg of the trip organised to the detail. Amy works for Myoko Kogen tourism and is an absolute wealth of knowledge and a fantastic help for those of us who leave everything until the last minute.
Today it is markedly colder than yesterday and there is a steady drizzle outside. By the time walk down to pick up the first water bus of the day (10am)it has turned to a swirling snow shower. Asahi's Golden Sperm

Asahi's Golden Sperm

There are not many people on the water bus, probably something to do with the weather. The trip down river is probably nicer during the summer, but there is still plenty to see (25 bridges to start with) Even in the snow, there are still some well hard Tokyites out there running. The main ring road expressway goes along then crosses the river, and it is at a standstill at 10:20 in the morning, in contrast to the roads at ground level. Cold and wet on the Sumida river

Cold and wet on the Sumida river

The buildings change from dense packed housing to medium rise to light industrial, and on to high rise housing/offices as we head along. We get an unusual view of the Tsujuki fish markets from the river, before we head into our stop at the Hama Rikyu gardens. These were built by a Shogun as a duck hunting area. And have some nice streams and pools dotted around. Unfortunately, the snow/sleet is pelting down now and we are all whingeing about the cold and wet. A lovely lady at the gardens has lent us umbrellas, at least to the main entry – from here we are on our own.Keeping dry, Hama Rikyu

Keeping dry, Hama Rikyu

From here we struggle against the biting snow and rain to get to the nearest under cover shopping area – fortunately not far away, but L is still soaking wet in the meantime. Undercover, we thaw out a bit and try to work our way along further without having to go out into the cold. We can get as far as the nearest metro station, but now we have the choice – ride the metro until it warms up or back out? Yet again, someone comes to help us out with directions, even coming outside into the cold and wet to guide us. Lovely people the Romans.
We head along Ginza, ducking into stores which take our fancy, or when the snow is too heavy. We then make the brave decision to have hot chocolates in the cafe at the front of the Familiar store. At this point, we see the price, but go ahead with it any way. We have a warm, dry spot with a window view of one of the world’s premier shopping strips. We enjoy this, and try to milk our money’s worth, by staying until the snow abates a little.Million Dollar Hot Chocolates, Ginza

Million Dollar Hot Chocolates, Ginza

We drop into a couple of the department stores, and as lunch hunger hits, we are in Mitsukoshi. Walking around the food hall, there is a little curtained off area next to Sushi Iwa with people eating there.We get a seat there and have some of the best sushi ever to pass our lips. There was a fantastic scallop, L had an amazing sweet shrimp, and G loved his Ikura. Just blissful. Still happy, we wandered around the dessert and sweets area, helping ourselves to the samples.
We spent the next hour or so in the Japanese traditional craft area, looking for something that really grabs our fancy, but nothing leaps out. Having said that I did like an iron bowl with a gilded interior, but the price and the excess baggage charges put me off.
We head up to the Jimbocho area of Tokyo to get G a pair of gloves – although it is usually me with the cold hand issues. There are some good ones in ICI sports – they are very well equipped with everything you could want (if you are only a skier, as G points out) We go and do some other shops and there are a few pairs that G likes, but he wants the flash looking pair which are also the cheapest. I am worried by this but they are out of the clearance bin and had been 5 times the price. We shall see, and he has another couple of pairs as back up. L has gone ahead and calls up – she has found a jacket for me. I am mystified as there is nothing wrong with my op shop Ezekiel jacket with the gaffer tape inside the little tears – it has done plenty of tours no problem... But L has found a Marmot jacket, a season or two old which is cut just right and feels good too, and importantly is a quarter of the price of the new season’s gear. This was on the first floor at Aspen Ski Gear, who seem to have samples, past season’s stock etc.Winter has come to Tokyo

Winter has come to Tokyo

There was a complaint about hunger, so we looked in the book and strode for one of the recommended ones – after ten minutes, found it, it was closed. Could not even find the next one – lack of house numbers is getting to me. G has lost his patience and says why do we always look in the book – how about THAT place? Abashed, we go in. As soon as we sit down G complains that it is too smoky, but not enough to start looking for another place. The mistress of the restaurant speaks great Japanese, and I speak great English. With the help of a few amused customers, we get an order together. As it has been a cold day we get Atsakan (hot sake) to drink, which goes well with all the food. The restaurant, Han Nari, specialises in Kyoto style food, and it is all very good. We comment on how good it is, and G says told you so...Plum Tuckered

