Nagoya Alpine Tour 5 Days – Day 1

I could have stayed at home during May Day or have an adventure at Nagoya during golden week.
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We took the red eye SQ Flight to Nagoya which arrived at about 0915hrs at Chubu Centrair airport. After exiting the immigration, a JR Rail office is conveniently located on the left to initiate our JR Pass and reserve seats.

We took the Meitetsu line 800 ¥ from airport to Meitetsu Nagoya Station. A short walk to Nagoya Station to catch the 1048hrs Hida 7 Express, 2.5hrs to Takayama Station. Google map is very accurate, although Hyperdia website is the best for planning connections. We missed by just 1 min (tried to buy bread and coffee) and had to take the 1143hrs train instead.

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We arrived in Takayama at 3pm, check in at the hotel, a straight 6 min walk from station with an onsen. The room is tiny with no frills. (Reviewers said it was noisy from the train tracks but I didnt hear any.)

Activity
Dropped our bags and walked in the old town which was 15 mins away from train station.

Stayed at:
Takayama Ouan Hotel 
飛騨花里の湯 高山桜庵
4-313 Hanasatocho, Gifu Prefecture, Takayama, Takayama, Japan 506-0026 
花里町4-313, 高山, 高山, 日本 506-0026
SGD 296.97 (B’fast)

Suggestions for dinner:
丸明 (Maruaki)
Address: 6-8 Tenmanmachi, Takayama 506-0025, Gifu Prefecture
Google Maps: Hida Beef Maruaki Restaurant
Tel. no: +81 577-35-5858
Price range: 2,900 to 4,500+ jpy

Do try Tsuzumi Soba (つづみそば) one of the oldest ramen restaurants in Takayama. It specialises in Takayama Ramen, which is referred to as chuka soba by the locals.

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We took a walk at the old town which was about 15 min walk away and tried A5 Hida beef at Ateya. It was excellent with Himuro sake (Niki syuzou). Izakaya is a one man show and very cozy. Like a 10 seater.

Ajikura Tengoku (味蔵天国) is next to my hotel and specialises in yakiniku. Serves only the best JA Hida Group’s Farmers “Hida beef”, restaurant organised and run by the farmers from the JA Group (Japan Agricultural Cooperatives). It was opened when we passed by at 5pm but when we went at 730pm, both Maruaki and Ajikura were closed.

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Ateya
9-3,Asahimachi , Takayama City,Gifu , 506-0026 , JAPAN
TEL:  +81-577-33-6651
We had a melt in your mouth beef set @ 5,800¥ for 120g x2. The menu is pretty reasonable but we figured that since we are not going to eat Hida beef for a very long time, we will try the premium A5.
The isakaya is a one man show and he recommemded a good Takayama glass of sake Himuro 永室 for 800¥, which we later found in a sake shop opposite the JR Station.

Later we tried the luggage forwarding service to our next stop Matsumoto, instead of at our Tateyama Alpine hotel. The fee is ¥1577 per bag which is pretty expensive, maybe because of the hotel service. Better option is to send to the TAQBin office opposite the Takayama JR Station and pick it up from the Matsumoto station instead of the point to point. But anyway there is always a first time.

Takachiho Gorge and Mt Aso

Day 4 Mt Aso and Takachiho Gorge

From Mt Aso to Takachiho Gorge, there are lots of cafés. Leaving Mt Aso there’s a convenience store, a family mart.
Get some snacks if you must and a toilet break.

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We stopped for coffee at a Maple Cafe simply because it was the first we saw. For a place so far away, the coffee is quite reasonable for 540¥ per pax. Lovely rosemary bush. Looks new and there’s an outdoor oven for pizzas in summer. Two middle aged service staff who speak English. I wonder if they are the owners because they are so hospitable? Windows framing the moubtain range and a fireplace with soothing music. I smell pizza in the oven.

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I highly recommend staying at Shinsen at Takachiho Gorge. It wasn’t my preference but the #1 choice on TripAdvisor was taken and I moved down the list. Having visited the town and stayed at the Ryokan, I absolutely loved the experience. For the price we paid, it was value for money. First class experience of very personal service. http://www.takachiho-shinsen.co.jp/sp/#gnav

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For 54000, we had a private onsen which can fit 2 persons.

