Epitome of Grace and Elegance: Japanese Tea Ceremony at Royal Park Hotel

Royal Park Hotel is now offering the unique experience of practicing Japanese tea ceremony in an authentic setting to foreigners. Learn about the basic ceremony etiquettes from a bilingual tea master while enjoying a foaming, smooth cup of matcha green tea in a poetic, zen atmosphere.

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The tea ceremony, also called sado in Japanese, is a performance of art with hundreds of years of history. Known as one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement, along with kodo for incense appreciation and kado for flower arrangement, it is the ultimate embodiment of Japanese hospitality and aesthetics.

To cater to the growing number of visitors from overseas and to spread this elaborate, traditional ritual, Royal Park Hotel has recently decided to open up their tea room on the fifth floor, overlooking a picturesque Japanese style garden.

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Held once every month, the tea ceremony lesson is a 50-minute, hands on course for beginners as well as those with experience. With four time slots available between 11am to 3pm and the hotel’s convenient location at Nihonbashi, you don’t have to worry about squeezing this amazing experience into your busy schedule.

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The English-speaking lecturer, Motoyama Sosei, is from a school of Japanese tea ceremony that dates back to the 18th century. Under her warm guidance, you will learn how to enter a tea room properly, enjoy tea and sweets with elegance, read the calligraphy on a hanging scroll and participate in the tea making process.

The 2,000 yen fee per person includes a cup of tea, a traditional Japanese confection and everything required for a tea ceremony. Be prepared to be inspired and enjoy this exclusive event!

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After arriving at the Royal Park Hotel conveniently located in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi area, we made our way to the 5th floor, where a beautiful Japanese garden welcomed us. Since it was raining, traditional umbrellas were prepared to accompany us into the green oasis, featuring a little pond with carps, stone lanterns, and stepping stones.
After getting placed next to each other on tatami mats, we received typical Japanese sweets matching the season. Every single step was explained by Mrs. Motoyama, the tea ceremony sensei, who is fluent in English, as well as her mother tongue, Japanese. While receiving the sweets, teacher and student bow to each other expressing their gratitude. Afterwards, the tea is served. Before taking the first sip, make sure to rotate the tea cup in your hand and appreciate the beautiful pattern of the cup. After the ceremony ended, we were allowed to prepare tea by ourselves, which was not as easy as it seemed.
The venue for the tea ceremony is a traditional tea house that impressed me by its simplicity and elegance. I could instantly sense the traditional atmosphere as soon as I arrived to the Fifth floor of the Royal Park Hotel, and was able to enjoy the beautiful Japanese garden surrounding the team house. The rain falling outside only gave the whole experience a nostalgic, more solemn feel.
The ceremony was a truly unique experience. The sensei gave us a detailed explanation of the ritual in English. The tea itself, was delicious even though I am not used to drinking tea. The part I enjoyed the most was when I got the chance to prepare my own tea cup, even though it required a lot of concentration to get it right. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to experience first hand this aspect of Japanese culture and I would recommend it to anyone interested in anything Japanese.

Elodie Bassibey

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Japanese Tea Ceremony at Royal Park Hotel

Date: Sep 12, Oct 17, Nov 28, Dec 19
Hours: Four times per day: 11am–11:50am; 12pm–12:50pm; 2pm – 2:50pm; 3pm–3:50pm
Admission: 2,000 yen per person
Address: 2-1-1 Nihonbashi, Kakigara-cho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Access: 5-minute walk from Ningyocho Station (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, Toei Asakusa Line)

Christmas Afternoon Tea in Tokyo’s Shangri-La Hotel

Every month the Shangri-La Hotel in Tokyo holds its special afternoon tea with a constantly changing menu in regard to the season. An étagère filled with sweet and savory goodies waits for you. Within a casual, yet elegant ambience you can enjoy the Shangri-La’s chef´s excellent skills and creations, as well as a breathtaking view over Tokyo out of the Lobby Lounge on the 28th floor.

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Since Christmas is right around the corner, this month’s afternoon tea even features lovely Christmas decorations on the table.

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You can choose your favorite tea out of a 2page menu, as well as other beverages. During these two hours you can change the sort of the tea as often as you like, as well as getting a refill anytime.

After the tea is served, the étagère full with all the delicacies arrives.

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Already the sight of these seven different goodies will make your mouth water!

