Kanto Maigo – Day 6

Buzzing sounds at 4:35am. It’s the alarm.




I leapt out of bed and quickly got changed.




The first monorail leaves at 4:59am.




Hamamatsucho station where the monorail terminates on the Tokyo end is just 800m from the hotel. This was one of the major considerations in choosing the location, to catch the very first train to Haneda Airport.




There was a lot of traffic given the hour, the sky was still dark and darker still with the light drizzle. I got to the station with several minutes to spare, already there were many people lined up outside the ticket gate with large luggages with them also wanting to get to the airport as early as possible.




Y had landed early and had already passed customs. I sent a message to find some place or cafe to rest first.


Y 提早降落已經過海關了。我傳短訊請說先找個地方還是咖啡店休息一下。


The first train was an rapid service, took just 13 minutes to get to Haneda.




We met up outside the Lawson store, I also got a rice ball to tie me over till breakfast opens, and we headed to the Keikyu gates to go to Shinbashi.




There was a lot of people waiting to top up at the Keikyu machines so I took Y’s card and ran to the monorail side just on the other side of the terminal hall and topped up there.




Unfortunately we still missed the train, thankfully only had to wait 15 minutes for the next one.




The Keikyu line connected to the Asakusa metro, the train goes directly to Shinbashi in about 25 minutes. It had begun to rain moderately. We walked to Super Hotel, threw the luggages into my room for now and went back to Shinbashi station.


京急線與地鐵淺草線有直通,坐車直達新橋大約25分鐘。雨變大了。我們走到Super Hotel先把行李丟我房間,然後回到新橋站。


The rain did not look to be stopping anytime soon, I decided to shift the original plan of going to Meiji Jingu Outer Garden then breakfast at Shinjuku to the backup.




Tokyo station first for breakfast, then Shinjuku and arrive early at Jindaiji temple.




Tsukiji Sushi Sei at Gransta (the shopping street beneath Tokyo station inside the ticket area) opened at 7am.

Somehow despite missing the earlier train back at the airport, we were still a few minutes early and first waited by the Silver Bell.






This was the first proper meal I had planned to eat and actually ate since arriving in Japan, I commented.




We were the first one there, more people soon came and a line quickly formed behind us. It’s a holiday, I thought. The restaurant opened, we were asked to order first so I ordered the tai fish in sesame sauce and Y the grilled fish and fish egg then we were shown to a table. The was not very big, maybe 6 tables and a row of counter seats.




By the time our food arrived the place was full. And today was a holiday, imagine on a work day.




The set included the main dish, rice, pickles, eggroll, some seasoning and a small pot of soup. We were wondering what the pot was for before we found the instructions on the paper stand. The soup was meant to be poured into the rice bowl, it was recommended that this be done after half the rice had been eaten to enjoy a different rice experience.


That made sense.





Seasame tai fish


Grills fish with egg

Soup soaked rice

The fish was delicious if the portions a little small. The soup with rice was perfect on a cold morning, very light and gentle with a subtle flavour.




We did not sit for too long after finishing our meal, there were many people waiting outside.



Sushi Sei

The plan was to wait until 8am when Pensta opens. Maybe because it’s a public holiday or my memory had failed me, shops only begun to open at 7:30 and even then most shops not until 8. We ended up wandering at random, checking out the bento stalls and sweets shops.




Tokyo station sure have a lot of bentos. And Tokyo Banana seemingly have a stall at every corner and turn.



Bento festival

JR East’s suica IC cards have a penguin on them as mascot, Pensta is a store selling goods associated with the fluffy creature.


Cards, pens, mobile cases, pass cases, water bottles, even tooth brushes. There were also cookies and sweets. Small the shop may be, it held plenty curiosities.




Pensta penguin



Planned for first half of the day is Jindaiji and the Yumorinosato onsen nearby.




Jindaiji is about 30 minutes west of Shinjuku, a few km below Mitaka. It’s not a super popular spot because of its distance from train stations makes it not very accessible comparatively.




I ran across the location because I had already penciled in the sake brewery tour which is at Haijima on the far western side of Tokyo and wanted to find a place for Y to have some rest after the red eye flight.




I basically looked at every onsen, spa between Tokyo and Tachikawa. There’s LaQua at Tokyo Dome, Oedo Monogatari of course, there’s also Niwa no Yu at Toshima, several onsen baths in Kamata district, Akishima Onsen which is close but still some distance to Haijima.




Yumorinosato was chosen due to it being next to Jindaiji, a nice place to visit and still more or less along the chuo line axis to be considered on the way, and just about the right distance that arrival there won’t be too early nor late.




There’s a small detour during the transfer at Shinjuku to check out the penguin statue outside the southern exit.



Shinjuku Penguin Square

There’s a few ways to get to Jindaij, either Mitaka from the north or Choufu from the south. Mitaka is faster by Chuo line from Shinjuku but has a longer bus ride. Choufu on the Keio line is slower but much closer by bus. In general, going via Choufu is faster all things considered.




We checked the map for the Keio line station at Shinjuku, it was as confusing as ever. Thankfully the flight of stairs we decide to go down was the correct one.




It was still raining by the time we reached Choufu, the forecast said it would stop by lunchtime but looking at the skies that seemed unlikely.




The bus stop to Jindaiji is on opposite corner of the loop coming out the surprisingly new and fancy station. The bus waiting there was the one we wanted.




Does this go to Jindaiji? I asked.


No no, the driver answered.






I stepped back and check the route number. It’s the right one, then I realized the driver must be pedantic.



Jindaiji primary school? I asked again.


Primary school is fine. The driver replied.





The two stops were less than a hundred metres apart. The primary school stop is at the intersection while Jindaiji stop proper goes into the street and is right before the temple. There’s practically no difference for someone going to Jindaiji.




A quick 10 minute bus ride and we got off at the start of the Jindaiji main street.




Jindaiji is Tokyo’s second oldest temple. Sandwiched between the ruins of Jindaiji castle and a botanical garden the temple and surrounding area escaped modern encroachment and retained much of the traditional feel of the Edo era. The area is blessed with many natural springs and several streams flows through the area.



Jindaiji east entrance



Raindrops from heaven spattered on the stone paths. Pilgrims heading for worship on the timeless road.




The main thatched gate is covered in moss, it has stood here for over 300 years, the oldest structure in Jindaiji.



Jindaiji gate





There was a small girl in formal kimono dress worshipping inside the main hall with her parent. It’s unclear whether today was actually a day with special meaning in Japanese tradition since we later saw another girl also in formal dress. Maybe some kind of growing up ceremony?




Jindaiji is home to a national treasure, a copper buddha statue from the late Asuka period sometime in the 7th century, one of the oldest in Kantou. The statue used to be gold plated but the gold was lost in a fire.



National treasure, Hokuho Buddha

It was housed in its own special display room which guests were allowed to view through the window. A monk standing on duty helpfully handed us Chinese pamphlets.








Kitaro cafe


Kitaro cafe

Kitaro cafe

It was past 10, meaning it was time to head to the onsen.




Yumorinosato was about 5 minutes walk south of Jindaiji. Much like Jindaiji it retained much of the old traditional bath atmosphere.




Upon entering one is to remove thier shoes and put it into a shoe locker on the left, then take the shoe locker key to the front desk where one choose the desired plan.



Shoe lockers

Front desk area

Today was a holiday so it was 1200Y for unlimited time with provided towels (on weekday it’ll also include a yukata). The front desk took away the shoe locker key and gave us a numbered locker key and a towel voucher. Any purchases made in the bathhouse is charged to the number and the total paid at the end when checking out.




The place was old but quite cozy. It went through a change of management a few years ago and it looked like the new owner brought in new decorations like the suit of armor and potted plants, hung arts.




The interior could be broken into a few areas. Near the front desk was a little shop area where one could buy beauty products and some traditional Japanese souvenirs, the selection indicates the place sees quite a few foreigners. A long corridor goes all the way through the building, midway down the corridor there’s a reading area where juice and other drinks are also sold, outside the reading area is a foot onsen. At the end the corridor opens up into a foyer area where the bath entrance is and the stairs to the second floor, outside the foyer is a small garden where the source well of the onsen water is.






Long corridor


Onsen source

Bath foyer

Between the bath entrances there’s a counter where one exchanges the voucher for towels then head on through to the changing rooms. The change room is huge with rows of lockers. I put my things into the locker and head on into the bath.




The onsen water here is drawn from over 1500m below. Much like many onsens in Tokyo the water is blackish (Tokyo use to be a swamp), one could not see one’s hand when dipped in just 5 cm deep.




The water is at a much more comfortable temperature than the ones in Kusatsu. I first settle into the indoor bath to warm myself before trying the outdoor ones.




The place is curious in its large variety of baths and use of feng shui. Some of the outdoor baths have the name of the 4 mythical beasts carved in them, said to improve the onsen’s healing powers.




The onsen was surrounded by thick forests and one could hardly believe this was in the middle of Tokyo.




Waking up before 5 this morning was quite rough, a hot onsen was much needed.




After the bath I did a walk around, taking photos. Y had not come out yet so left a message and went upstairs where the restaurant and sleeping quarter is. The sleeping quarter is a large tatami space, maybe about 6 by 6 metres, where people could lie down to rest. Wicker weave pillow and cushions are stacked on the side for one to use as needed.