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The room has a private toilet and shower as well as a little garden. It includes a Nespresso machine for your own coffee, transport to the cultural performance.
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As well as Kaiseki dinner and breakfast in a private room. All this while from parking your car to carrying your luggage to leaving the ryokan, we never met another guest. Not if the staff can help it. We got very personalised service. The lady who assisted us was only 5 months in the job but very sincere.

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What to do at Takachiho?
Trek and take photos. A favourite sport seems to be kayaking. But we didn’t do that. The ryokan gave us a map on how to get to the Gorge.

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Rocks and waterfalls.

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If you do not want to take the Kaiseki dinner, there’s a restaurant just outside the car park and a supermarket beside the electronic store. If you like Japanese groceries, stock up your car here.
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A short 5 mins walk down the road from the supermarket, we saw a temple which was officiating a wedding.
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Black seems like an accepted auspicious color at weddings in Japan.
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We saw Japanese wash their hands and some even rinse their mouths (don’t drink) as a form of purifying yourself before entering.

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The temple has two intertwining trees and couples walk 5 rounds to bless their perpetual union.

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Time to set off.

Isasaka no kizu naki tama mo tomosureba chiri ni hikari wo usinainikeri

If you get a beautiful, bright and scratch-less jewel, without constant polishing and cleaning, it will lose its brightness by a little dust. So human heart also, beautiful and pure heart cannot be kept without constant polishing.

Kyushu – the land that Kublai Khan failed to conquer

We set aside 7 days for Kyushu at a relaxed pace.

Our initial plan was to start with Kagoshima in the south, travel upwards to Kumamoto, the spa-onsen town of Takachiho and Kurokawa and returning home via Fukuoka city.

A week prior, we revised our plan. Leave Kagoshima in the South and UNESCO site of Yakushima for next trip.

I was excited to stay an extra first night in Fukuoka after all the great things I heard, then Nagasaki and continue with the rest.

Day 1
Upon arrival at Fukuoka, we activated the 3 day Kyushu pass and booked train tickets at Hakata station for Nagasaki. (You buy the JR voucher in your home country and activate it in Hakata station for Kyushu. Highly subsidised. Cheaper than driving and the trains are regular. You can check schedule on Google map.) Our hotel upon arrival was Forza at Hakata station. We could have used the JR pass to visit Arita, the porcelain town, 2hrs away from Hakata station. The JR Kyushu pass is very useful and offers discount on the JR Hotels. Train fans should note that Kumamoto has beautifully upholstered trains such as Aso boy from Kumamoto to Kagoshima. http://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/train/sl.jsp

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Day 2
The next day, we took the 9.30am JR train for a very comfortable 2hr journey to Nagasaki. Pack your coffee and bento. You can eat in the train although i didnt see any pushcarts. The JR pass is very convenient. Keep them close to you as you’ve to show them when you exit the station.

Why visit Nagasaki?
Before Nagasaki was bombed during WWII, it was historically the only harbor open to the world.

Here you see Chinese, Dutch and Spanish influence. The Chinatown is largest in Japan.

Our hotel Dormy Inn is just across from Chinatown. But there are several hotels such as JAL around the area too. We took a taxi to the Dormy Inn hotel (about 960¥) which had an in house onsen, laundry and dryer. Nagasaki has a tram system which passes all tourist stops. To get to the tram stop at the JR train station, however you have to climb long flights of steps to the overhead bridge and down again. There’s no lift and no escalator.
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Rooms at Dormy Inn are reasonably priced with breakfast but I’m not a fan although I know some are. The rooms look quite cheap to me. But they’re roomy, clean and look new with no cigarette smell. Counter staff speak English and are helpful and very effecient. It’s right across the entrance of Chinatown and walking distance from the shopping street and tram station. The in-house onsen is safe and clean. For ladies, there’s a password protect. You can do your laundry in the washing machine inside the area while you dip (free). Dryer is 100¥ per spin.
Dormy Inn is reasonably priced and I can see why some people are fans. But I wrote in TripAdvisor that I would prefer staying at Forza which is slightly more expensive. Forza has no onsen and no free laundry and no free noodles after 10pm. (Although I didn’t try the noodles for supper at Dormy.) Let me correct this observation by saying that I’m glad I stayed at Dormy Inn for the experience. I think I paid 14000¥ for a twin size with breakfast. There’s bread and sausages and quite a good spread.

