Maigo 迷途

Kanto Maigo – Day 9

Final day.




Our flight leaves at 1pm, I aim to get to Narita before 11am, either the 8.46 or 9.31 direct train from Shinbashi. Leave some time to do a final luggage check and reserve time for unforeseen issues. That leaves us an hour and a bit in the morning.


下午1點的班機,預計11點前到成田,搭8.46or 9.31從新橋直達車。留點時間最後確認行李和突發狀況。早上有一個多小時的時間。


The options was either Meiji-Jingu Outer Garden or Zoujouji, a temple with a view of Tokyo Tower not far from the hotel.




Meiji-Jingu Outer Garden is about 7 minutes from Shinbashi, accounting for walking time it’d be about 20 minutes each way. Doable but will be cutting it close even if we left at 7am.




Zoujouji is about 10 minutes walk, easier to control the timing. And since we had seen ginkgo leaves the day before I felt Zoujouji would be more interesting.




For breakfast, the egg was scrambled egg with sausage wieners, fish was salt grilled fish, plus roasted potato with bacon, salisbury steak.





We headed out about quarter past 7.




Super Hotel is already outside the commercial areas of Shinbashi. From here to Zoujouji was mostly residential areas.


Super Hotel在新橋鬧區外,從這走到增上寺多是住宅區。


Along the way we passed the Prince Hotel, it had a fancy looking cafe/restaurant/bakery looking place by the roadside away from the main hotel building. Wondered if it was targeted at the guests or nearby office workers. The large car park before the hotel was mostly empty except for one or two tour buses.




The main gate of Zouzouji was under renovation works. The two side doors were entirely boxed behind protective boards.




Zouzouji is one of the older temples in Tokyo, though not in its current location, it was moved twice during the Edo Era then much of it burned down during WW2.



Zoujouji and Tokyo Tower



As the family temple of the Tokugawa the temple saw periods of incredibly glory, with over 120 buildings at its peak. Even today the temple is a massive complex with several interconnected giant halls.




The family tomb of the Tokugawa is located here. To the north western end of the temple grounds lies 6 of the Tokugawa shoguns. We weren’t able to enter the tomb area, it’s closed off and only opens at 10 plus 500Y entrance fee.



Tokugawa family burial grounds

Along the northern edge of the temple was a long row of child Jizos statues. They wore red little hats and capes and had windmills next to them. Dedicated for the safe growth of children and memorial of unborn babies.



Child Jizous

Child Jizous

Behind the temple hall rose the red and white of Tokyo tower. Replaced by the Skytree its original purpose may be have been, its faux Eiffel Tower silhouette remains the spirit and romance of Tokyo.



Tokyo Tower

The hour went by strangely quickly, I had envisioned there being enough time to go to the bottom of Tokyo tower.




We walked back to the hotel in the same way. In the narrow streets we passed a Lawson that advertized that it baked its own bread each day.



Lawson with bakery

True enough, the place has a mini bakery with two ovens. I imagine the dough is made centrally then delivered to each store, the staff only need to put the dough into the oven each morning. It’s a good step above regular packaged bread which I would have much enjoyed over cold rice balls if only these were more common place during my trips.




We got back to the hotel with plenty of time to do some last minute packing, brush up and get a last minute coffee. There is no need to check out at Super Hotel, when ready just grab the bags and walk out.


回到旅館後還有充足的時間做最後的打包,刷牙洗臉,然後再拿一杯早餐咖啡。在Super Hotel不用退房,準備好了拿起行李直接走就行了。


We hopped on the direct train from Shinbashi to Narita according to schedule. The train was a typical urban commuter with seats along the walls. Actually not much slower than the Skyliner express and much faster than the NEX, at less than half the price.




There weren’t too many people in the Sunday morning, we had no problem finding seats. The train surfaced after Skytree and I chanced a glimpse before it disappeared behind the high rises. The Tokyo cityscape slowly roll past, the hour slipped by.




Vanilla Air was based in Terminal 3, the low cost airline terminal without its own railway station, one has to either walk 500m from Terminal 2 or wait for the shuttle bus.




The walkway between the two terminal is painted like a sports ground runway, with several rest stops along the way with benches and vending. A lot of efforts went into making the walk interesting, changing lanes, colours, posters along the walls. The distance was barely felt, in a blink we were at the escalator leading up to the terminal.




Not yet 10.30, the counter should open at 10.50, 2 hours before the flight. We were maybe 4th or 5th in line.




Originally I had considered taking the later train, not wanting to get here before the counter opened. With more thoughts now this way worked better. We may need to wait a short while for the counter to open but we were ahead of the line, as soon as the counter opened, we could drop off our bag and be on our way, whether to lunch or shopping. Had we come later we would have had to wait in the queue for time unknown.




While we waited for the counter to open I realized I had not yet bought a Playstation point card. Since I play Japanese games and the store only accepted credit cards from Japan, using a point card was the only way to buy the games online or for the DLCs. Thankfully there’s a Lawson right next to the counters.




After checking in we went to find something for lunch.




Terminal 3 had only a limited selection of shops but no shortage of food. Before customs there is a large food court with about 8 shops with a carefully selection ranging from ramen, sushi, donburi to western burgers and cafe.



Terminal 3 foodcourt

Coming early definitely worked out well, had we came later we would not have finished checking in till after 11.30, then we’d be in a hurry to eat lunch and get through customs. As it is we could easily peruse the available stalls, pick our choices and have lunch at a leisurely pace, enjoying the bustling activities all about from travellers of all walks. I went with the safe choice of the Nagasaki Champon noodle (same one in Hakata) while Y got a spicy ramen.