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1. Chocolate and almond Bouche de Noel; 2. Christmas tree shaped Mont Blanc; 3. Snowman cheese cake; 4. Christmas tree ball shaped ginger bread macaroon, 5. Sandwich made of brown bread and filled with roasted avocado, Russian salmon and yuzu butter, 6. Sandwich made of red wine bread and filled with roasted beef, truffle butter and radicchio cream, 7. Sandwich made of spinach bread and filled with sliced smoked duck, foie gras butter and smoked cherry wood honey mustard.

Beside this you will also receive three kinds of golden brown baked scones (five-spices scones, traditional scones, vin brule’ scones) with several toppings like jam, honey or yuzu (Asian citrus fruit) butter.

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While it´s getting dark outside, the lights of the Lobby Lounge are dimmed and candles are placed on your table which provides the perfect atmosphere for a cozy afternoon with your friends or a romantic date with your partner.

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The last two goodies arrives, consisting of gold and yuzu mousse as well as roasted pumpkin royale with curry powder and apples served in a small cup (not included in the picture).

After enjoying this nice afternoon, don´t forget to walk down to the 27th floor and take a look at the big beautiful Christmas tree. The Christmas decorations on the first floor also acts as a nice photo spot and the concierge is happily willing to help you taking your picture.

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Information

The Lobby Lounge – Christmas Afternoon Tea
Date: December 3rd (Saturday) – December 22nd (Thursday)
Time: 12:00 – 5:30pm (weekday); 1pm – 3pm & 3:30pm – 5:30pm (weekend and national holiday)
Price: 4,500 yen per person
A reservation is recommended: Tel 03-6739-7888 (English & Japanese OK)
Access: 1min walk from JR Tokyo Station – Nihonbashi Exit; 2min walk from JR Tokyo Station – Yeasu North Exit; 2min walk from Otemachi Station – Exit B7 (Tokyo Metro Tozai Line, Marunouchi Line, Hanzomon Line, Chiyoda Line or Toei Mita Line); 3min walk from Nihonbashi Station – Exit A3 (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line or Toei Asakusa Line)
Address: Marunouchi Trust Tower Main, 1-8-3 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, 100-8283 Tokyo
Ranking: ★★★★☆
The Lobby Lounge – Christmas Afternoon Tea

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Marvellous Mingei : Matsumoto Hotel Kagetsu

Mingei, meaning the art of the people, is a style that is born from the local people’s everyday lifestyle, making it a product of nature and tradition. Items made in the Mingei style of Matsumoto are familiar, comfortable, simple yet beautiful, and the passage of time just adds uniqueness to their character.

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This philosophy clearly shows in the Matsumoto Hotel Kagetsu. Located within a stone’s throw away from Matsumoto Castle, this classic hotel is a convenient and comfortable time capsule. Step into its elegant interior and let yourself be wrapped in the romance of vintage Mingei that is unique to Matsumoto.

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The guest rooms are comfortable and beautifully furnished.

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In their restaurant [I;caza] (which charmingly means “Let’s go” in Nagano dialect), you have the choice between their fantastic Japanese or Western fare.

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Don’t forget to visit the clean and pleasant bathing area to complete the experience.

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Check out our Matsumoto articles for all the fantastic things to do in the area.

Information

main_松本ホテル花月Address: 4-8-9 Ote, Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture
Access: 15 min. walk from Matsumoto station
URL: http://www.matsumotohotel-kagetsu.com/index-english.html

Nagasaki Onsen Yasuragi Ioujima Resort Hotel

Get yourself pampered with some of the best hot springs, food and sights that Nagasaki has to offer

Nagasaki Onsen Yasuragi Ioujima Resort Hotel is located on an island facing the sea of Nagasaki and is surrounded by picturesque ocean views. Only a 30-50 minute drive away from Nagasaki Station, it is also accessible from various tourist spots in Nagasaki.

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Sunset view
This sprawling resort complex is facilitated with four different kinds of hotels, two natural hot springs, and a plethora of different dining options.

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Enjoy the superb panoramic views from open-air baths.
Enjoy superb panoramic views from the open-air baths.
Cuisine is also a big draw here since Nagasaki specialty seafood and meats are available at the Japanese and buffet restaurants. The summer barbecue and other dining options ensure that everybody’s tastes are met.

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You will never run out of things to do either. Getting tired of their extensive hot spring and sports facilities? Swim at the beach during summer or rent a bicycle to go around. Get a guided tour of iconic Gunkanjima, or take a taxi tour to see the night view of Nagasaki, one of the best night views in the world.

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Gunkanjima
Accessible, comfortable and downright beautiful, all in all this resort offers the best package to give you a relaxing and healing vacation.