Plum Tuckered

Posted by lostagain 18:20 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Tour of the Imperial Palace grounds, Tokyo

4 °C

After a good breakfast to fuel us through the morning we head down to the palace – well as best I can as something has not agreed with me and wants to be out as soon as possible. No major issues and we present ourselves for the Imperial Palace tour at the Kikyomon gate. This tour is free, but you need to book ahead to confirm names, numbers etc and not just rock up. You can book up to the day before, which is okay at this time of year, but will be a problem when it is warmer.Kikyo-mon gate

Kikyo-mon gate

Even before the tour when we passed through the Kikyomon gate, the battlements are something to behold. The palace is circled by moats, with large rock walls rising out and up to the palace ground level some 10 to 20 metres above. The corners are dovetailed together with huge dressed blocks, and the walls in between are huge boulders coarsely matched to create a formidable barrier.
The tour starts with instructions given, understood and signed for. For the gaijin, there is a audio tour available to keep up with the explanations. My audio tour did not seem to have the jokes the guide was telling, or maybe they just did not translate well.
Once inside the main walls, the grounds are groomed to the minutest detail with bushes and hedges trimmed just so, and the pines shaped and plucked to their most pleasing presentation. These frame our first sight, the Fuji – yagura (Mt Fuji view keep), an impressive tower looking over the front moats. Mt Fuji view keep, Imperial Palace

Mt Fuji view keep, Imperial Palace

Past some non descript buildings that were the temporary Palace, we go up the hill to the real thing. The Palace had to be rebuilt in the 50s after the fire storms in WW2. The architect has done very well, creating a very understated facade that is quite timeless. The long balcony from which the Royal family greet everyone on New Year’s day stretches 100 metres and behind it is the Chowaden hall. The roof is copper which has gone green over the years to resemble so many traditional roofs. Imperial Palace

Imperial Palace

We headed past the palace to head down across nijubashi from where we can see Fushimi yagura, a keep moved here from Kyoto centuries ago. It is very picturesque and many photos are taken by all, with plenty of ducking and weaving as we all go for the best angles and not get in each other’s way. We head back across in front of the Palace, but closer this time so we get to appreciate some of the details better. We then loop around the north side to see some more of the gardens before heading back out to the start. It has been over an hour, and well worth doing to see so much more than circling outside.
Now we head over to the East gardens. The winter weather means that this is not as exciting as at other times of year, but you do get a strong idea of what the Edo palace was like centuries ago. The set out of the gardens is still apparent, and some of the tea houses dotted around show up well against the bare trees. Tea House, Palace gardens

Tea House, Palace gardens

The old tower base and fortifications bear witness to the craftsmen’s skills at working stone.
As we depart the gardens we try out another Japanese taste sensation, a hot strawberry flavoured tea from a vending machine. Hmmmm....
We head over to Daimaru on the other side of Tokyo station. We look at a map on the way which gets us attention as yet again someone stops to help. We have been helped many times by many different people from a broad cross section of ages.
In Diamaru we have a brief look about but we are really focussed on getting some food from the basement food court. We all pick up a selection, but then the issue is where to eat it – this is designed to take back to the office or work. So we indelicately prop somewhere and eat up, and it is really good.
After this L insists we bore her again and we head back to Akiba and look at models!! After leaving me with all the cash at my favourite, Leonardo’s, it is an hour before we get out again, and head off to the next shop and the next and the next... We meet up at a Starbuck’s for large serves of hot sweet stuff. I want to go to an Unagi (eel) restaurant – there are a couple not far from our hotel, but as we search around for them it is soon apparent that they are closed. G suggests a place nearby, and we head in to a small place with a central cooking/preparation area with a bar around that we sit up at. With our very fluent Japanese pointing and miming, and the restaurant phrase in the back of the guide book, we work out some food. This is all cooked on a little charcoal brazier, and we have piping hot chicken teriyaki, pork belly, chicken balls as well as some tuna sushi and hot sake. Izakaya restaurant

Izakaya restaurant

It is all delicious and we sort have a discussion about us coming to Japan for skiing and how we have been to Tokyo before but not Asakusa. After this we head back to the hotel and sleep.

Posted by lostagain 18:15 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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