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Streamers outside the Nagasaki peace museum, made of little paper cranes.

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We didn’t enjoy Nagasaki perhaps because it was raining when we arrived. We didn’t have a good experience at the restaurant opposite the hotel (recommended by the hotel). Seafood bowl of 1990¥ per bowl had uni that tasted off although we didn’t have food poisoning.

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It’s not necessary to get the 1-day tram pass if you’re staying near Chinatown.

Otherwise travel light if you’re visiting Nagazaki and moving around by tram. The Nagazaki atomic bomb museum is nearer to the JR train station. So we took a 100¥ tram ride to Nagasaki Peace Park.

Because it was wet and our not very pleasant experience in the restaurant, we didn’t visit the famous Megane bridge area. It turned dark at around 4pm and we couldn’t make out much but it seemed that Nagasaki was quite a international town with Dutch and Chinese influence.
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Nagasaki is famous for Castella cake and Chinese style pork belly bun. You can buy the Castella cake everywhere including Tokyo Narita airport. Or at the JR train station.
http://www.justonecookbook.com/castella/

Try the Nagasaki ramen which has lots of Chinese cabbage piled on top.

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(On hindsight I would have skipped Nagasaki and either taken a side trip to Daizaifu or stayed an extra day at Mt Aso. I think Hiroshima would have made a better choice. Compared to other Japanese cities such as Sapporo, Osaka and Kumamoto, Nagasaki seemed like an aging town. Both taxi drivers who took us to and back from the train station were around 80 years old.)
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At level 2 of the Daiso 100¥ store in Nagasaki, we saw a long queue waiting for the umbrella repair man. An about to be discontinued craft? So environmentally friendly. His customers are all in the same age group.

From Nagasaki

If you’ve time to kill or your own transport, a fun way of getting from Nagasaki to Kumamoto is via the sea cutting east across. With car on the boat, the sea view is breath taking accompanied by seagulls along the way. As we didnt have our car, the thought of 4hrs including waiting time for bus and boat, we took the Shinkansen, an efficient 2hrs.

Next to Kumamoto.

Daikanyama T-site

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My favourite find this trip was to Daikanyama T-site. It took us a while to find. Take a metro to Daikanyama station. Once you exit the station , keep to your right. At some point when you see Tenoha, cross the street and keep left. Apparently you can get there through Shibuya.

Take a screenshot of the location and ask a young person how to get there. Young, preppy and yuppy.

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Maybe it’s the trees, there’s a calm, university town feel in the air.

Hanging out in Tokyo makes us happy. Something about the ambience. Maybe it’s that feeling of being not part of the daily grind and yet fitting in.

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We went to Tsutaya bookstore and had drinks and gratin at Anjin on the second level. It’s so cool- chill out to lounge music. The staff are attentive yet they know when to leave you alone.

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The gratin was warm and delicious.

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We met Pepper the robot on second floor of the bookstore. How cool is that?  I watched  an interview with her creator on TV a month prior and here she was. Innocence in white. On the left is Starbucks which is filled on a Monday 4pm.

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Cross the road and turn left when you see Tenoha. Alternatively, just sit and have coffee in the Mediterranean style courtyard with olive and lemon trees.

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Tokyo of multiple layers

Our main destination this trip was Kyushu, western part of Japan. But as we missed the direct flight promotion on SQ, we took ANA which allowed a free transit in Tokyo. This was what we did in 2 days, 2 nights.

There’s just so much to do. Some we like to repeat. The best time to visit is April during the Sakura season. I like that very much but Himself had an official trip then and I was in London. So we chose the beautiful red maple leave season to visit.

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Japan in layers - filling up swamp

1. Another reason we stay in Shinjuku is the pilgrimage to Yodobashi, the large electronics department store with 5 levels. “Bic Camera” where Himself bought yet another latest model of Olympus. He claims that there’s lots of savings than buying it from my home country. If you pay in cash, there’s a 1% cash back and also tax free for foreigners. Bring your passport to claim on the spot. Usually it’s for around US $100 and above.

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Shopping at Uniglo is cheaper and on top of that; tax free.