Sleeping area

Cushion and pillow

Restaurant entrance

Turned out Y came out not long after me but missed the message on Line. Ended up staying at the onsen a little longer than planned.




Feeling refreshed, we went back to Jindaiji for lunch. The rain had stopped just as forecasted, impressive.



Daikokuten and Ebisu along the way


In times past the area was more suited for growing buckwheat than rice and soba noodle became associated with the area. The soba here was presented to the shogun on hunting trips and received much praise.




There are some 20 odd soba restaurants around Jindaiji and competition is fierce. I had written down 3-4 ones that people have said were good and figured we’d see whichever one we run into first. That turned out to be Ikkyuan.



Waterwheel outside Ikkyuan

The place was down to earth like a common eatery, there are regular tables and also tatami rooms for larger groups. The workshop where they make their soba is right by the entrance as one walks in.



Ikkyuan interior

The place was not very busy yet and we sat down at a long wooden table.




The menu is somewhat confusing. There are 3 groups of soba noodles: 100%, 90% and 80%. We worked out this meant what percentage of flour the noodle is made of is buckwheat. 100% means all buckwheat, 90% means 10% is wheat flour.




We both go the 90% one. Y commented later maybe we should have each ordered a different ratio to see what was the difference.




The soba was served on a wicker plate together with a bowl of sauce, a bit of wasabi and spring onions and a pot of something soupy. I asked the staff what the soupy thing was and she explained it was soba-yu, or the water used to cook the soba. After one has finished the soba one should pour the soba-yu into what’s left of the sauce to create a soup that can be enjoyed.



Ikkyuan soba

The soba was much firmer and textured than other soba I’ve had before in Japan, can’t decide whether that’s good or not. Y seemed to like it, so that’s good.




The crowd was out in force now, the streets before the temple packed with visitors.





There were a few shops around Jindaiji. Some sold sweets, grilled rice cakes. There’s a craft shop where people could paint or make their own pottery.



Pottery painting

There’s a Kitaro cafe/shop based on the manga about Japanese ghosts and monsters. On the roof of the cafe is a pair of giant geta, the walls painted with adorable monsters that appeared in the manga. On a tree outside there’s a treehouse where Kitaro is seen playing with his friends.




We probably needed another half hour, the area was much more interesting than anticipated. Unfortunately time was pressing, we still had to get to the sake brewery before 2:30pm.




We just missed the bus going to Mitaka. Admitted we didn’t so much as miss it but I thought we didn’t have to run for it because google map told me the bus wasn’t due to leave for another 5 minutes. Sadly google map didn’t know today was a holiday and bus ran on different times….


我們剛剛好錯過了去三鷹的巴士。嚴格說我們可以趕上的,但是google map說還有5分鐘所以我以為還不需用跑的。問題是google map不知道今天是假日,班次時間不同…


The next one was not due for another 15 minutes. Connecting at Mitaka was going to be a bit too close to get to Haijima on time, there did not seem to be other faster alternatives.




I shrugged it off for the time being and suggested we check out a watermill nearby till the next bus.




The watermill is just about 10 metres up the road. This is a still working actual watermill which can still used today to mill grains (have to fill in a form beforehand to apply for a time slot). Located next to the watermill is a small museum displaying the traditional tools used for farming back in the days.







We departed for Mitaka. Luck was not with us that day, the bus got into a little bit of traffic and we missed the connection entirely at Mitaka. Now we were in trouble.




We caught the next available train. I sent an email to the brewery that we would be about 20 minutes late. I was biting my lips, hope they won’t cancel our tour.




Haijima is on the western outskirts of Tokyo, on the border of what might be called rural Tokyo bounded by the Tama river. Across the river laid the Western Tama region where rice paddies and forested mountains could be found.




Situated at the foot of the mountains this area is blessed with good spring water and has a long tradition of sake brewing since ancient times.




But there was no time to take in the scenery. Originally I had planned to walk the 1km distance to the brewery, now that we were late, I suggested we take a taxi instead. We got to the brewery about 20minutes later than the reserved time, I introduced myself to one of the staff and to my relief she just said welcome and called for our guide.




The brewery is called Ishikawa Brewery, one of around 6 brewery in Tokyo that offered tours and one of 2 that offered them in English.




Finding brewery tours took significant effort during planning.




Originally I had tried to look for tours by well known brands, however their factories were a prefecture or two out, or even in Kansai. Then looking at the individual breweries within Tokyo itself, many of them had already modernized and were brewing in concrete factory like buildings, which loses much of the charm of visiting a sake brewery.




The choices narrowed down to Ishikawa and Ozawa, both breweries with very long histories.




Ozawa is further west deeper into the Tama mountains. Founded in 1702 it retained its traditional storehouses and its tour includes seeing the natural mountain spring that the brewery takes its water from, within a cave 140m deep. It overlooks the nearby mountain river and there’s also a sake museum, a garden and tofu and craft shops, forming its own tourist spot.




The two downsides are it only offered English pamphlet, the tour is still in Japanese. And that it’s another 40 minutes by train from Haijima. Going there requires dedicating the whole day.




Ishikawa isn’t as scenic as Ozawa, but offered just as much if not more in other areas.



Ishikawa Brewery

Our guide turned out to the the company director’s assistant. A middle aged woman with quite good English. She was friendly though reserved, perhaps because of having to speak in English she tried to stay to her notes.




Our tour begins with the main storehouse, built in 1880 and a registered tangible cultural properties. The storehouse is 3 storey tall and about 25m by 28m at its base. The earthern walls and doors are maybe 30cm thick, built to be fireproof to protect its contents in an age where fires often ravaged Japanese wooden houses.




The inside is cool and spacious. Around the sides laid several large tanks where sake is brewed, the second floor and up might be used to access the vats but otherwise did not look to have things stored up there. The beams and pillars and most of the rest of the wooden structure are the original wood, our guide noted. The brewery is a small one and they don’t make much sake each year, though they are slowly expanding.



Storehouse interior

Our guide explained the process of sake brewing to us, some of which I had some vague idea before, others she made much clearer. I had always thought sake just used koji and did not realize koji is only used to turn starch into sugar, yeast still have to be added to turn the sugar into alcohol.




Coming out the storehouse, she then pointed to the cedar ball hung above the door and asked us if we knew what it was. I had some general idea that it signalled that the new batch of sake is available. Turned out the ball meant much more. The cedar ball or sugidama is built fresh each year so that a cedar ball that’s just been hung out would be slightly green. Overtime the cedar ball would turn brown and this allowed people to know from a glance how long ago the sake was brewed.



Cedar ball

The cedar ball here is extra big and extra heavy (I forgot how many kg, it was a scary number enough to crush someone), the lady laughed, because since they got a big storehouse it seemed appropriate to have a big one.




Above the storehouse’s door was also a length of rope (shimenawa), because sake used to been as sacred and in the old days women were not allowed to enter the place where sake is made. These days such restrictions are gone and there are many sake masters (Toji). There’s even a foreigner who became a famous sake master in Kyoto, Philip Harper, who appeared in a documentary, Kanpai – for the love of Sake.


在門上還有一條注連繩。因為酒又視為神物,古時候女性是不准進入釀酒的屋子的。現在那些限制已經沒了,也有很多女性的釀酒大師。京都還有一位外國人釀酒師,Philip Harper,曾在紀錄片Kanpai For the love of Sake中介紹過。


The brewery grounds is roughly a square surrounded by storehouses. The central space can be broken into two halves, separated by a cluster of small houses in the middle.




The main entrance and old storehouse is on the right side. Next to the old storehouse is a slightly newer one (1897, also a cultural property) which is used to age the sake.




Opposite the newer storehouse is the brewery’s shop selling its sake and beers.



Sake shop

Outside the shop there’s a pair of 400 years old zelkova trees, worshipped as the gods Daikokuten (god of good harvest and fortune) and Benzaiten (god of wealth and fortune). Beneath the trees, well water from 150m below pours forth from a bamboo spout into a stone basin. I took some of the water in my bottle, did not taste too differently, not like in the mangas where characters yell out “the water is sweet”.



Twin zelkova tree

Twin zelkova tree

Well water

There’s a “corridor” connecting the left and right side of the center space. The side facing the outside houses the restaurant Zoukura, that’s apparently quite popular with the americans at Yokota air base on the other side of Haijima station. The food is said to be quite good, we did contemplate having dinner there but it was booked out. (Maybe I should have made a booking)




Above the restaurant is the museum, suggested that we visit after the tour.




On the inside of the corridor is a traditional Japanese mansion, with a long outer gate (nagayamon) opening onto a garden before the main residence. The owner of the brewery, the 18th generation Ishikawa, still lives here. On the door is the nameplate Ishikawa Iyahachiro. It’s a name inherited by the head of the family so the nameplate never changes. When a heir assumes the position as head of the family and as owner of the brewery, he changes his name to Iyahachiro. The son of the current owner is still young and wants to be a baseball player. The lady jokes, the kid does yet not know what is in store for him.




The long outer gate is built over 250 years ago (very much a cultural property) from time before the 13th head of Ishikawa family decided to venture into sake brewing. The Ishikawa family has deep roots and a long history in this region.