Nagasaki Champon Noodle

After that we went through customs. At one stage there was a tax claim station where they were supposed to inspect the tax free claimed items to ensure the travellers were bringing them with them. Instead there was only a basket with a sign and arrows. Y casually tossed the tax free claim slip into it.




Airside there was just one souvenir store selling pretty much everything. Electronics, especially rice cookers at 220V aimed at chinese. Traditional Japanese wares like chopsticks and textiles, Hello Kitties and of course all sorts of sweets. Y knew about a lot of the various sweets and chocolates, which ones were famous, which ones were talked about. I had already got enough sweets so didn’t buy any.


過境後只有一家紀念品店,所有可想到的都有賣。電器,尤其是鎖定陸客的220V電器。傳統日本工藝品如筷子,紡織品,Hello Kitty和當然的各式甜點。Y對這些甜點還頗有研究的,那些有名,那些很紅,那些大家常討論。我已經帶很多甜點了所以沒有再買。

Airside souvenir store

Since this was a low cost terminal there were no air bridges. Passengers had to walk down 3 flight of stairs to the ground level, across the tarmac to the air stairs through an expendable corridor that provided some shelter from the elements and served to keep passengers from wandering off.



Cleverly designed eh.. air bridge?

It was a small single aisle 737, the flight was short and past lunchtime, I don’t think many people ordered meals during the flight.




We arrived at Taiwan late in the afternoon and after we passed customs, disbanded and waved each other farewell.




Kanto Maigo – Day 8

For once an easy start to the day. There’s no hurry today, everything revolved around places within Tokyo.




Breakfast had a makeover and all the dishes were different from yesterday. The egg became Japanese eggroll, the fish a traditional grilled fish, a broccoli vege and seafood stirfy, and ginger stir fried pork.




First stop today was Tsukiji… or outer Tsukiji anyway. Because poorly behaviours from tourists they’ve banned tourists from visiting the inner market before 10am. Most of the fish shops are closed at that point and not much point in visiting. What is it with modern tourists…




It’s one stop from Shiodome to Tsukiji. It’s also walkable if I wasn’t feeling lazy, about 1.2km.




The outer market had changed a lot since 6 years ago. More people, the shops sold more things catering to tourists, and a lot more sushi shops. Some shops are even tax free though I have no idea how that is meant to work.




We did a general loop through the outer market to the border of the inner market, to the Namiyoke Inari Shrine then back out through each of the outer market streets.





The line outside Sushi Dai extended from the alley to a long line on the side of the thoroughfare. To be a gourmet in Tokyo required zenful patience.



Sushi dai

We passed a Yoshinoya. I did not realize at the time, only found out when we saw a memorial stone at the shrine, that the cheap gyudon chain originated right here at Tsukiji.


Should have gone in for a bowl if I had known.






At the crossing that lead to the inner market, a security guard escorted two tourists away from the inner market while holding up a sign saying no tourists allowed before 10. They’re treating the ban quite seriously.



Namiyoke Inari Shrine

Yoshinoya memorial

Shrine for fallen eggs

Many fresh seafood shops offered service to cook them on the spot, the smell of grilled crab legs and oysters was salivating.




I checked out some of the knife shops, looking to see if they sold those special knives used to cut specific fish like tuna and eels. Looks to be all sushi and chopping knives though, perhaps the demand for fish cleaning knife is less and aren’t on display.






Grilled crab legs

Actual wasabi

Next to Tsukiji is the Hongan-ji, quite different from the usual wooden temples found in Japan, is built of concrete in the architectural style from buddhism’s birthplace India. There was strangely an organ on the second level by the entranceway.






Hibiya line station is just outside Hongan-ji. A quick transfer at Ginza to the Marunouchi line gets us to Ikebukuro.




The Sunshine Aquarium is about 10 minutes walk from the station.




The aquarium is one of several within Tokyo. There’s something cultural about Japan and aquariums, it has to be one of the most common attractions in Japan. Perhaps it’s a combination of love for fish and cute things, and who doesn’t like a cuddly seal or penguins.




Sunshine Aquarium is situated on top of Sunshine City shopping complex. It recently renovated its penguin enclosure into something it calls flying penguin experience. The penguin tank consists of glass on both side so visitor can see out through the tank at the Tokyo skyline, with the interior forming a convex cave that visitors can stand underneath, when penguins swims in the tank it looks as though the penguins are flying through the air.


Sunshine水族館是Sunshine city樓頂。最近企鵝區剛翻新過,改造成所謂的飛天企鵝。企鵝池子兩側皆是玻璃,遊客可看到外側的東京天際,內側是凹入的洞穴形狀,遊客可站在水池下方,看起來池中游泳的企鵝就如在天空中飛翔似。


I had bought the tickets beforehand and skipped the ticket booth queue.




The aquarium has indoor and outdoor parts. The indoor aquarium exhibiting various habitats and the outdoor area where penguins and seals are.




We headed indoor first, there was still time till the penguin feeding.




For an urban aquarium with limited space, the place had a good variety of different fishes and other aquatic animals Though the enclosures tended on seemingly too small, Y pointed out.



Sunshine Aquarium

Sunshine aquarium


I don’t think Y like aquariums too much, a miss on my part.




Just before we came the aquarium had an accident where the air bump to the largest tank was turned off and the tank lost most of its fishes. The tank thus was ironically spacious.