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2. Tsukiji Fish Market – this time around I’m not hanging around to wash the slicing of tuna. I did that the last time. The outer market is where the action is – to enjoy really fresh seafood, so skip breakfast. We had breakfast of raw fish slices with fresh scallops and uni in a bowl of rice. Each customer must have your own order. So Himself had a bowl of miso soup. We are reserving our stomach for the scallops and egg rolls stick and coffee and mochi dessert.

Getting there:
Take the Toei-Oedo line to Tsukijishijo station. We left at 930am and reached at 10am. Keep right and walk towards the Buddhist temple. You will see a round multi-storey car park. Anyway there are so many tourists you can’t miss it

The metro line was packed like sardines even at that time. Possibly not as bad as the earlier traffic as otherwise you see staff with white gloves pushing and packing passengers.

3. Next stop: Edo-Tokyo Museum
[Journey wise, it’s also on Oedo line as Tsukiji and a few stops away. Alternatively go to the National Tokyo Museum which we didn’t visit as the Terrace Cotta warriors from Xi-An are here (Dec 2015) and we didn’t wantto squeeze with the crowds.]

Recommended museums: visit is the Mori Art Museum in Roppongyi, Ghibli Museum, Edo-Tokyo Museum and the National Tokyo Museum.

For children, it’s highly interactive.

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Trying out how heavy the load

We chose the Edo-Tokyo Museum also on the Toei-Oedo line. Exit at Ryogoku station (6 stops from Tsukijishijo station). Museum closed on Mondays. Always ask the Station staff where is the platform for the train. They’re very well informed and helpful. Screen shot the name of your venue and exit station in case they don’t understand your accent.

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Inside an uber taxi carried by 4 men

Buy your tickets at 3F, deposit your bag at 1F and take the lift to 6F for the permanent exhibition. Check out the volunteer guide counter. Proceed to 5F. You may wish to watch a sumo match nearby.

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The Museum has lots of dioramas and reconstruction of buildings destroyed by the Great Earthquake and Flood. Gives a depiction of lives during the different periods.

If you’re here to view ancient artifacts, then the British History Museum is a better bet. Here at Edo-Tokyo Museum is a celebration of the architect and people living behind these buildings (some destroyed) over the centuries.

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The Museum is next to the Sumo stadium. Instinctively, Himself bought a block print of sumo wrestlers of Edo Nishiki-e style by artists from the Katsukawa school.

Patrick Smith of “Japan, a reinterpretation ” explains that sumo is a ritual celebration of the distinction between the included and the excluded. There’s almost nothing to see and the match is over in one or two minutes. What matters is the consequence. The sumo contest produces not so much a winner and a loser as a change in status. The vanquished is the one pushed out of the circle. Belonging vs Exclusion. Revelation vs concealment.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumo

On our way to the train station after the museum, I passed by a school where students were being dismissed. Surprised to see a teacher (?) standing outside supervising the dress code as students trooped out. “Tug your shirt tails in”, he seemed to be saying to one student who promptly did so. Wow. School image to be maintained.

If you’re visiting the Tokyo National Museum, factor time to visit the Ueno Park and the Akhihabara.

The Mori Art Museum is very good too. Himself went but didn’t take any photos.

After the Museum, we took the subway to Asakusa area where the famous temple is. Although we didn’t visit the temple, the grounds are filled with Japanese and international tourists. We are reminded not to eat and walk.
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We are here because a few months back, himself was brought to Tatsumiya, a fantastic sukiyaki place by his Japanese hosts. It has a nice ambience with a fire place. But we have to each order a portion. The person in charge speaks English. A hip looking young man with a samurai air about him. Address: 1–33–5 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tokyo, Kanagawa-ken, 111-0032, Japan

I do like the Sukiyaki restaurant at Haneda airport. As well as the Imahan 今半 at Ginza. http://www.imahan.com/guide/shop/ginza_shop.html

Expect to pay around $50 per pax, with a minimum order for 2 pax. I went to a tempura prawn restaurant, which I saw advert at the subway station. It was quite good but not fantastic for S$30 per bowl of 3 tempura prawns. The prawns weren’t piping hot.