Stood against one of the wall is a giant wooden barrel, maybe 2 metres wide and 2 metres tall. It was the barrel they used to steam rice in, our guide explained. Back in the old days workers had to wake up in the middle of the night because it took them an hour or two just to start the fire and boil the water, several hours all up to steam the rice. And if the sake master decided it wasn’t steamed quite right, the whole thing will have to be redone. Nowaday with all the machines and automation, it only takes one person an hour.



Giant barrel

We now get to the left side of the central space, and the courtyard here centres around a giant cauldron.




The brewery dabbled a little in beer making in the 1880s when beer was taking off in Japan. Lacking the bottling technology unfortunately the brewery had to give up beer brewing not long after, it was not until 1998 that it was taken up again by the 17th head.




The giant cauldron was left from the times the brewery first took up beer making. Though the brewery gave up on beer making, the cauldron was kept around but neglected, eventually getting buried beneath overgrowths and earth. Thus by lucky misfortune the cauldron escaped being molten down and made into weapons during the war years. There it laid quietly in the grounds until it was discovered and dug up.



Giant cauldron

On the outer face of the courtyard is another restaurant, this one a western styled one, ahead is the beer brewing workshop. Above the workshop is an entertainment space that is used to host parties, ceremonies and banquets. Sometimes they get to entertain high ranking officials from the US military.



Other restaurant

Parked outside the workshop is an old car in working condition belonging to the owner.




Behind the giant cauldron is the original well used by the brewery before they dug the new 150m deep well. There is still water inside the old well, when we leaned over the grates we could hear the sound of rippling water below.



The old well

In the old days the workers would have to bring up water one bucket at a time. I can barely imagine what it must be like to fill up that giant cauldron behind us using just bucket.




By the well is another zelkova tree, at over 700 years old it is the oldest tree on the premise and around Haijima. The tree is seen as sacred tree and has shimenawa rope tied around it.




Part of the reason the brewery took up beer again is because sake could only be brewed in winter and expanding production can be difficult, while beer can be made all year round.




Apparently the sake staffs and beer staffs are separate divisions with few overlaps. The sake staff are busy half the year making sake then spend the other half of the year doing small maintenance and taking holidays ( during sake making it can be difficult to have even a day off).




The current Ishikawa head is quite ambitious, wanting to expand the brewery’s international appeal and make it like a Disney land of Japanese brewery.




We were then led to the shop for some sake tasting. We were given 3 types of sake.



Sake tasting

The first was their new batch of standard sake. It was quite aromatic and better than the sake I can usually get in the shops.




Then an unfiltered sake which was slightly cloudy and gave a stronger taste and texture.




Last was an unfiltered unpasteurized sake, something that apparently could not be easily bought in regular shops because of regulations and the need to keep it refrigerated. An unpasteurized sake still has live yeast within it which gives it a more wild and fruity taste.




Then we were given some of their plum sake. Their plum sake was made from sake as opposed to shouchu, I am not entirely clear on what’s the difference. Y obviously understood the significance and chatted with the lady on which was more popular. The plum sake tasted really good.




The tour concluded here and we were left to explore the premise and shop as we like.



Looking around

The museum upstairs contains a thorough tracing of the history of not just the brewery but the Ishikawa family itself.




For a small brewery its museum is very impressive and professional. It has on display the original brand and labels which the brewery labelled its beer, the changes the brewery went through over the years, including photos from the meiji era. There’s a gorgeous clay crafted ukiyoe depicting the traditional brewing process, of people steaming rice, laying rice, sprinkling koji, stirring the fermenting rice in the barrels.



The original beer by Ishikawa

Clay ukiyoe

People making sake


Old document

What really got my interest is the section detailing the history of the Ishikawa family. The family had a long history beginning in the Edo period as nanushi, sorta like a village leader/elder.




There’s a document pertaining to the Ishikawa family having been responsible for providing the shogun with ayu fish, and since ayu fish required good water, the Ishikawa family was also given management of (a portion?) the Tama river (which no doubt profited the family greatly). The Ishikawa family also dined emissaries from Korea, traded textiles and chalk from the Oume area and was eventually granted permission to establish a brewery. All showed how influential the Ishikawa family was.




In total the Ishikawa brewery has 6 registered tangible cultural properties.




Visiting the Ishikawa brewery is one of the best highlight out of all the trips. The sense of culture, curiosity and history is immense, almost hard to digest.




We last went back to the shop to decide what sake to buy.




I liked the plum sake. Then Y said their company sold better plum sake, so I put down the bottle in my hand.




It’s unfortunate that the unpasteurized sake required refrigeration, otherwise I would have bought one to bring back to Taiwan.




We ended up buying just two small bottles, an unpasteurized one to drink while we’re in Japan and another regular sake Y intended to bring back for family.




Night comes early in winter in Japan. Being near the mountains a chill crept into the air despite there still being light in the distant sky.




We walked back to Haijima station. Along the way I asked how tired Y was feeling.




There’s two plans for dinner, one was to go directly back to Shinbashi, check-in, have a rest then head out for dinner around Shinbashi.




The other plan was to go to Takadanobaba and have Suehiro ramen. The super heavy ramen I had before in Sendai on that exhausted night.




The ramen, I explained to Y, is super heavy, not fatty nor salty, just very rich in flavour.




While going via Takadanobaba was a slight detour compared to taking JR all the way to Shinbashi, it would be more on the way than if we tried to go there any other day, as Takadanobaba was connected to Haijima via the Seibu lines.




It’s about 45 minutes from Haijima to Takadanobaba with a transfer across the platform at Kodaira.




Suehiro ramen is about 200m down along the main street from the station. It was not quite 6 yet, there were few customers inside.



Suehiro ramen

We ordered from the ticket machine. The ramen was the same price regardless of size. I was puzzled for a bit, then ultimately got the large sized one. Y suggested it was because they wanted to avoid the trouble of noodle refills and left it to the customers to decide up front how much to eat.




Suihero ramen provides a bowl of spring onions to add as much as one liked to balance the heavy taste. I dunked huge amounts of onion into my noodle and dug in. It was as good as I remembered, the flavour and warmth spreading to every corner of the body.




The soup is dark and slightly thick, topped with very thinly sliced, almost shredded chashu pork.




Spring onion bowl

The signature dish, despite being called Chinese Soba, is nothing like Chinese noodle…. That was my thought last time and again when I described to Y earlier. Now Y commented that it’s taste is indeed closer to Chinese than Japanese ramens, and I think there’s some truth to that.




My craving satiated, time to go back to Shinbashi.




Going from Takadanobaba to Shinbashi required taking the East-West line and transferring to the Ginza line.




There was a train waiting when we got to the platform and I made a mistake of getting ahead onto the train before Y. The door closed right behind me.




That was a stupid mistake. I sent a message for Y to take the next train and get off at Nihonbashi.




Fortunately nothing went awry and we met up again at Nihonbashi and transferred to the Ginza line. This time I made sure Y got on first and tried to make sure throughout the rest of the trip.




Originally I had planned to go out to see one illumination, but we were both too tired and each went to back to our rooms.




Kanto Maigo – Day 5

I think 4 days may be my limit travelling alone. The excitement wears off and places where the plan goes awry piles up. Tedium and lethargy always set in around this time.




The breakfast at Villa Fountaine had changed a little, the sausage became a meat patty and the fried rice became curry flavoured fried rice. Taste about the same.


Villa Fountaine的早餐沒什麼變化,只有熱狗變成漢堡肉排,炒飯變成咖哩炒飯。味道差不多。

Villa Fountaine breakfast

After breakfast and checkout since it was still early, I decided to head to the area in front of Tokyo station for a walk.




Some of the ginkyo trees in the open had already yellowed or fallen while ones in the Marunouchi were still mostly green. The autumn leaves was very uneven this year, likely a result of the swings in weather.




Tokyo station

In retrospect I should have gone to Meiji Jingu Outer Garden since I knew it would rain tomorrow morning. I could have at least done a full walk to Yurakucho, it would have delayed going to the exhibition but there was time. The brain had mostly shutdown though and I just went numbly through the schedule for most of the day.




Nogizaka station connected directly with the art museum. Similar to Roppongi station the line was built very deep beneath the ground and it took at least 5 flight of escalators to get to the entrance.




Excitement floods back into me once I was handed the beautifully printed ticket.




The art museum’s outward facing side was a wavey lattice of glass wall. The inside was an empty space occupied by two upside down cones where upon sat a cafe and a restaurant.



Toward the art museum


This is where Taki and Okudera had their date.




A line was beginning to form outside the exhibit entrance. I rushed to go in before I could get a better look of the art gallery.




Sadly there is no taking photo inside exhibit. In addition to the ticket I also got the audio guide (always get audio guides). The Japanese audio guide is voiced by none other than Kamiki Ryunosuke, Taki’s voice actor and long time big fan of Shinkai, and every section had a track where Kamiki would describe his own experience and thoughts toward the particular piece of work. Since this is a huge selling point, the English guide would leave in Kamiki’s Japanese voice for a sentence or two before fading out and the English voice takes over. The English voice also did its best to mimic Kamiki’s soothing, cute, calm, dreamy mannerism.




At first the line to around the exhibit moved very slowly as everyone took their time to go through the sketches, storyboards or magazine articles. A few would meticulously note down things in their notebook and one person I noticed would even sketch down the storyboards.




While waiting for the lines to move I also wrote down the more notable features of the exhibit on the phone.