All else not being too bright, there’s still the penguins. The penguins here are cape penguins, much smaller and more resistance to heat than the more popular adele or emperor penguins, making them more suited for urban Tokyo.



Sunshine aquarium

Adorable adorable little penguins, so clever and so silly. Before proper feeding time the staff came out with small bucket of fish. The fishes were likely specially prepared, either with medicine or special supplements, since the staff went out of the way to ensure each penguin was fed one fish.



Sunshine aquarium

At feeding time one staff tossed fishes at the waiting penguins while she introduced the penguins, another staff at the front held up placards showing photos of what the first staff talked about, such as the photo of the coastal environment where the penguin came from. The little birds scampered and flapped each other to get at the fish. Those that had their fill wriggled down little holes back to their nest.



Sunshine aquarium

At the end of it the staff held up a penguin and brought it closer to the fence. Visitors weren’t allowed to touch the penguins, this was as close as people were allowed to the cute litte thing.



Sunshine aquarium

After the feeding we moved to the penguin swimming tank. The tank was quite large which allowed the penguins to pick up speed in the water. The curved glass tank design works very well, while it’s not quite flying penguins, it’s amazing to see the penguins swim past the shoulder or even over head.



Penguin tank

Penguin tank


Then we finished looking at the indoor areas, then searched for penguin goods in the souvenir shop. There was a disappointing lack of giant penguin plushies.




Lunch was where I messed up again. The original plan was to go to sushi train but my mind had gotten blanked out. The aquarium had not been as interesting as hoped, I was not sure whether going out of the way to the sushi train that likely had a queue was a good idea.




So I said to walk to the station and grab whatever we find okay along the way.




A restaurant was right across the main intersection leading to the station front district. It’s a oyakodon place, similar in concept to Yoshinoya. I looked the menu then looked at Y who didn’t have an opinion either way, so we ended up eating there.




The ticket machine really did not like 100Y coins. In the end I fed it a 1000Y note for it to grant me food.



Oyakodon place


While we ate I thought about where to go in the afternoon. There were a number of options. The original plan were Rikugien or Koishikawa-Korakuen, the two autumn leaves garden in Tokyo. Though Y was not that eager, having seen the autumn leaves in Hakone yesterday.




I went through the alternatives. Ginza, Meiji Jingu/Omotesando/Takeshita. Not too big on those shopping destinations. Maybe Ameyoko.




Then it occured to me. How about ginkgo leaves, not the same as red autumn leaves and they should be almost at their peak at Tokyo Uni which is also on the way back Shinbashi.




Y agreed. But before we got to the station we were sidetracked when passing a Matsumoto Kiyoshi pharmacy store. They had several items on sale which Y was interested and we spent some time there looking. Apparently to be eligible for tax free required minimum 5000Y before tax, good to know.




We took the Marunouchi line to Hongo-sanchome. From there it’s about 300m walk to Tokyo Uni. At the Hongo-Sanchome intersection there was a Doutor and I went into a long story about how my fondness for the cafe developed.




I had actually been to Tokyo Uni before, on my first trip to Tokyo. Only back then I did not even realize this was Tokyo Uni, I was merely looking for a way to get to my hotel. That first trip was a harsh lesson.



Tokyo Uni red gate

The main thoroughfare of Tokyo Uni from the main gate to the auditorium is lined with giant ginkgo trees against a backdrop of brick gothic brick buildings. Shimmering leaves crowned the tall trees standing tall over gilded carpet, golden flakes snowed in the air. Poetic, painted.



Tokyo uni

Tokyo uni

Tokyo uni

Tokyo uni

Tokyo uni


People stood beneath the trees taking photos. Some sat before canvas stands capturing the moment with their brushes. Others slowly walked in marvel.




When the ginkgo trees at Tokyo Uni were planted in the early 1900s, ginkgo were not typically used as street landscape trees. In a way the ginkgo avenue here became a prototype and gave birth to the ginkgo tree lined streets that became the symbol of Tokyo.




We took a break at Doutor before getting back on the train to Shiodome back to Super Hotel. There was no direct train between Ikebukuro and Shinbashi/Shiodome, by coming to Tokyo Uni the transfer was done away.


在搭車到汐留回Super Hotel前在Doutor坐了一下。從池袋沒有直達新橋或汐留的車,來東大某方面省去了轉車的必要。


I think it was maybe 4.30 by the time we got back to the hotel. A little break before the night’s schedule starting with dinner at 5.30.




Dinner was at Gyu-katsu Motomura near Shinbashi station. A fried steak grill place.




The steak is slightly fried first with batter with the inside still raw, then the customer can grill the steak to the desired degree at the table.




Because of various photos I had actually thought the steaks were meant to be eaten as is, till Y explained to me what the steak actually is. Apparently a similar place opened near Y’s home recently. There’s something about food which I’m just no good at researching.




We got there at about 5.40 and just managed to not get in by a matter of seconds. The group just steps ahead of us took the last table. We waited maybe 15 minutes for a table to be made available.




The place was a little dive hidden in a basement off the main street, about seats for 20 people only.



Gyukatsu motomura

They were well prepared for foreigners and had menus in english, chinese and korean. We were given a menu and asked to decide while we waited and have to order and pay before sitting down. Not that there was much to decide, there was only standard set, standard set with extra side and set with extra meat.




Okay Y did get an extra beer.




The server sat us down and our order was brought over with extreme efficiency. There’s rice, miso soup, two kind of sauce, plate of beef cutlets with shredded cabbage salad and mash potato, and a hot plate over open flame iron plate grill.