Information

Nagasaki Onsen Yasuragi Ioujima
Location: 1-3277-7 Ioujima-machi Nagasaki City, Nagasaki, Japan 851-1201
Access: About 40 min. by free shuttle bus from Nagasaki Station (reservations required)
URL: http://www.ioujima.jp/en/

Hotel Ryumeikan Tokyo: One of Tokyo’s most artistic hotels

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Paintings found in hotel rooms and hallways have often been a synonym for tasteless, mass-produced decoration items that fill empty walls; however, in Japan hospitality or omotenashi dictates that the host makes his earnest effort to make the guest feel special and appreciated. This quintessential Japanese philosophy can be experienced at the Hotel Ryumeikan Tokyo, a legendary hotel located in the heart of the city, just a stone’s throw away from the busy Tokyo Station.
Ryumeikan’s omotenashi extends to the art pieces that adorn its lobby and guests rooms, featuring original work from Japanese artists. But it doesn’t end there, Ryumeikan has also commissioned local artists to design the guest’s yukata, a light cotton kimono, and the decoration of the restaurant’s private rooms. Even the lettering on the packages of disposable slippers and toothbrushes have an artistic intent, as they were hand-written by a dedicated calligrapher.
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Art Ryumeikan Tokyo Project

Grand prize awarded to the best of TOKYO POSTCARD AWARD 2017.
Grand prize awarded to the best of TOKYO POSTCARD AWARD 2017.
Since the hotel opened its doors in 1899, many cultural and artistic figures have stayed at Ryumeikan and have donated one of their works of art in exchange for free accommodation. A tradition that earned Ryumeikan notoriety as a supporter of the arts. More than 100 years after its foundation, Hotel Ryumeikan Tokyo continues to support local talent with the “Art Ryumeikan Tokyo Project,” a number of activities such as competitions and direct art assignments to mostly young, yet-to-be-recognized artists in Tokyo. In doing so, the hotel also hopes to share Tokyo and Japanese culture with the foreign guests who stay at the hotel during their visit.
One of its most successful initiatives is the Tokyo Postcard Award. The latest theme of the competition was “Tokyo Story,” prompting participating artists to create a postcard that would tell a unique story about Tokyo.

Drawing history

Yukata is a light cotton kimono worn during summer festivals and firework displays, they are most commonly worn in onsen (hot spring) towns. Ryokan, traditional Japanese hotels, provide these garments as standard robes for their guests, and many even wear them as they stroll through the streets. Ryumeikan’s desire to breathe art into every single aspect of the guest’s experience led to an assignment for a renowned Edo-style stencil dyeing artist, Mitsuko Ogura, to design the hotel’s yukata. Ms. Ogura is fascinated with the Edo period and researched a great deal about the area Ryumeikan is located in order to produce a unique yukata.
Fittingly, the theme for the design was the Gofukubashi Bridge, where garment shops were lined along the bridge that went over a moat heading towards Edo castle. Ms. Ogura was invited to spend the night at the hotel for inspiration.

“Today the Gofukubashi Bridge is no longer there, but if you do a little bit of research, you’ll find that it was just in front of the hotel, and it was there for a few decades until the moat was filled. However, through the history of the terrain, we are still connected to Edo and I wanted to convey that feeling to the people wearing the yukata.” -Ms. Ogura explains.

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To learn more about this unique yukata, take a look at this exclusive interview.

To learn more about Ms. Ogura’s work and fascination with Edo-style stencil art, visit her website: http://www.ogurasensyokuzuankobo.jp/

RIHGA Royal Hotel Kyoto: Quality Time with a Warm Contemporary Japanese Style

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After being closed for renovations in February 2016, the RIHGA Royal Hotel Kyoto was reopened on Sep. 8th to provide outstanding levels of service to all its customers. It was their first full renovation project since it opened in 1969, and the hotel now serves as a modern landmark of the area. The concept of the renovation was to create a Warm Contemporary Japanese Style, which seamlessly integrates materials that symbolize Kyoto’s original landscape, such as bamboo and stones, into a modern architectural design. The entrance and lobby are decorated with lighting fixtures highlighting the stone art on the floor. Walking through the entrance, customers can immerse themselves in the wonderful world of Japanese aesthetics.

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The concept continues all the way to the 10th floor with all 489 rooms getting a full makeover. WAttention staff got to stay in a Premium Suite Room on the 9th floor, an area designated for premium customers. The room was decorated with a bamboo forest theme with a subdued palette creating a quiet and relaxing atmosphere. Included in the room were luxurious amenities such as a Nespresso coffee machine and interior items from Kohchosai Kosuga, a Japanese premium brand of bamboo craft. The rooms on the 3th – 7th floor also convey the same warm and welcoming feel in the contemporary Japanese style.