While each of Shinkai’s film would have a dedicated section, they would all focus on a slightly different theme, be it experience, technical detail or thematic message. In addition to the storyboards there would also be a short clip or two showing the end result in the film.






Perhaps as a call out to Kimi no Nawa, the very first thing upon entering the exhibit is an OP. It is essentially using various cuts from Shinkai’s films to the soundtrack Dream Lantern from Kimi no Nawa. It’s great and brings a smile to the face.


(There will also be an ED)






Hoshi no Koe (Voices of a Distant Star) 星之聲


The first section is Hoshi no Koe, Shinkai’s debut film. The section goes into the story that led up to it, how Shinkai created She and Her Cat during his spare time.




Hoshi no Koe was a remarkable story, it stunned the world with its beauty, its mix of CG and computer graphics editing, and everything except the music done by his friend Tenmon was done by a single person. It redefined what was considered possible in the industry. Right from the very beginning Shinkai stood out as one of the few who would be seen to have the potential of someday being compared to the great Miyazaki.




On display was a recreated work desk when Shinkai worked on the piece by himself, a crowded small desk upon which sat an old PowerMac and a huge drawing tablet.




Articles from the time about the film were shown, to help understand how it was received at the time. When Hoshi no Koe was shown in theatre there were people lining up everyday. Even when the last showing had ended there were still people waiting outside, so the theatre decided to put on another showing. Then another, then another, well into the night.




Kumo no Mukou (Place Promised in Our Early Days) 雲之彼端


Hung from the ceiling was a small scale model of the plane that the protagonist built in the film.




This section described Shinkai’s first experience working with a production crew and the struggles he faced. This was a trial by fire for Shinkai. Although the film barely came out and was flawed in may aspects, it laid the foundation for Shinkai’s subsequent work and gave him a core of staff to rely upon and together improve throughout the director’s career. Most notably background art director Danji Takumi who would go on to work on every Shinkai film.




It explained Shinkai’s love with clouds, where he fell in love with from looking at the skies in his school years during commute. The mountains surrounding his hometown created a great different variety of clouds and he would sketch them down in his drawing book.




5 cm per second 秒速五釐米


The film which most Shinkai fans would come to know the director, as Kamiki admits to be one of them in the narration. He talked of how he fell in love with the pure simple portrayal of love, longing and distances.




The film saw incredible success and despite a limited showing was so popular it had an unusually long run in the theatres.




The focus apart from the film’s history, was on how the beautiful backgrounds were created. For people unfamiliar with photoshop or digital painting the section would have been greatly informative.




The example used to illustrate the background composition was the scene with the parked cars and cherry blossom leaves. The whole background consisted of around 30 layers, the sign card boasted. I’m surprised the whole background only consisted of 30 layers.




A common question regarding whether the backgrounds are edited photos or based on photos. This is answered here by showing a series of original real life photo taken during location scouting and their final background art. A fews things can be gathered: the backgrounds are not merely painted over photos, objects in the scenes are shifted and adjusted and the perspective at times changes; Shinkai knows exactly what shot, angle and framing he wants when he goes location scouting, the reference photos aren’t just wide shots to take in the scenery and objects, they are already composed and framed to how the end artwork should look.




Here written on the walls, explained Shinkai’s philosophy behind his films.




When things get tough, the closest source of comfort is scenery. when feeling no one understands, step back and look at big picture, all people connected to larger world.


Even if sad, in the beautiful scenery, you are part of something beautiful.






On the wall the cherry blossoms fell. On the TV flashed through scenes from the movie to the theme song of One More Chance, One More Time. Sadness, regret, memories. I was not the only one in the room with wetness in the eyes.




Children Chasing Lost Voices 追逐繁星的孩子


The exhibit put significant emphasis on how this film came about. Unsaid that this film was not received well by the fans.




After 5cm per second Shinkai went on a world tour to the middle east and London, where he thought about where to take his next film. The answer was Children Chasing Lost Voices where he wanted to return to the roots of Japanese animation and adopted more traditional methods, including designs, palette, and the use of concept visuals which were drawings of a scene, in much more detailed than the usual storyboards, to better convey the fantasy world as envisioned to the team.




The technical aspect explained here was the colour setting and brushes.




Colour setting was new to me. The colours used for the characters have to change to suit the colour tone of the scene. Each item of the character and their skin tones had to be decided and codified to create a consistent look throughout the film.




The different photoshop custom brushes used to paint the backgrounds were shown here. Displayed most prominently was the brush used to draw clouds.




The initial town in the film was based on Shinkai’s hometown.




The item on display here was a replica of the crystal radio.




The section was pain to point out that the film was not received well and this prompted Shinkai to rethink how to balance the message and story he wanted to tell with what the fan wanted.




Timeline, Other Works and Overseas 年表,其他作品,海外


Cleverly inserted after Lost Voices to break up the tedium of going through film after film, is a section on Shinkai’s life outside of the films.




On the wall was a timeline of Shinkai’s life, how his career developed matched to developments in the world. The development of digital technology and how Shinkai was one of the pioneers that took up the medium. The development of the iphone and other major events such as the 311 earthquake. The last point is particularly important given Kimi no Nawa was partly inspired by Shinkai’s visit to Touhoku and his desire to create a more uplifting story for a nation in sorrow.




Shinkai did speed skating in primary and archery in high school, both of which featured in his films.




Also showcased are some of his works outside of the major films, about his works at Falcom and the OP he created there for the games. The exhibit isn’t shy about mentioning his involvement in EF but they did avoid showing the OP…. which is a shame.




Shinkai’s other works also included short features such as the one for NHK about a cat trying to destroy the world, various advertisements (they didn’t show the one for Z-Kai….) and sponsored project like Dareka no Manazashi (Someone’s Gaze).




Shinkai from the very start had a comparatively wider overseas reach than his contemporaries. All the various DVD/BD cases and movie posters from around the world in their respective languages and slightly altered designs. It is a great showcase of an aspect that is really unique to Shinkai. (Shinkai is really loved overseas, I don’t think I’ve seen other directors being called nicknames the way Shinkai is by many Chinese/Taiwanese fans, Makoto ni-san, Big-Brother Makoto)




Shinkai’s literature background. Shinkai studied literature as his university major and is very well read. On display are many books which Shinkai drew his inspirations from. Not surprisingly amongst them is Haruki Murakami.




There’s a small bit on the common themes that exhibit throughout Shinkai’s works. The railway, the use of lighting to reflect mood, the cats (btw there’s a funny quiz in the audio guide about the name of Shinkai’s cat). It seemed like an odd inclusion as its own section, turns out it’s actually really clever, to be seen later.




Garden of Words 言葉之庭


Did it start to rain?


Upon walking into the section, the audio guide springs to life on its and and begins playing the sound of rain.






Rain, is the theme of the film and the theme of the section. A veil of transparent threads are hung from above, with ever changing light projections it created an effect of falling raindrops.




After the reception of Lost Voices, the guide explains, Shinkai sought to look for the way to create something for the fans without compromising his own visions. The Garden of Words was what he came up with.




To create the rain in Garden of Words, Shinkai went out when it rained to study the many effects of rain. From the misty effect to the way rain splashed off stones and trees.




In Garden of Words a new technique was also experimented where the outline of characters was coloured as reflection of the surroundings. This created an effect that allowed the characters to blend in with the exquisitely painted background while still pop out of the scene.




On display is a replica of the shoes Takao made for Yukino. An actual pair of shoes were custom ordered and created as drawing reference but it was later dismantled for sound effect.




It’s interesting to see Shinkai’s storyboard evolve over time. They get much more expressive and the animation instructions ever more detailed, the later may have been a necessity as the team gets larger and harder to communicate face to face.




Kimi no Nawa (Your Name) 你的名字


Finally the breakout phenomenon. The section is less like a Shinkai show and more of an Ando and Tanaka show, bringing the design and animation skills of the two to the fore.




Despite Tanaka being listed as the character designer in the original trailer, it’s emphasized here that Ando had just as much if not more input into it. While Tanaka provided the base of the designs, it was Ando who did the expression references and most importantly the posture references that contrasted how the characters should move depending on who was the person inside the body.




On display was the kumihimo weaving tool.




For the technical aspect they tried to show how the flying transition from Tokyo to Itomori was created using layered drawings placed in a 3D space before a 3D model of Itomori lake. A physical model is on display to illustrate the effect, built using sheets of glass with painted Tokyo buildings and a plastic model (like the model 3D map one often sees in tourist centres).




The creation of the beautiful kagura dance is also explained, how Shinkai recorded actual performance of the dance and used it as a direct reference to animate the sequence.




The exhibit overall goes out of its way to point out the works of the animators and artists. This isn’t just a Shinkai show. Example of works are also displayed to show off how the animators and artists bring the characters and backgrounds to life. The corrections to keyframes made by the animation directors, the comments they made to Shinkai’s original instructions. This goes for all of the films but is most evident in the Garden of Words and Kimi no Nawa sections.




In the Kimi no Nawa section there’s a very amusing series of drawings comparing what the original instruction sketch from Shinkai was, and how Ando the animation director interpreted them. Ando, who famously contradicted Miyazaki several times back when he worked on Spirited Away (and rumoured to be why he later departed the studio), was not shy about correcting Shinkai either. There is one sketch where Mitsuha was moved by emotion had the complete opposite expression of what Shinkai originally sketched. Ando’s take was much better.