Gyukatsu Motomura


The beef was very nice, the deep fried outside giving a slightly crunchy texture and the inside soft and succulent. I tried grilling several pieces at once to different degree to see how to best cook them but it hardly mattered, the meat was always very soft unless it’s obviously charred and overcooked.




The evening was Caretta followed by Tokyo Midtown.


晚上安排去Caretta然後再去Tokyo Midtown。


The illumination theme at Caretta this year was Beauty and the Beast. The main component was similar to the Winter Forest in 2011, though with a lot more light and a much worse song and choreography.






We just missed the performance so headed upstairs to the observation deck first. From level 46 the observation deck looked down at tsukiji and Tokyo bay.



Tsukiji at night




After the Caretta illumination performance, then headed to Roppongi from Shiodome.



I’m not sure whether it’s just this year, but the illuminations did not seem as good as before. Whether Caretta or the Midtown one.




I was expecting the kind of crushing crowd I met in 2011 but Midtown only had a small crowd. The display this year was also quite disappointing, forgoing the birth of planet theme for a shorter, much simpler swirling galaxy.






We ended up returning to the hotel early and had a late night snack party together in the breakfast area, with the black egg we bought yesterday and the unpasteurized sake the day before.




Kanto Maigo – Day 7

Hakone day.




This morning was to see one of the toughest challenges. Getting from Shinbashi to Hakone-Yumoto in just an hour.




To backtrack a little.




A day trip to Hakone was quite pressed for time, more so that it was imperative that we arrive at Moto-Hakone by the lakeside before at least 10 am if we wished to have a chance at seeing Mount Fuji.




Mount Fuji is also called the shy mountain because its peak is often shrouded by clouds. The best time to have a clear view of it is during the early morning or evening when the temperature is cool, during the day clouds often form and like a hat obscure it from view. Studying the live cameras over several days it appears clouds most often start to form after 10am.


富士山被稱作害羞的山,因為山頂常被雲霧圍繞。要清楚看到山景最好是一大早或是傍晚天氣涼爽的時候。白天山上容易起雲像戴帽子般把山頂遮住。研究幾天web cam影像,大多是10點後開始起雲的。


There’s also a bottleneck crossing Lake Ashinoko from Motohakone on the south side to Togendai in the north, with one boat every 40-50 minutes, catching just one boat earlier can make a huge difference in the schedule down the road. This means getting to Hakone as early as possible. Even half an hour can make a lot of difference.




The earliest train from Shinjuku is an Odakyu express departing at 7am and takes an hour and 40 minutes, arriving at Hakone-Yumoto at 8:40.




If one then first take the mountain railway to Kowakudani (since it may be dark by the time we descent, taking the railway in the morning ensures we get to enjoy the sights), then transfer onward to the bus, one should reach Moto-Hakone at 9:45.




7am is quite early especially for a station as large as Shinjuku. Assuming one’s hotel is at Shinjuku, accounting for walking time and navigating the station, this means leaving the hotel at latest around 6:30~6:40. Earlier if one did not stay at Shinjuku.




The next express out of Shinjuku is 7:27 and arrives at Hakone-Yumoto at 9:01, which gets to Moto-Hakone at 10.




This was a source of headache when choosing where to stay. 7am train is really early and there’s a risk of oversleeping it. If it’s the next train then arrival in Hakone will be a bit late.




Until I found an alternative. Before that though it’s worth looking into why departing from Odakyu is considered the default.




Transport around Hakone is dominated by the Odakyu group. Odakyu is one of the major private railways in the Kanto region, its main line connects Shinjuku to Kamakura and Odawara, Hakone. In addition, the group also owns the Hakone Mountain Railway, Hakone Cable Car, Hakone Ropeway, Hakone Sightseeing Cruise and most of the local bus in Hakone region.




The Hakone Pass issued by Odakyu allowed tourists unlimited access to all transports in the Hakone region for just 4000Y, and for another 1140Y also included a single regular return ticket from Shinjuku.




A small trap with the pass is that the return ticket is only valid for non-express trains which required transfers and takes about 2 hours. To take the express trains one has to purchase another 890Y to get an express ticket, 890×2 (1780) for return. All up this means 2920 extra or about 1460 each way.




Going to Hakone effective means having to get a Hakone pass, the natural outcome is to also get the return from Shinjuku as one single simple solution. Since most people chooses this way, various guides and blogs also discusses only this way when concerning how to get to Hakone.




But while Odakyu is the only choice within the Hakone region, it is not the only choice getting from and to Hakone from Tokyo. There is also JR East whose local train (there are no expresses) takes about 70~80 minutes between Tokyo and Odawara, and the shinkansen which can cover that distance in just 35 minutes. From Odawara one can use the basic Hakone pass up to Hakone-Yumoto (another 20 minutes) and onward.




The JR East train costs 1490 one way, which is actually comparable to Odakyu.




The shinkansen on other hand while being extremely fast, costs 3220 each way.




The JR East train can be an alternative but did not solve my problem of getting to Hakone early enough.




The shinkansen was too expensive, until I found that JR Central sold a special outing ticket called Shinkansen Odekake-Kippu, where one can purchase returns to Odawara for 2 people travelling together for just 4630 per person, or effectively 2315 each way. It’s still >800Y more each way compared to Odakyu but brings it into the bounds of reasonable trade-off worth considering.