Tokyo and Japan has a very unique way of borrowing from the outside world and make it uniquely Japanese in spirit. On our last trip it was Michelin star restaurants. This time we had Japanese version of Italian spaghetti and Japanese burgers. Oishi. Yum-yum. Possibly because the sauce has something of the 6th taste – umami kick. Little Asian surprises such as sprinkle sesame on the side and nicely grilled crispy seaweed. Texture of the noodles is firm and taste home-made of local buckwheat. There’s spinach and pumpkin version. Ask for the checku and not the bill when you’re done. And Japanese cheese cakes and chocolates from Meiji and Royce.
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Back to Shinjuku, which never sleeps, for my favourite Japanese udon-spaghetti in Japanese ume sauce at 7th floor of Lumine Est. Check out the crossing at Shibuya but I think the shops seem to close by 9pm.

Japan – Happiness in a hidden corner

For someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, we have been visiting Japan every year. For some strange reason, I find Tokyo quite easy to navigate. Possibly because of my previous stay in Taiwan, a former colony of Japan, where traces of Japanese influence are everywhere. From agriculture to bento boxes at train stations and a love for onsen and beautifully baked bread.

Knowledge of Chinese characters or Kanji though is useful but not essential. The Japanese transport system for travel destinations is very well coordinated to serve local tourists.

Thankfully, Japan is now more user friendly for foreign tourism. Most train stations have free WiFi connections. But in the event of seamless WiFi connections, you could:

1. Get a SIM card (data only) from JTB. They’ve moved to Takashimaya. You can get JR and Limousine bus tickets there too. Or from “Follow Me”. Expect a long queue at JTB so bring water or some food to entertain yourself.

2. Or get a WiFi router from Y5 Buddy or Changi Airport. https://www.changirecommends.com/owifi.aspx
I got a Y5 buddy which was more expensive than the one from Changi airport. The 3 days I was at Kurokawa and Takachiho, I’d no reception. When I contacted the staff in Singapore through WhatsApp – no response. Although I doubt there’s anything they could do. Apparently this happens a lot in Australia where there are areas of no coverage. Getting a router makes sense if you’re sharing with 2 other persons or if you’re in a city. I prefer using a local SIM card as there were times when I worry if I was connecting with mobile data.

Transfer from airport – should you travel by a Limousine Bus or JR train?
https://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/information/visitor_tickets/

3. Always choose Haneda airport which is located closer to the city. A 1 way limousine bus ticket from Narita to our hotel cost $3100 but if from Haneda it’s $1800. From hotel to Haneda it’s only $1200. The bus stops exactly at our hotel (Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku) at certain times. But from Narita to hotel it starts from 2pm.

If you’re travelling to another city and transiting through Tokyo, choose to connect via the same airport in Tokyo as otherwise you can’t check through your luggage to final destination.

4. Depart from the same airport, this allows you to enjoy more of the savings bundle of the limousine bus ticket for 2 way or 1 way transfer with Metro + Toei. You can get this ticket when you arrive in Tokyo after baggage claim. Ticket counter is just after exit. The limousine bus stop is just outside the ticket counter. The JR counter is beside if you choose to travel by JR to the city. For the JR pass it’s cheaper to book in your home country and pick up your tickets or validate them inside Japan airport before baggage claim.

5. The Metro + Toei card is very convenient inside Tokyo to various destinations especially for me since there’s a station right next to the hotel. We only got a Kyushu JR pass which wasn’t valid for Tokyo so the best option was the Airport Limousine Bus and Metro +Toei pass combination.

Pros and Cons of Limousine bus
1. Limousine bus is more expensive than a JR express.
2. The Bus + Metro +Toei card is a good price
3. If the bus stops nearer your hotel than the JR station.
4. You don’t need to climb up and down stairs unlike the JR station. In some JR station such as in Hokkaido the JR station has no lift nor escalator so consider carrying your luggage up and down a long flight of stairs.
5. You’ve a guaranteed seat. The bus stop is just outsidethe arrival hall.

Cons
Bus takes 20 mins longer travel time than JR train.
It’s less frequent, has limited seats and cost more. (With the metro card combination it’s reasonably priced.)
You have a JR pass for travel across Japan which in this case, to take JR doesn’t cost more.
For us, the bus stop is nearer to our hotel than the JR station. On our departure date, there was a bus to Haneda stopping just in front of our hotel. No lugging around the luggage.