A side note. Contrary to popular belief Shinkai can draw characters quite well, unless the character sketches in the storyboards were redrawn by others.






The OP was an appetizing intro to whet one’s appetite for the exhibition. The ED concludes in fabulous fashion beyond imagination. If the OP is a 8/10 then the ED is a 30/10.




Two humongous screens side by side, at times showing a single scene, most of the time showing two scenes from different films containing the same framing, shot, action, message or dialog.




I have never, ever, realized how much common elements there are in all his films. The common themes section from before floods to mind and suddenly each one of his individual films melded into mere acts in a single flowing performance.




The ED sums up the theme of Shinkai’s word up in a grand, spectacular, awe-inspiring, mind-blowing, realization-dawning MAD style mashup of every film composed in Shinkai’s trademark heart stringing rhythmic cuts with crescendos upon crescendos reaching beyond the beautiful clouds and starry skies.




Every cold foreboding cityscape, every brilliant ray of fleeting joy at twilight, every empty landscape that reminded of a better past and uncertain tomorrow, every filled streets that spoke of the loneliness inside, every flash of railway hinting the distance between.




Every call, every monologue, every cry for the name of the longing within, every cry in search of happiness that belonged and would have no other, every defiance, every step and leap to action, every burst of tears of wonder; of lost; of hurt; of emotions that binds us in this beautiful world.






I like this world I think.




The video ends the exhibit with the same words that Shinkai used to end his very first work, She and Her Cat.




Exit the exhibit and one reaches the only section where photo taking is allowed. The photo wall scene of the Itomori memorial Taki and Okudera visited is re-created, only this one with colour real-life photos and a cheerful tone. There is also an AR booth where one can get their photo taken and be inserted into a scene from Garden of Words.





The goods shop sold many goods limited to the exhibit. T-shirt, postcards, notebooks, clearfiles. Some of the more interesting items included a scarf, the hourglass from the Sparkle MV (the hourglass does not appear in the movie), the kumihimo Mitsuha gave Taki (there are two versions, an plastic imitation and a real kumihimo that required a month wait time), magnets (which I bought) and a exhibition book containing everything that was in the exhibit and various interviews (which I probably should have bought, too tired).



The cafe

I checked my clock and was shocked to find it was 2pm. I had spent over 3 hours in the exhibition.



There was no time to go to Shinjuku to see the real life locations that appeared in the movie. I head back to Villa Fountaine to pick up my luggage and head to Super Hotel Shinbashi.


沒時間去新宿動畫場景朝聖了。我回Villa Fountaine取出行李去Super Hotel新橋。


The Mita line went from Jimbocho to Onarimon, a little bit south of the Shinbashi area.




Super Hotel Shinbashi is in an interesting location, right in the middle of a district and about equal distance of 400-500m from Shinbashi, Shiodome and Onarimon station.


Super Hotel新橋的位置很好玩,在一個町中間,到新橋,汐留,御城門差不多都是400-500m。


The process of checking in was well familiar to me. Super Hotel is unique with its use of keypad locks, it removed the need for check outs and reduced staff workloads and in turn, costs.


入住的手續已經很熟悉了。Super Hotel用的是獨特的密碼鎖,這樣就可省去退房和所需的人工成本。

Super Hotel Shinbashi

After check in it was time to go through the checklist and get everything that was needed for the next few days ahead.




The metro pass, the Hakone pass, the shinkansen ticket and scouting out station layouts and restaurant locations.




Most of these involved Shinjuku so I headed there first.




First item was the Hakone pass from Odakyu railway since the Odakyu Service Centre closes fairly early at 6pm. It is still possible to get it from the other general Odakyu tour service at the south exit (this one closes at 7pm) but they don’t have foreign staff there.




The Hakone pass was sold at the airport, Odakyu Sightseeing Service at Shinjuku or purchased from station ticket machines on the day. The transfers are going to be tight and getting them beforehand was paramount.




There was a huge queue and process was slow. They were mostly Taiwanese (saw a lot of Taiwanese on this trip, not many mainland Chinese) and the service desk had several Taiwanese for that purpose. Progress was slow because many people do not necessarily realize that Hakone pass that included travel from Shinjuku to Odawara does not include express charges for one to take the romance cars, so there’s a lot of back and forth explaining, then once that’s explained people had to make a reservation for the romance cars (they are reserved seats only).



Odakyu Tourist service

I only needed the Hakone pass that covered the basic area. I told the staff the date I wanted, emphasized that I wanted the basic version, filled in a form, received the tickets in no time and I was finally on my way.




Next was the metro pass. The 72 hour subway ticket that allowed unlimited rides on both Tokyo Metro and Toei lines is limited to foreigners and cost 1500Y. I had estimated that we would use at least as much as the metro pass would cost and anything more was just extra savings. Won’t be much if any, but the convenience was nice. So I headed to the BIC CAMERA just on the west side of Shinjuku station.


接下來是地鐵pass。72小時地鐵pass可無限搭乘東京地鐵和都營地鐵,限定外國人1500Y。我估算過地鐵至少會用到那麼多,再多就是多省。不會省太多,但反正方便。我往新宿西側的BIC CAMERA走去。


The man at the info desk was only willing to sell me one of them, to my frustration. The rule was that if one needed more than one pass because one intended to stay in Tokyo for a longer period, one should come back after the first one expires. It was meant to prevent abuse by foreigners reselling it to locals, but I was only asking for 2.




They only checked that one had a passport with the tourist visa sticker and did not make any records. I figured that and realized I have to go to the other BIC CAMERA on the east side and get the other one there.


他們只確認護照內有觀光簽證,並沒有留紀錄。想到這點,我想到我可以到東側的BIC CAMERA買另一張。


Before that though I headed downstairs to confirm the location of the ochazuke (rice soaked with tea) restaurant I considered coming tomorrow. Once that’s been done and I started to head to the east side, I paused and thought I should have something to eat, as I had not even had lunch.




There was a soba/udon shop a few shop up from the ochazuke place, similar to the one I had last night. Seemed like a good choice.




I ordered the daily special. The tempura vegetable patty was too oily, otherwise taste is okay.



Udon place


Now I got something in the stomach I was feeling better. I got the other metro pass from the other BIC CAMERA (which is really really tiny for some reason, I’m used to them being quite big).


胃裡有點東西感覺好多了。我在另一家BIC CAMERA買了另一張地鐵pass(這家不知為何超小,已經習慣BIC CAMERA很大了)


Next up is confirming the layout of Shinagawa station. I took the Yamanote line there and paced several times up and down the concourse from the local JR line to the shinkansen ticket gates. About 4 minutes to the gate at a quick walk, then to go through and up the stairs… 5 minutes transfer at a minimum, 8 to be safe.




Then Tokyo station to get the shinkansen ticket and also confirm the location of the pensta store (which I forgot to check the other days, this morning when I thought about I was already outside the ticket barrier and pensta happens to be on the inside).



Confirm Pensta

By the time I finally checked off the last item on the checklist it was past 7pm. I return to the hotel, did the laundry and went to bed. Tomorrow required a very early start.




Kanto Maigo – Day 4

Morning. I look out the window over the empty intersection. Credits to Villa Fountaine for the comfortable and wide bed. Points off for strangely having the kettle in a cabinet all the way by the door instead of below/next to the desk like most considerate hotels would. The room is big enough, why put it so far away?


早晨。我從窗戶俯視空蕩的路口。不得不誇一下,Villa Fountaine的床大又舒服。至於把燒水壺擺在遠在門邊的櫃子裡而不是像其他旅館放在桌子下/旁,扣分。房間挺大的,何必放那麼遠。

View from Villa Fountaine

Complimentary breakfast at 7am. I’m not sure why they choose to call it complimentary, other hotels are happy enough to just call it what it is, free breakfast or breakfast included. Calling it complementary to make it sound like a gift? Something extra? Perhaps it’s an escape clause in the event they can’t provide it that day?




One can tell what guests a hotel targeted by how early its breakfast is. 7am was for people who were in business but not in a hurry to get where they were going.




Thankfully today I was also not in a hurry to get where I was going.




Kumobaike, a famous pond in Karuizawa was closed because of trail maintenance in the off-season (the word is going to show up alot). Without it there wasn’t much point in trying to arrive earlier than 10am when the shops begin to open. From Tokyo to Karuizawa takes about an hour so I only needed to head out after 8am. That’s plenty of time for transfer at Tokyo station.




The breakfast at Villa Fountaine was barebone. My theory is they are not initially setup to provide breakfast and had to begin offering to compete. Most items were simple to prepare. Yoghurt, cereal, salad, bread, soup. The hot dishes were scrambled eggs, wieners and fried rice. All dishes that could be done without a proper kitchen. There was no Japanese dish such as fish or pickles. Coffee and hot water for tea was served in pre-prewed coffee pots.


Villa Fountaine的早餐算簡陋。感覺上一開始是沒有提供早餐的,在競爭激烈才想辦法變出早餐來。大部分是容易準備的菜色。優格,麥片,沙拉,麵包,湯。唯一的熱食只有炒蛋,小熱狗和炒飯。都是不用廚房就可準備的。沒有日式早餐的漁或醬菜。咖啡和泡茶的熱水是裝在過濾咖啡壺中。

Villa Fountaine breakfast

Villa Fountaine breakfast

They were laid out on fold out tables put out in one side of the lobby, a temporary set up that was cleared out once breakfast was finished.