Once I discovered this possibility I started charting out possible timetables. Catching the shinkansen from Shinagawa was the best choice since compared to Tokyo station it would shave ~10 minutes off again from the time one has to leave the hotel in the morning. That left any stations close to Shinagawa (there are very few hotels around Shinagawa), such as Shinbashi.




I charted out every train for each segment of the transfers. Shinbashi>Shinagawa, Shingawaga>Odawara, Odawara>Hakone-Yumoto, Hakone-Yumoto>Kowakudani, Kowakudani>Moto-Hakone. From the table a precise transfer could be worked out. Based on the station layouts it was very tight but definitely doable.




7:15 Shinbashi departure, 10 minutes transfer at Shinagawa, 5 minutes at Odawara, arrive at Hakone-Yumoto at 8:21. Then 3 minutes to walk up the platform onto the mountain railway (once this transfer is made the trip is safe), with arrival at Moto-Hakone at 9:25. The transfers are too tight to show up on transfer apps like Jorudan or Ekitan, have to be worked out manually.




Compared to Shinjuku departure on the 7am Odakyu express, we can leave at least 15 minutes later (more since Shinbashi station is small, only need to account for time from the hotel) but will end up at the lakeside actually 20 minutes earlier.




Now back to the trip.




The day began with Super Hotel’s breakfast. Breakfast here started at 6.30, I went down right on the minute. We had agreed to meet in the lobby at 7, until then it’s up to each when to have breakfast and anything else to do.


一天從Super Hotel的早餐開始。早餐6.30開始,我很準時的下樓。我們約好7點在大廳碰面,在那之前各自決定何時吃早餐和其他想做的事。


One thing I love about Super Hotel is that their breakfast is always familiar but never the same. The food is very consistent no matter which location, one knows exactly what to expect yet won’t know what one might get.


我喜歡Super Hotel的一點就是他的早餐總是令人很熟悉但從不一樣。菜色種類不論地點有一致性,知道可期待什麼但仍不知道會有什麼。


There’s a few things that are certain. Selection of coffee from the machine, organic salad with range of Super Hotel’s signature sauces, yoghurt, fruit, bread, rice and sides that go with it such as nato, pickles, miso soup.


有幾樣是絕對的。咖啡機供應的各種咖啡,有機沙拉配上Super Hotel自家口味的醬料,優格,水果,麵包,白飯和配飯的小菜如納豆,醬菜,味噌湯。


There will be a fish dish. The fish may not be the same nor may it be cooked the same way. I don’t know whether it’s company policy but I have yet to have one without fish.




There will be an egg dish. The egg also may not be cooked the same way but there will be eggs.




Then there will be a meat dish. Plus one or two other dishes that varied.




Many branches tend to also have a “local” dish, a dish unique to that Super Hotel or Super Hotels in that region. It could be curry, miso topping…etc. The specialty of this Super Hotel was Fukagawa-Meshi, a clam rice stew.


許多分店還有一道地方特色菜,那家Super Hotel或那地區Super Hotel才有的菜色。可能是咖哩,味增醬之類。這家的是深川飯,一種貝類煮粥。


Super Hotel’s breakfast leaned on traditional Japanese breakfast, this requires comparatively more effort. Other business hotel usually provided just scrambled eggs, weiners and maybe hashbrown or potato, items that can be much easily prepared. It’s one reason why I chose Super Hotel since Y is not used to western style bread or sandwiches.


Super Hotel的早餐偏傳統日式。準備上比較費事。其他商務旅館通常是提供炒蛋,熱狗,然後薯餅或馬鈴薯,這種比較好弄的菜色。選Super Hotel的原因之一,Y比較不習慣西式的麵包或三明治。

Super Hotel Breakfast

Super Hotel Breakfast

The transfer went smoother than planned. At Shinagawa we had to wait for the Nozomi currently on the platform to clear out first before the Kodama showed up. I had already checked the best car number for transfer and we boarded car number 7.




The tightest transfer was Odawara, with just 5 minutes to go up the platform, exit the Shinkansen gate, up the main concourse then through the Odakyu gate and down to the platform and board the train. It’s my first time to Odawara, though I had checked the station layout on youtube things could look different on arrival.




We made it with about a minute to go. Had no need to run. But would not have made it if I had not purchased ticket beforehand.




On the train from Odawara to Hakone-Yumoto we met a pair of Chinese old couple who came from the States. They seemed to have bought the Hakone mountain railway+bus pass at a whim and had not yet looked at what to see and do at Hakone. So they asked us what was our plan and whether we had any suggestions.




I outlined our plan of taking the railway up to Kowakudani and transferring to the bus, doing a clockwise loop around the area. They seemed to like the idea and followed us up till Moto-Hakone.




Once we got on the mountain train at Hakone-Yumoto we no longer had to worry about transfers and the sightseeing begins.



Hakone Yumoto

The Hakone Mountain railway is the Japan’s oldest mountain railway and the steepest railway in Japan without a rack rail. In less than 10km it climbs from Hakone-Yumoto at 108m to Gora at 556m.




The leaves close to Hakone-Yumoto was still green, which I took to be a good sign that there were bound to be red leaves along the way up.




Along the tracks there are 3 turnbacks to navigate the steepest inclines.The turnbacks also doubled as a passing stop for trains coming the other direction, there was plenty of time to take in the view as we waited for the descending train or for the poor driver to run to the other end to drive the train in the other direction.





The train winded through narrow tunnels and bridges over steep valleys. Only in the old days could a railway be built through terrain as difficult as this only for access to tourist destination.




Two stops from Gora we got off at Kowakudani. This was the station where the railway and the bus route headed for Moto-Hakone diverged.