Hotels
I’ve stayed 3 times in Hotel Sunroute. Convenient for Limousine bus from airport. Get the 2 way return + 1 day or 2 day subway pass. You can get the bus tickets from the hotel counter too. It’s so comfortable. Why take the bus instead of the JR? With the JR station, you need to climb up and down stairs, look for lifts etc. Bus tickets are more expensive, but hassle free. I’ll choose hotels along the route of the limousine bus. (If you’re going to Furano in Hokkaido, be warned that the JR station has no lift and my poor husband had to carry two heavy luggage up and down 2 long flights of steps. )

Across the street from hotel is a Family Mart convenience store, McDonald’s. Nearby is Yodobashi, lots of malls.

I’m embarrassed to say I don’t leave Shinjuku except to make use of my 1 day subway pass and visit Daikanyama and OK look at the Shibuya crossing.

Rooms are new but tiny. I’ve just stayed in London for 7 days and a comparable service apartment at Citadines near the Gloucester station is much cheaper than this hotel per night. Is Japan really in recession, doesn’t seem to be the case for Hotel Sunroute. My room has no wardrobe though.

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Walkway connecting Takashimaya to the hotel. About 5 mins walk.

Convenience wins hands down. I return to the hotel a few times a day in between shopping to put down bags and recharge a bit. It is conveniently located near to subway lines and JR lines and lots of shopping and eating in Takashimaya and Isetan. I like the basement of Takashimaya mall. There’s also a Tokyu Hands next to it.

Very likely I will stay in this hotel for my next trip especially so because of the bus to the airport. If you’re up at 8am in cold December, the thought of waiting at the bus stop…

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Suikinkutsu – sound of bells over running water

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suikinkutsu

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Photo: L taken of me at Ryokan Shinsei, Takachiho Gorge, Japan  

I have seen this Japanese garden feature of rocks and pebbles with running water. Finally got a chance to try it. There’s a light bell sound as running water trickles down a metal basin buried beneath the pebbles. My Chinese name means bell that rings at dawn.

Upon checking on Wikipedia, I understood the above garden feature as follows:

Japanese garden ornament and music device. It consists of an upside down buried pot with a hole at the top. Water drips through the hole at the top onto a small pool of water inside of the pot, creating a pleasant splashing sound that rings inside of the pot similar to a bell or a Japanese zither called koto. It is usually built next to a traditional Japanese stone basin calledchōzubachi, part of a tsukubai for washing hands before the Japanese tea ceremony. This was popular during the Edo and Meiji periods.  (Wikipedia).

Japanese yukata experience

For my stay at Ryokan Shinsei, I was given a Japanese experience of wearing a yukata. I got to choose my own yukata and matching sash.

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An assistant came to my room to help me put in on.

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Inside my room beside a Chinese scroll of horses. 马到功成. A play of Chinese words on horses and wishing you immediate success

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What a pretty bow.

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An expert does it very fast. In 10 mins You can hide your cash in the sleeves.

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Japanese etiquette

Dining in Japan

In some of the smaller towns in Japan, which are not familiar with non-Japanese speaking tourists, here are some thoughts.

1. Ask for a cheque/check when you need the bill. In Hokkaido, we were given a break-down of the meals but no receipt (unlike in Tokyo or Kyoto when only a final figure is given). What happens when someone makes a mistake on the items ordered? (Did happen to us. In this case, we were not billed for the sake. Which makes you wonder. ) Its about trust.

2. Hokkaido Information Office has a map with recommended restaurants, and pictures of food e.g. ramen, sushi, yakitori. Bring it along and point at the pictures on what you want to eat. The service staff in Japanese restaurants (who mainly cater to Japanese tourists) speak very little to no English, and will not understand words like “Chicken or pork”. Eating outlets around the subway station have service staff who do speak some English.
3. At a sushi counter, shoyu (soy sauce) is put on the neta (fliing, meat) not on the rice.

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He will make light conversations. But do not discuss other sushi restaurants with your sushi chef (not polite to talk about competitors).