The food was okay. Above Smile Hotel, below Comfort. About 4 out of 10. The lack of variety really hurt it even if the quality was not bad.


口味還好。比Smile Hotel好,比Comfort Hotel差。大概給40分。主要缺點是沒有什麼菜色,雖然品質上不插。


The nearest metro station Jimbocho was poorly positioned to access Tokyo station. I head to Suidobashi, transfer by walking across the platform at Ochanomizu. There was still half an hour till I needed to get on the shinkansen. I wandered about Tokyo station, checking out the layout and the position of the breakfast place I planned to go to on Y’s first day.


Tokyo Gransta

Breakfast being considered on Y’s first day






Finally with a cup of Doutor coffee (it’s tradition) in hand it’s time to hop on the train.




The train was relatively full. I had to go to the second carriage from the end to find an empty row. Had thought it would be really empty, Karuizawa was not served by the super express bound for Kanazawa, people would only get on this train if they were headed for the smaller stations. Either the smaller stations saw a ridiculous number of people or the slower train would still get to Nagano and Kanazawa earlier than the next express.




There was a huge elevation change from Takasaki to Karuizawa, it was part of the reason the E7 series was made to tackle the steep gradient. One could feel the angle of the train and the changing pressure as it sped through the mountain tunnel.




First thing noticed as the train pulled into the station, it had snowed overnight. Karuizawa was covered in a sheet of thin snow. The next thing, the station was really small and basic.


For being one of the premier holiday location for Tokyolites, I had expected something more fashionable and architecturally designed. The main waiting area wasn’t closed off from the platforms and was not heated. There was no convenience store, only a small bento stall. The small tourist centre, generously described for such a small room, where I got a map of the town also doubled as a souvenir store.







Karuizawa Ekiben


Karuizawa station

Outside the station a young couple from Taiwan excitedly posed against the snow.


A big reason Japan is pushing heavily for foreign tourists is to balance out the huge differences between peak and off-peak seasons. Winter hits the tourism industry especially heavily in Japan and tourist numbers drop off a cliff. Foreign tourists are less affected by winter. People from warmer parts of asia are thrilled by the prospect of snow, some come to get a taste of skiing. Christmas and New Year is holiday season for westerners and Chinese New Year brings another tide of tourists.





Station courtyard covered in snow

The station is 1.5km from Old Karuizawa or Karuizawa Ginza where the main street is.




Most bloggers recommends renting a bike which I question the wisdom of during winter. For one it isn’t very far and the terrain flat. Secondly one have to find parking. Thirdly biking over snow or iced over grounds is an accident in waiting.


During my walk several bikes wobbled by. One ridden by a middled aged woman from Taiwan almost skidded off the sidewalk coming to a stop at an intersection.





Iced up street

Carved reindeer

The street was quote deserted. Outside of the few biking past there weren’t anyone else on the road. The buildings on either side were loosely positioned, most weren’t open due to the off-season. There was an art museum, a few fancy hotels and resort clubhouses.



A hotel

An antique store’s shop sign caught my attention. Kino, it was called, written in yarn like font. It was a little shop with personality, the items were tightly arranged without feeling cluttered. I was most impressed by an old fashioned typewriter like calculator/register, and letters made from rusted together nails and wires.



Antique Kino

Continuing on, I reached the intersection where the main shopping street begins. Much livelier.



Xmas shop

The shops of Karuizawa was different from other tourist areas in that in had a good few fashion clothing stores, probably why the name Ginza. The clothing stores were advertising closing down sales if not closed already. Then there were antiques, wedding planners, crafts and the sweets shop.



Croquet shop

Main street

Most numerous were the jam shops. Karuizawa is famous for its jams and spreads. This odd local specialty is deeply linked to the town’s history.




Karuizawa had been a small village on the Nakasendo, then in 1886 a missionary Alexander Shaw happened by and noting its cool climate and beauty, decided to build a summer villa here. Other westerners soon followed suit and Karuizawa grew to be vacation resort for foreigners and contributed to many Karuizawa’s western architectures. Locals learned from the westerners and began making jams and spreads for the the westerners and other Japanese who had adopted a western lifestyle.


輕井澤曾是中山道上的一個小村落,1886年一位傳教士Alexander Shaw路過時注意到這裡涼爽的氣候和美麗的自然景觀,決定在這蓋個避暑小屋。很快的其他西方人也跟著效仿,輕井澤也發展成了外國人的度假勝地,也是為何鎮上有許多西式建築。當地居民從西方人那學習到了果醬和塗醬的做法,開始製作好提供給來度假的西方人和西化的日本人。


These days there are many jam shops along the shopping strip selling jams and spreads of all kind made from local ingredients. Fruit jams, red bean spreads, honey spreads, garlic, herbs, savoury spreads.




I had actually forgotten about the jams till I wandered into the Church Street shopping arcade and was invited into the Fine jam shop by the staff working there. Every single flavour of their jam and spread was available for taste test. Open jars were laid out with trays of small biscuits. One after the other, scoop up a small spoon of jam and spread onto the biscuit, enjoy.


我其實整個忘了果醬了,直到晃到Church Street商店街被Fine果醬店的店員請進去後才想起來有這一回事。Fine的每種醬料都可以試吃。打開的試吃罐跟小餅乾擺在起。一一用小湯匙挖起一點果醬塗在餅乾上,吃個痛快。

Church Street

Karuizawa Fine

Fine jams

Church behind Church Street

The other jam shops weren’t as generous, some only had a few flavours out for taste test, some didn’t even have any. It could be they were reluctant to open jars in the off-season for fear of the jams having to be thrown away, or business wasn’t good enough to afford it. Without the taste test people were going to be reluctant buying though, especially some of the more exotic flavors. Fine Karuizawa had an anchovy flavoured spread which I would not have bought were I not able to try it first.



Jam shop

The streets while not packed was by no means empty. Bus loads of tourists were dropped off at the carpark behind the shopping plaza and what shops that opened were filled with activities.




I’m not sure why more than 1/4 of the shops were already closed and another 1/4 had signs up saying this was their last week and they would soon close up until February. If one come in December or January, as I had considered originally, half the shops will no doubt be shut and the town lifeless.


我不確定為什麼超過1/4的店都已經歇業了,或是為何另外1/4的店告示這是他們最後一週,開始休息後要到2月才會開。如果12月或 1月來,如我原本有考慮的,超過半數的店家肯定會沒開,鎮上也會毫無生氣。


There looks to be enough tourists around, is it really necessary to close up? With this many shops closed there is going to be a vicious cycle where people avoid Karuizawa during winter times thus even more shops close up. Rent still had to be paid right? I have a hard time imagining wages being so high and business so bad that it is better to close up entirely. Somewhere like Like Towada is understandable, the place has its road snowed 2 metres deep in winter, but Karuizawa has the shinkansen and is not far from the expressway, those will be open even in the coldest winters, and Karuizawa has many nearby skii fields and a shopping outlet that ensured a minimum amount of traffic.




Karuizawa is nice town, very well kept and interesting. I can imagine it being very nice to visit in spring or autumn when all the shops are open and the streets more lively.




The tourist centre at the shopping street had a section exhibiting the history of the old railway. Karuizawa and Takasaki used to be connected before the shinkansen was built and the line made defunct. The Usuitouge pass was so steep special rack rail locomotives had to be connected for trains to navigate the pass.



Tourist centre


There also used to be a small railway from Karuizawa to Kusatsu, must have taken incredible effort to build a railway through such mountainous terrain. The old station of the Kusatsu-Karuizawa railway can still be found at the intersection at the entrance to the ginza strip. It’s a large souvenir shop nowadays.



Leaves in the snow

More jams

Shaw memorial chapel

Soft cream on a cold day?

Sure why not


Old Karuizawa station building

It’s approaching noon and I head back to the station and the outlet right on the south side of it. I’m here not for the shopping but for its food court.




The outlet also has a skii field attached to it. The slopes didn’t look very big nor very steep but more than enough for first timers and beginners, with unmatched convenience. One can do some skiing, food and shopping all in one day, as a day trip from Tokyo no less.




I grabbed a chicken stock ramen from Ramen Nishiki, it was one of the higher rated places to eat at the foodcourt. The taste was good but nothing of particular note, other than being chicken instead of pork stock.


The foodcourt also provided disposable teatowels and drinking water. I suppose this is a standard feature of foodcourts in Japan.






Ramen Nishiki

Chicken ramen

Towels and water

After lunch I walked around the outlet. The place is big, broken up into 5 or 6 sections, each having a score of stores. Except a section focused on souvenirs the stores appeared to be grouped in no particular category or commonality.




Attached skii field

The place is meant for someone who can recognize more brands than just Gucci and La Creuset.


這裡對品牌認得出超過Gucci和La Creuset的人較有意義。


As it was, after a quick walkthrough I headed for the Hoshino resort area. The Shinano railway was co-located next to the shinkansen in the same station. One stop away was Naka-Karuizawa station where a shuttle bus service to Hoshino was available.