Originally the bus was not due for another 12 minutes and Y had begun to wander off when a H route bus turned around the corner. Is the bus early or the previous one late? No matter, I hurriedly called Y back.




Since the bus came early we now had time to go to Onshihakone park instead of just Moto-Hakone. Onshihakone was about 500m further down the Lake Ashinoko south bank and used to be the Emperial family’s vacation palace. It’s a small peninsula jutting out into the lake and from its higher elevation offered a fantastic view of Mount Fuji and Lake Ashinoko.




The poor weather over the last few days had cleared up, in the distance Mount Fuji loomed over the pristine lake. I had been very worried about whether we would be able to see Mount Fuji today and was very relieved.




Thanks the the early bus we were by the lakeside at 9:15.




The main structure in the palace grounds is a western style hall. There used to be an Japanese style Hall adjoining the western Hall but after destruction in multiple earthquakes had been reduced to a small wooden building.



Hakone Palace


From the 2nd floor balcony of the Hall one had a clear view of the lake and the far shores. A pirate cruise ship leaving Moto-Hakone glided into view before turning north toward Togendai.



Mount Fuji

There was another small viewing platform in the park where high magnification binoculars were installed. Through it we could see the smallest valley on Mount Fuji, the snowy slopes glistening in the sun.



Mount Fuji

Between Onshihakone and Moto-Hakone is a length of forest path which used to be the old Tokaido postal road. The ancient road is lined with 400 years old giant cedar trees. Hakone had long been a vital town due to its status as a major checkpoint controlling travellers heading in and out of Kanto.




The old checkpoint that had been reconstructed is at Hakonemachi, not far in fact from Onshihakone, unfortunately it was one of the many placed that had to be left out due to the tight schedule.




Cedar Avenue was actually less exciting than it sounded, being a stone throw away next to the main road with cars constantly whizzing by definitely took away its atmosphere.



Cedar Avenue

We got back to Moto-Hakone and continued along the waterfront to Hakone shrine. The Hakone shrine used to be on the summit of Komagatake, related to mountain worship. It was later moved down to the foot of the mountain. The shrine is best know by its torii the stood in the lake at the bottom of the stairs.



Hakone Shrine

Hakone Shrine


Hakone Shrine


Hakone Shrine


Hakone Shrine

Hakone Shrine torii

The tourists were out in force now, plenty of traffic going to and from the shrine.




I had taken some measures to avoid the two main bottlenecks in Hakone. The cruise ship and the ropeway. The cruise ship departed to a fixed timetable and if there were more people than allowed it was a 40min wait for the next one. The ropeway similarly had limited capacity. It’s said that sometimes traffic gets so backed up it could take an hour just to get on the ropeway.




Coming on a weekday avoided the most heavy traffic, and doing the Hakone circle in a clockwise direction (official recommendation is anti-clockwise) means we go against traffic and can manage time more effectively in the afternoon since we would already be past the bottlenecks. I’m actually not sure why the recommendation is anti-clockwise since Mount Fuji is best viewed in the morning.




We had to hurry for a bit on the way back to catch the 10:50 cruise ship. At first I was a little worried as there were already quite a few packed on the pier. I needed not worried, the ship was maybe 1 /2 full, based on the licensing plaque the boat had a capacity of over 500 people, not sure if they would actually pack that many people onto it in peak season, the boat already a little crowded today.



Pirate Cruise ship

The boat had 2 levels plus an open top deck and also partitioned into front and back. The front was the first class section which required an extra 500Y one way. From the photos it didn’t look like it was much of an improvement other than the front view. In peak season it may be a way to get away from the crowd in the back.




Pirate ship interior

Shrine from ship

The journey from Moto-Hakone on the south bank to Togendai on the north takes about 30 minutes. From the boat one could see all the sights around the lake, like Hakone shrine, the ropeway climbing up Komagatake and various hotels and resorts dotted along the banks.




By now the clouds had gathered on Mount Fuji and its peak had disappeared. Fortunate that we had come early. The autumn leaves had passed for the forests on either side of the lake, only a smattering of lingering red left amongst the brown barren woods.




On the open lake the wind blasted across the decks. I gripped onto the camera tightly for fear of it being blown overboard. Y had already retreated below to safety and warmth. Despite my struggles I too had to go downstairs.




Togendai is the western terminus of the Hakone ropeway. The ropeway goes from Togendai up to Owakudani, active geothermal area at the top of the crater.




The ropeway had one of the largest gondolas I’ve seen, able to seat 18 passengers at maximum. Since it’s not a particularly busy day the staff chose to fill each with only 10-11 people.




The ropeway had a steep and exciting climb, rising quickly up into the air and gave great views of the lake. The ropeway also offered a majestic view of Mount Fuji on good days, today the mountain was shrouded and all we could see is the wide rolling foothills beneath the sea of clouds, which is also very impressive in its own ways.



Ropeway from Togendai

Mount Fuji from ropeway

We reached Owakudani and was immediately greeted by the cold and sulfuric air.




Owakudani was still under level 2 alert, meaning the area was experiencing more volcanic activity than usual and the geopark trails around Owakudani was off limits to tourists. A year ago the ropeway was even closed due to too much noxious gas spewing out the crater.




Since it was nearing 12 we decided to have lunch. Food options in Hakone is fairly limited. Outside of cafe and eateries there were only 2 good places to eat around Gora and those usually had lines outside, so anywhere was as good as any. Having lunch here allowed the most flexibility overall, there was no need to backtrack and no pressure to eat quickly to get to the next spot.