Sashimi is about trust between customer and chef. What makes a good sushi chef is more than the preparation/cooking of fish, but
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includes his network with the fish trader, the price he paid for the fish, which differs from restaurant. Seasonality of fish and skill in deciding on whether a fish is ready to be eaten, depending on size/ weight/ season of fish which affects the flavor.

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4. Don’t stick chopsticks into rice. Japanese pick up rice and bring it to their mouth. Chinese bring bowl upwards and “coax” or “shovel” rice into the mouth. Japanese rice is sticky/glutinous and hence easier to pick up as tiny balls.
5. Money is placed on the little tray. Do not hand it to the cashier. Cashier patiently waits for you to dig out your coins, if you so choose. No grunts of impatience. This is an efficient system preventing misunderstanding more than about etiquette. I’ve caught myself putting 1000 yen instead of 10,000 yen on the tray. The tray system allows both to pause and realize the mistake. Cashier will return you the coins on your hand or tray.
6. If you need to exchange your item, keep the receipt religiously. Even if you turn away 1 sec ago, and return to the cashier, they do not recognize you despite the number of service-oriented communication they’ve just uttered.

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Label faces upwards.

7. Do not pour sake for yourself. You may pour it for your friend.
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8. Do not walk and snack, e.g. eat ice-cream.
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9. Choose your sake cup. What does it tell of your personality?

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10. Buy a drink for the sushi chef and toast him. At a little Japanese joint we went to in Kyoto, the patrons even offered the chef some beef with the wine.

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Day 4 Furano, Hokkaido

We stayed one night in Natalux and one night in New Furano Prince, because Natalux was full on the second night. (The room was available by the time we arrive as some people double book). But we didn’t want to change hotels.

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We booked stayed two nights in Furano, one night in Natalux and one in New Furano Prince, as at the point of booking, Natalux was only available for one night.


As we did not rent a car, Natalux was a good option. Convenient and next to the JR Station. But note that the JR Station has no lifts, and we had to carry the big bags up and down the stairs. If we had taken a coach from Sapporo, this inconvenience will be reduced. Otherwise, Natalux is next to the city centre where you can rent a car, and take the  Lavender Express 3 train (Track 5), ride a bicycle, visit Tomita Farm.

The rooms at Natalux, for the price you pay, is bare with concrete walls. Certainly comes with basic shower facilities and toiletries. Helpful staff who speak English. The Furano omu curry rice served at lunch is value for money. We had the Japanese breakfast which saves time, unless you want to walk 10 mins to Shinya. Otherwise there are no facilities unlike New Furano Prince which boasts an onsen, and shopping as well as gardens.

Furano is a good place to drive. Renting a car is so easy. Toyota car rental is just around the corner of train station and starts from 6000 yen. So do bring your international driving licence just in case you decide to drive. Otherwise it’s quite time consuming to wait for the public transportation. The place is small but sights are at least 10 min drive apart which makes walking quite difficult to see the farms.

Definitely include Biei. And if you are driving check out the Pension homes and Highland hotel. Natalux may not be necessary.

If you’re European or New Zealander, Furano in summer reminds me of Southern France. I didn’t see any Caucasian tourists in Furano. Maybe because its a Japanese version of European landscape. But for the Asian tourist, Furano is worth visiting.

Unlike some Asian towns where you see a pile of rubbish or a ugly tall building in the middle of the landscape, Furano farm fields stretch beyond the eye and photographs don’t do it justice. Somehow tourists including non – Japanese are very disciplined and do not pluck the flowers so the place is well maintained.

I had my doubts while planning for the trip so these comments are written for someone with similar doubts.

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We had dinner at the Kumagera and had Sukiyaki and Wagyu beef capaccio. For the price we paid and the quality of Japanese food, its good but certainly not anywhere close to One star Michelin as some blogs claim. Better than most restaurants in Furano (lack of choices) but not as good as food in Sapporo and Tokyo. The chef/ owner spoke some English and was very friendly.

A more value for money option would be the tempura and pork cutlet set which I saw most Japanese tourists order. The highlight was meeting a elderly Japanese couple who were expats in Singapore in the 1980s. They’ve retired and now driving around Japan for holiday. They suggested that we try the white asparagus which was in-season. We later realised that Japanese mainly eat Sukiyaki in winter. White asparagus is in season in summer.

Day 5, New Prince Furano