Shinano railway station

The Hoshino resort area was…. peculiar. I still have not figured how it intends its guests to use its facilities. It’s a loose collection of close but not too closely located facilities. An onsen, a wilderness tour office whose outside pond doubles as a skating ring in winter, an upmarket eatery/restaurant, a shopping village selling very expensive bread, sweets and afternoon teas, massage service and handicrafts. A hotel (that’s too far away from aforementioned facilities) with two churches on its grounds, a villa village that’s still some hundred metres to the onsen and restaurants. If the facilities are meant to provide service to the guests, then the guests must walk there themselves, navigate the lack of signage and paths connecting the areas.




The main attraction here is the two churches. The stone church is particularly well known for its design of stone arches whose exterior blended into the landscape and awe inspiring on the inside with its spiral lines and filtered lights. Alas, the place was hosting a wedding and was off-limits to visitors.



Stone church entrance

Highland church

Garden decoration made of apple?

The area is actually quite small and I had seen everything by 3:30pm. Should I leave early? Or should I stay to see the christmas decorations.


Well, I had come this far already…might as well stay a while longer to see everything, I decided.






The sun was falling beneath the treetops, the temperature plunged. I had to take shelter in the cafe at Harunire Terrace shopping village. My glasses fogged up and it was a while before I could follow the server to a seat. The cafe was most definitely upmarket, there were over two pages of different blends of coffee. I picked the basic seasonal special blend and it came in a french press. The cafe had books on its shelves for guests to read, none interested me however and I just read stuff on my phone to kill time till 5pm.



Harunire Terrace

Pond turned skating rink


French press coffee


I was starting to understand how the resort was meant to work. It was truly aimed as a resort for relaxation. There seemed to be little to do because the guests wasn’t meant to be kept busy. Grab a coffee, sit down and read a book, gaze out at the forest and creek, chill out for the afternoon.




The lights came on. I lingered for a while longer still, seduced by the cafe’s warmth. Finally I gathered my weary focus and said farewell to the empty coffee cup.




The light was much less impressive than their promotional photos. The area was very poorly lit and the christmas lights lacked vibrancy to overcome the cold. People moved about quickly, in no mood to look at the decorations. And neither was I.



Lit terrace

Lit terrace

Xmas tree

I took my photos of the Terrace and the tree outside the onsen. A group of Taiwanese passed by, talking of going to the onsen before finishing the day’s trip.




My mind was frozen by this point and could barely think. The first shuttle that went all the way back to Karuizawa station was still not due for another 40 minutes. I could either try to hang around for that long or I could take the next shuttle to Naka-Karuizawa and go from there.




I decided there was no point staying and took the shuttle to Naka-Karuizawa, then back to Karuizawa via the Shinano railway.




At Naka-Karuizawa there was a 10minutes transfer time and I huddled inside the small waiting room with a handful of other tourists, similarly waiting to go back to Karuizawa. We waited until the train approaching announcement came on before going through the gate, none brave enough to spend any more seconds than had to in the freezing wind on the platform.




There was just enough time for me to grab a rice ball from the 7-11 at the outlet before the next train back to Tokyo.



Outlet at night

Outlet at night

Rice ball for now

Between the station and the outlet there were again several groups of Taiwanese. Karuizawa might be unusually popular amongst Taiwanese, similar to Takayama which if I recall sees twice as many foreign tourists from Taiwanese than the next highest country (either HK or China).




By the time I’m walking down the street of Suidobashi it was past 8pm. I’ve only had that riceball I ate on the train as a stop-gap and I looked for a place to have dinner.




Two buildings before Villa Fountaine was a soba/udon shop, they promoted that they made their own noodles and looked decent enough. I was far too tired to go look elsewhere and just stepped inside.


到Villa Fountaine兩個大樓前有家蕎麥烏龍麵店,門口張貼說自家製麵,看起來算可以。我已經筋疲力盡無心另外去找了,於是我跨進門。

Cheap soba/udon place

I punched for the oyakodon set at the meal ticket machine and gave it to the cook at the counter. He asked something and I paused for a second. No, it wasn’t parsing to any question I was expecting, I could not break out the key nouns or verbs. I asked him to please repeat the question again.




The man gave a nod as if he suddenly understood something. He fished out a printed sheet from the cupboard. It was a common English question and answer sheet. He pointed to the one that asked if I wanted it hot or cold.




Doh, of course!


Hot, I replied. I’d be crazy to ask for it cold after almost getting frozen up in the highlands.






Being next Villa Fountaine must meant they got a lot of foreign customers, thus the english sheet.


在Villa Fountain隔壁大概常會有外國客人吧,所以準備了那張英文問答。


The meal portion was very generous for less than 600Y, and it was quite delicious. A good hearty meal.



Dinner Oyakodon and udon set

After a long and exhausting day there was still tasks ahead. It was time to wash my clothes. I planned to sleep early tomorrow so despite having clothing for another day I wanted to get some of the washing done.




What I initially felt about Villa Fountaine manifested when I went to use the coin laundry.


一開始對Villa Fountaine對住客不太體貼的感覺在投幣洗衣房被證實了。


The machine was old and more expensive than other places and required an extra 50Y for detergents, something which I had never had to pay for. The Matsue City Hotel had a sign saying one needed to pay but the front desk just gave them to me free, every other hotel had the machine add them automatically.


機器比其他地方老舊昂貴,還需要另外50Y買我從未需買過的洗衣精。松江的City Hotel雖然有告示說跟櫃台買,但櫃台其實還是免費給我的。而其他住過的旅館都是會自動加入。


Annoyed, but what had to be done had to be done.




I threw the more needed change of clothes into the laundry and settled into the eating area of the lobby to research what to do the next day.




Kanto Maigo – Day 3

Morning. I already ate what bread the hotel provided last night as a late night snack. To find breakfast I went out to the 7-11.




Snow had fell thick overnight and the roofs and grounds were covered in snow. Not the roads though. Kusatsu ran hot water from their onsen heat exchangers beneath the roads and made them snow proof.



Kusatsu morning

Kusatsu morning


Jizou no yu

After breakfast I grabbed the towel and handbag and headed to the Sai no Kawara bath. It was too cold for yukata, it’s okay though since Sai no Kawara was a paid bath with changing rooms and supposedly had lockers.



The shops were still closed, quiet, except the manju shops filled with activity behind the shut store front, steam rising above them as they steamed manjus in preparation for the day ahead.




The snow covered Sai no Kawara park was yet another feel different from yesterday and yesterday night. It was frozen and still, the spell broken only by the rising steam. The snow covered Jizou statues wearing hoods and cloaks were a delight out of Japaneses folktales.



Snow covered jizou




Sai no Kawara


Sai no Kawara onsen

Sai no Kawara onsen

The Sai no Kawara onsen was famous for its large outdoor bath, since there was plenty of onsen water it could afford to be wasteful. Despite its size its water remained very hot. Above average, not as hot as Shirohata no Yu yesterday. Near the entrance the water was the coolest as the hot water was fed in from about 2 /3 down the length of the bath. There were three other bathers but they soon left, and I had the huge bath to myself. I floated in the water, watching the steam rising all around toward the cloudy skies, losing track of time and self, in that moment the whole universe was contained in that bath. It was a strangely unsettling experience.




After the onsen bath the shops were starting to open. The shops here also opened early, no doubt to take advantage of people who stayed overnight who were now looking for souvenirs to take home. Especially the manjus which has to be eaten fresh.




A small incident happened on the way, I dropped my tripod and something came off. I picked it up and looked it over. The plastic head holding the mount to the pole had completely snapped in two and was unrepairable. A lot of little accidents on this trip so far. This one could be addressed, have to make time to go out and buy a new tripod once I get back to Tokyo.




I return to the hotel and checked out, leaving my luggage there to be picked up later. There was one last thing to experience in Kusatsu.




Because Kusatsu’s onsen is so hot, people in ancient time had to wait a long time for it to cool before able to take a bath, so overtime there developed a special tradition of cooling down the water by stirring it with a giant paddle and jikanyu “timed bath”, where one paddles the water to cool it, pour the water on one’s head and then bathes for exactly 3 minutes on the command of a bath leader. Overtime the paddling became a song and dance tradition which is still performed in the Netsu no Yu. For those interested in the full on experience there are baths in Kusatsu that hosts timed baths.




The Netsu no Yu puts on about 3 performances each morning and afternoon, the later afternoon sessions become quickly packed as this is one of the first things guests would think of doing after checking in.




The performance itself is only a few minutes. To create a more complete experience they added more elements to create 4 segments The first is a traditional dance performed on stage, then the yumomi performance, then audiences are invited to try to paddle the water as part of the yumomi themselves, then finally a slightly different yumomi performance that ends with a giant splash of water.



Dance performance


Final splash

After watching the performances I bought some sweets and manjus to bring home, picked up my luggage and went to the bus terminal to begin the journey back to Tokyo.



Matsumura manju, a famous manju shop in Kusatsu

The bus was full. Wait what?




If I couldn’t get on this bus, the next bus was not due for another hour and half.




Thankfully the staff explained that they were bringing in another bus and that there was a 30 minute transfer time at Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi, there was no worry about missing the train. Looking around, there were almost 20 people in the waiting area waiting on the second bus.