Owakudani eatery

The eatery attached to Owakudani ropeway station has a very simple menu, probably due to its hard to access location. Curry rice or chips and fried chickens. The price is on the expensive side like most places in Hakone. It’s still before proper lunchtime, we were able to pick a window seat overlooking the crater energetically spewing steam, a view worth the extra price (probably).



View from table


Owakudani eatery

The crater is also where ryokan and hotels in the area make their onsen water.



Many of onsens in the Gora and Senseki area actually gets their onsen water via manufacturing. By directing water over/into the crater’s steam vents minerals are dissolve in the water, the infused water is then piped down to the ryokans. Whether these qualify as natural onsen is up for each. Just something nice to know.


Personally this makes it possible to control the mineral concentration which leave me a little wary.


Beitou onsen in Taiwan also uses the same method to produce onsen water.









When we left the restaurant there was at least 6-7 groups waiting, having wrote their name on a list and have to wait for the staff to call them.





A specialty unique to Owakudani is the black eggs. They’re regular hard boiled onsen eggs but the egg shell reacts to the volcanic water and turns into a charcoal black. It’s said that eating one of the black egg will add seven years to your life.



The black egg

They’re sold in bags and 5 and I am very glad Y is around since there’s no way I am going to eat 5 eggs by myself (we ended up eating it over 2 days).




When the trails were open one could walk up to the original black egg shop and one can watch how they dip the eggs go into the water white and come out black. For now though just have to buy them at the store next to Owakudani station.




I secretly hoped the clouds on Mount Fuji might move off during lunch time, alas no such luck.



Fuji from Owakudani

Time to continue onward on the ropeway toward Sounzan. The station was packed with people. The line heading to Togendai/Lake Ashinoko had completely filled that side of the station, across the walkway and was spilling into the main station foyer.




Goodness, thankfully we’re going the other way.




The ropeway to Souzan flew directly over the crater. For safety reasons they gave out medicinal towels to cover one’s mouth and nose incase people felt overwhelmed by the smell.



Ropeway down to Souzan

At Souzan there were even more people waiting to get on the ropeway toward Owakudani. I think people start to move toward Ashinoko after lunch to leave enough time to visit Hakone shrine.




Between Souzan and Gora is one of the core areas of Hakone. There are many hotels and ryoukans, and the bus routes connects out from here to nearby parks and museums.




Despite just 1.2km as the crow flies between the two locations, there is an elevation difference of over 200m, requiring cable towed cars to climb the steep slope. Yet another reason to travel clockwise. It is possible to walk downhill in the direction of Gora, while going uphill from Gora is going to work up a sweat even in the cold winter.




The cable car is single tracked with a passing track in the middle. The towing cables runs down the middle of the track and I was very intrigued by how at the passing tracks the cables are directed down the respective sides without getting entangled.




On either side of the track lined autumn leaves in full bloom of red and orange.



Hakone Mountain Cable Car

The main attraction for the afternoon was Hakone Museum of Art.




Hakone Museum of Art ironically was not most known by its collection but by its impeccably maintained moss garden. In autumn the red leaves in the moss garden is one of the most poster perfect scene of Hakone.




The entrance was just across the road from Koen-Kami station. I had already bought the tickets electronically so we headed straight in.




The museum grounds consists of roughly 4 parts in a loop. Going anti-clockwise, the museum building overlooks the entire garden, followed by the rock garden, the tea house, and the moss garden.



Hakone Museum of Art

Hakone Museum of Art

The moss garden was the main reason for scheduling the trip at this date and I had watched the online photos intently for the past few weeks, checking the progress of the autumn leaves. For a while it looked as though we might miss the autumn leaves, even when they proved much more resilient I worried they might be half barren.




My eyes widened at the sight of the fiery tree tops. In rolling green seas winded stone paths like shallow reefs. Fallen maple leaves laid quietly on the soft carpet in tranquil sleep. The burning canopy contrasted with the green moss below formed a beautiful dreamlike landscape.



Hakone Museum of Art

Hakone Museum of Art


Hakone Museum of Art

Hakone Museum of Art

Hakone Museum of Art

Hakone Museum of Art

Hakone Museum of Art

Hakone Museum of Art

There was a constant stream of other admirers lost in the beautiful world like us. Just enough to not feel alone, not too many to be intruded.




Since this place is ostensibly an art museum, one should definitely still check out its collections regardless of how mesmerized one is by its garden.



There are 4 exhibition spaces, each about the size of a small auditorium room. The collection is quite varied, being the personal collection of the museum founder Okada Kimochi. Okada was the founder of a new Japanese religion in the early 20th century.




On display were many ukiyo-e, traditional paintings. Part of the ukiyoe featured scenes of the tokaido which Hakone as mentioned before was an important checkpoint on it.




Funny painting of kappa fishing

Upstairs were the ceramic exhibitions displaying buddhist statues and bowls, plates, jars, including flame jars from the Jomon period.



Pottery collection

There was still light, though the sun had fallen behind the peak and we were in the shadows. Our next stop was the nearby Gora park, free entry with the Hakone pass. I got a little confused with the map, despite there being an entrance on the topside right next to the art museum we ended up going down to the bottom main entrance.




The park was a western style garden best known by the giant fountain at its centre.



Gora park

It was hard to get a good judge of the gardens in the fading light. Other than the gardens, there was a restaurant/cafe overlooking the fountain and several craft houses where one could participate in glass blowing, dried flower arrangement, glass etching.



Glass blowing

The craft activities takes from 30 min to an hour and a few thousand yen, though some have to be delivered to the hotel a few days later due to the need to either put it through the kiln or additional processing.




The garden is better visited in spring and summer when flowers are in bloom.




Time starts to slip in the twilight. It was still about 3:30pm but was starting to feel like 5 or 6pm. We wandered down to Gora station.




There was a tofu shop behind the station that was somewhat well known. I mulled over whether it’s worth the trouble going there. Y wasn’t that interested either so we only looked about the station front then lined up to head down to Hakone-Yumoto.




I had known that the trip down would be problematic. Normally the bus trip would be 20min faster than the mountain train but during the autumn leaves season the road gets backed up all the way from Odawara to Kowakudani. I however did not expect the train to be also so packed that we were not able to get on the first train and had to wait another 15min for the next one.




Travelling in Hakone during peak season requires a lot of patience and lead times in the schedule, potentially queues everywhere.




The street of Hakone-Yumoto was a little disappointing. The main issue was that the busy road was filled with cars and the sidewalks was too narrow for the number of people and became difficult to walk or to see the shops ahead. The street was not very long, maybe just a hundred metres, more of a shopping street than an onsen street, much less souvenir shops than would have thought. Part of it may be that Hakone isn’t known for any local specialties so the shops are more croquette shops, sweet shops, cake shops…etc.





Hakone Yumoto

Hakone Yumoto

We tried to look for a place to eat but did not find anyplace too appetizing. There are eateries in the backstreets, though I was not keen on possibly wasting effort looking. I think both of us were getting a little tired.




The original dinner plan was Curry Cocoro, that only opened at 5:30pm, still some time to go. The alternative was to head back and see what we can get at Odawara or even back in Tokyo at Shinagawa.




We ended up eating at Odawara station while waiting for the next shinkansen train.




Inside the shopping arcade at Odawara station there’s a small foodcourt specializing in noodles. There’s ramen, udon, sobas. We ended up getting yakisoba.




The portions was quite large, the taste a touch too salty though that was probably expected in Japan, otherwise quite happy with. (I regret not researching more, the same tofu tonkatsu shop in Gora has a branch here, so should have gone to that instead)



Noodle street


We whizzed back to Shinagawa in less than 30min. Along the way we decided since it was still early, we’d go to Shibuya to see the Blue Cave illumination there.




And.. right into Yamanote line during the evening peak hour. Should have seen that coming and planned accordingly.




The carriage was packed tighter than sardine. People gripped the top of the doorframe to give themselves leverage to push onto the train. Just when one thought the train could possibly fit no more, somehow another five people would skillfully push themselves in.




At the intermediate stations I have no idea how people squeezed themselves off the trains. The train had to pause for extended periods while the station attendants asked for people to stop trying to get on and wait for the next train.




Thankfully we were getting off at Shibuya which was not too many stops away and plenty of people would be getting off that we only needed to go with the flow.




It was an experience, though one me and Y both agreed best to never have again.




The Blue Cave was at Yoyogi park, where the trees along the main walk were strung up with blue christmas lights, and the pavement was covered with reflective boards to create a scene of mirrored lights.




The streets between the station to the park was also decorated with blue lights, creating a guideway through the busy shopping district.



Hachiko statue

Shibuya crossing



The Blue Cave area was filled with people basking in the luminescence. A little hard for the reflection to be seen in its full elegance.



Blue cave

Blue cave

Blue cave

At the end of the Blue Cave was a food event called Oedo Japanese Feast, some 30 stores selling all kind of nightmarket foods like grills oysters, crabs, steaks, skewers..etc. Despite being sponsored by the Japanese Sake association there was no stalls selling sake in sight.



Oedo feast

Oedo feast

Time to head back to Shinbashi. Shibuya is connected to Shinbashi directly via the Ginza line, it also won’t be as crowded as the Yamanote line. The Ginza line station at Shibuya was under re-construction and we were led into climbing up 3 storey tall flight of stairs to reach the platforms. Tokyo stations is known to be terrible with accessibility but this was the first time I’ve thought things to be ridiculous. The least they could have done was show a map pointing to the elevator or escalators.




Still not very late, I suggested we go to Don Quijote nearby. I had alway heard a lot about the discount variety store but never did go to one, in part because of my habit of going to rural areas and also because I’m not big on shopping and saw no need to go to one specifically.




The store, turned out to be nothing like what I had seen before.




It sold everything, from the expected sweets and cookies to some downright bizarre items like second hand Burberry bags.


Cosmetics, small electronics to appliances like rice cookers and the ever in demand hairdryers, strange toys, stationary, cameras.






While Y went to do some pricing research on alcohols, I lost myself in a strange world of exotic cookies, 10 different flavors of kit kat (sake kit kat??) and the unseen flavors of white pepsi and cherry coke.


當Y去研究酒品價格時我則迷失在奇異的零食世界,10種Kit Kat(日本酒口味?)和白百事和櫻桃可樂這種沒見過的口味。

Lots of flavors


Second hand bags

Couldn’t tell whether things here are good bargains or not like it’s said on the net, it’s very fun to just see what craziness gets concocted.




I ended up getting two cans of strange flavoured cokes (they were terrible), a bottle of juice cocktail (this one is okay) and a pack of mochi sweets to bring to work (surprisingly good).




All in all a very filled and exciting day. Could have spent a little longer at Gora, maybe even allocated some time to do some handicrafts. Got to saw Mount Fuji and the autumn leaves, very happy with that.



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.