I wandered around the bus terminal for abit, checking out the souvenir shop and eatery here. The souvenir shop occupied a small space in one corner of the waiting room. What’s sold here did not defer much from what’s sold in other shops. Mostly sweets and onsen made beauty products. There’s an eatery downstairs, the menu looked like it would be a decent choice for lunch or dinner if one wasn’t picky.




About 10 minutes later the bus showed up. The driver asked if there were anyone who was not going to Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi station. There were none. So the driver turned the bus into an express and drove directly to the station without stopping instead, arriving only a few minutes later than the previous bus.




The train was once again a local train except this one didn’t go all the way to Takasaki, instead everyone had to transfer at Shin-Maebashi, about 3 stops north out from Takasaki. The transfer was simple and well timed like most Japanese connections, simply walk across the platform to the waiting train.




The communities along the line likely didn’t have enough patronage to support frequent services, combining tourists going to Kusatsu onto the local trains was a way to increase the number of trains and made life a little more convenient for the locals. Still given the number of people visiting Kusatsu I could not help but think that they could add one or two more express services a day. Currently there were only two express trains on weekdays, both timed to be more convenient for tourists coming to Kusatsu (noon and afternoon for check in at hotels) but not quite as convenient for those leaving (leaving in the afternoon and late afternoon, none if one wanted to leave in the morning).




By the time I got to Takasaki it was almost 1pm and I was starving.




I planned to go the Daruma temple in the afternoon and there was only one train every hour. The next one was at 1:22, I had less than half an hour to toss my luggage into a locker and get lunch. Doesn’t look like I have time to go to that kamameshi (rice in a pot) place.




First thing first, I followed the signs to the lockers, downstairs and past a food court. I didn’t have enough changes on me, stupid locker only takes 100Y coins. I looked about for a coin exchanger and noticed there was also a row of lockers that used suica to access. Even better. I chucked my luggages into the locker and swiped my card.




Now, as to the problem of lunch…. I turned to the nearby foodcourt passed a moment ago. There was the same Nagasaki noodle place I had last time in Hakata, a ramen place, some rice don place. Oh, a Mos Burger, perfect.


那麼,午餐怎麼解決呢。我轉回剛經過的美食街。有家上回在博多吃過的長崎麵店,拉麵,丼飯。喔,有Mos Burger,正好。


Unadventurous, quick, not too pricey and easy to take with me if time runs short.



Mos Burger

I ordered a seasonal special and found a spot to sit. The food court provided drinking water and paper cups and disposable teatowels to wipe down the tables. Never noticed that on previous trips.



Warabi Katsu Burger

Daruma temple in Takasaki is said to have been founded several hundred years ago original as a temple of worship of the 11 headed kannon. During a flood a piece of black wood was seen giving off miraculous light and was preserved. An old man later dreamt of Daruma commanding him to carve a figure of him using the black wood. Thus the temple was born. Daruma was a legendary monk who was said to have also started the kungfu tradition at the Shaolin temple. The temple’s full name is Shorinzan Darumaji or Shaolin Mountain Daruma Temple, whether there’s any connection between Shaolin in China and this one is unclear to me.




There is a tradition involving Daruma dolls, a rounded doll in the image of Daruma. The dolls are created with blank eyes. People who wished for something was to paint the left eye of the doll when making their wish, then complete the other one once their wish become true.




This is why there are mountains of dolls piled up on either side of the worship hall.




The temple is just a short 5 minutes trail ride out from Takasaki. Get off at Gunma-Yawata station then a short 1.5k walk to the temple.




The road went through low density suburb area. On either side were mostly one or two storey houses, except for a strangely located rice shop and what looked to be a car parts factory. Finally cross a busy bridge over a river and one arrives at the foot of the temple.




I mistakenly went up via the parking access road on the side. All for the best as the main entrance was a very long flight of steps that would make all who visits bow in respect.




The autumn leaves were at their peak, the temple halls nested amidst the steep hillside brushed with vibrant orange and red.



Daruma temple

Daruma temple

Couple taking wedding photo

It was a weekday and there were few people about. There was couple in traditional clothing getting their wedding album taking and two or three others here to pray and see the autumn leaves.



Autumn leaves and Daruma hall

There were many dolls presented to the temple, some big, some small. Most were presented by businesses wishing for successes, the biggest ones were over a metre tall.



Daruma hall




To one side was a small museum displaying hundreds of different Daruma dolls. On one wall was a map showing how the Daruma dolls differ between areas of Japan. Daruma from Takasaki was the quintessential round squash shaped, some area had ones that were slender, some cylindrical, some more egg shaped. Some were cute, some had a regal expression, others stern and serious.




I spent maybe 30 minutes at the temple. There was also only one train an hour back to Takasaki and it would take at least 10 minutes to get back to the station.



Daruma temple main stairs

After returning to Takasaki I picked up my luggage and hopped on a Shinkansen, this time an E7 train. The trip back to Ueno took 45 minutes and I estimated that I’d get to check in about half past 4pm.



The transparent milk tea.. tastes worse than the real one.

My hotel for the next two day was Villa Fountaine Kudanshita, a strange name since it was closer to Jimbocho station, even the Suidobashi station was closer.


接下來兩天的旅館是Villa Fountaine九段下,名字怪怪的因為離神保町比較近,連水道橋站都近一點。


Coming from the shinkansen I had to first go from Ueno to Akihabara, transfer there onto Suidobashi. If I had known better I might have transferred at Tokyo station since transfering there to the Chuo line then transferring again at Ochanomizu required much less walking and stairs than Ueno and Akihabara despite the same number of transfers.




The area immediately outside the Suidobashi station was filled with izakayas, restaurants, pachiko and karaokes, before giving way to quieter office areas.




Villa Fountaine was in one of those quieter areas, some 500 metres from Suidobashi and another two blocks to go till the busy main street above Jimbocho station.


Villa Fountaine是在這比較安靜的區域,離水道橋500公尺,距離神保町站上熱鬧的大道還要再走兩條街。


Villa Fountaine felt more western (not sure why, just a feeling). Its offerings is supposed to be on the higher side of business hotels and catering to foreigners (it has airport limousine and some of its hotels has shuttle bus running to Tokyo station) and comparatively does have a larger room.


Villa Fountaine感覺比較西式,說不上為什麼。提供的服務理當在商務旅館中比較高級,也偏外國住客(機場接送車有到,有分店有到東京車站的交通車),房間有比較較大。


Something felt amiss however which I could not quite grap. It could be the darker decor or the barebone amenities offered, it didn’t felt as welcoming.



Villa Fountaine Kudanshita

Villa Fountaine Kudanshita

By the time I have settled in it was past 5pm. I grabbed a bento from the nearby supermarket and had dinner while browsing for where to buy a new tripod.



Bento, milk ,fruits

BIC CAMERA at Akihabara was the closest and I decided to check out there instead.


BIC CAMERA秋葉原看來最近,就去那吧。


Not realizing that each BIC CAMERA might stock completely different items. Akihabara turned out to be not the best choice to look for tripods. They had a good selection but all too professional; none of the cheap, small travel tripods I was looking for.


完全沒意識到BIC CAMERA每家擺的東西可能完全不一樣。結果秋葉原可能不是最適合買腳架的地方。不是說沒有選擇,選擇很多,但都太專業沒有我要的便宜輕便的攜帶腳架。



Akihabara station was having some gatcha festival

From their websites stock levels I deduced that the shop with the most selection was the Ikebukuro store. It was half an hour to get there. I had actually gotten to Ueno before realizing the Yurakucho one, a station south of Tokyo station, had almost as good a variety and it showed to have the one I wanted in stock. Immediate reverse, hop off the train and onto the one on the other side going the other way.




The BIC CAMERA is right outside the station, it did not seem bigger than the Akihabara store, just a different focus. Cameras had half of B1 allocated as opposed to the small corner it occupied in Akihabara. Here there was a huge variety of tripods, from travel ones to big, heavy clubbing weapons aimed at professionals. Curiously, some of the funky super compact tripods I saw at Akihabara were nowhere to be found here.


BIC CAMERA就在一出車站對面,看起來沒有比秋葉原的大,只是重心不同。B1有半層樓分給相機部門,不像秋葉原只有一個角落。這裡的選擇就多了,從旅行攜帶型但巨大,可以用來捶人的專業用腳架。有趣的是,在秋葉原看到的超炫摺疊腳架這裡卻沒有。

BIC CAMERA Yurakucho

I bought the tripod I had came here for then decided I might as well wander through the other floors and see what they sold.



BIC CAMERA Yurakucho

I was genuinely surprised when I found they had an entire floor dedicated to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The store was catering to Chinese tourists, I realized. Indeed, there were more tax-free counters than there were regular ones.




In the games section, PS3 games were on clearance for 500 to 1000Y each. I thumbed through them, finding nothing of interest. A shame, would have been a treat if I could get the rest of the Atelier games.




On the way back I went to the chemist store next to Suidobashi station and bought a small tube of handcream. BIC CAMERA sold handcream too but they were big bottles. I had meant to get handcream before going to Kusatsu but the lost jacket that day took away all the time, now my fingers were hurting from exposure to the cold dry air.


回旅館路上我在水道橋站旁的藥店買的一小管護手霜。剛BIC CAMERA有賣但太大罐了。其實去草津前就有打算買的但搞丟外套耗去了時間,現在手被凍的破皮有點痛。