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Another highlight of the hotel is the All Day Dining at the Kaza restaurant. The restaurant provides a variety of Japanese and western food and sweets, made with carefully selected seasonal ingredients. You can enjoy high quality and delicious meals in a buffet style from breakfast to dinner.

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Only a 7-minute walk from Kyoto Station, this is a great place to pamper yourself with luxury design and services.

RIHGA Royal Hotel Kyoto
Address: 1 Taimatsu-cho, Shiokoji-sagaru, Higashi Horikawa-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
Access: 7-min walk from Kyoto Station, Free Shuttle Bus departs from Kyoto Station every 15 minutes from 7:30am – 9pm
Tel: +81 (0)75-341-1121
URL: http://www.rihgaroyalkyoto.com/

Traditional Meets Modernity at Hoshino Resorts

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Founded as a silk business in Karuizawa, Nagano, in 1904, Hoshino opened its first hotel in 1914, taking the name Hoshino Onsen Ryokan. The simple idea was to create an experience that combined modern luxuries with more traditional and natural views and ambiance. It has since expanded to become a multi-branded operator of hotels and resorts.

1. Hoshinoya
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The Hoshinoya brand of resorts and hotels includes the chain’s showcase retreat in Karuizawa. Their aim is to create a sense of peace and calm within the bounds of each resort, getting customers out of their daily, busy routines and into a peaceful utopia. TVs are not allowed in any of these hotels, but they do provide amazing scenery and pictures. Interestingly, the rooms here are dimmer than at other hotel chains so as to encourage interacting with the surrounding nature.
www.hoshinoresorts.com

2. Kai
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The Kai brand places more emphasis on the onsen (hot spring) experience. Having expanded to 13 locations in Japan alone, each ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) has less than 50 rooms to provide spacious and peaceful experiences to their clients. Kai Onsen Resorts make three commitments with their customers: to pursue amenity that matches with modern times and modern expenses; hospitality according with locality and seasonality; and good staff with excellent services. Kai aims to provide local charm and the best seasonal cuisine.
www.hoshinoresorts.com

3. Risonare
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Risonare is the rarest of these chains, having expanded to just four locations. However, these hotels are located in more remote areas, and are often less accessible by train. The theme of Risonare is nature—to let customers enjoy the air of the highlands, the openness of the sea and the spaciousness of the night sky. Risonare wants customers to enjoy every part of nature through different activities and make it a part of their memory.
www.hoshinoresorts.com

4. Overseas
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Hoshino Resorts is starting to expand overseas as well. Hotel Kia Ora Resort and Spa is located on the Rangiroa atoll in French Polynesia, roughly 355 kilometers (220 miles) northeast of Tahiti. Endless white beaches, an idyllic blue lagoon and jumping dolphins are sure to both entertain you and give you the guidance to simply relax!

A further international branch is opening up in Bali, Indonesia. In keeping with the corporate image, Hoshinoya Bali will keep most of its traditional aesthetic while adding some muted Japanese tones mixed with the bright colors of traditional Indonesia.


Read the original article on All About Japan: Traditional Meets Modernity at Hoshino Resorts

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Top 4 Vegan & Vegetarian Ryokan Accommodations in Japan

Though many people say that it’s difficult to be a vegetarian in Japan, the truth is Japan has centuries worth of tradition processing plants in a plethora of delicious ways. Taking it one step further, their traditional Buddhist vegetarian cooking, called shojin ryori does not even kill plants. Using soy beans and parts of the plant without hurting the stem, these dishes are seasonal and produce very little waste, making them good for the body and the soul. If you can find the right places to eat and stay, there’s no better place to be a vegetarian than Japan!

Speaking of finding the right places, Booking.com Japan recently announced a list of the best accommodations that are vegan and vegetarian-friendly. With this selection of ryokan (Japanese style inns) you can indulge in the complete Japan experience with top-notch Japanese hospitality and vegetarian cuisine.

1. Myojinkan – Nagano Prefecture

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Located in hot spring haven Tobira Onsen area in Nagano, Myojinkan boasts spacious hot spring areas as well as beautiful Japanese-style rooms.
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Their French cuisine by chef Masahiro Tanabe are elevated works of art, combining the sensibilities of Japanese macrobiotics and holistic health with the essence of gastronomy.

Information
Address: Iriyamabe 8967, Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture
Access: 30 min. by shuttle bus or taxi from JR Matsumoto Station
Book now: http://www.booking.com/hotel/jp/myojinkan.html

2. Koyasan Onsen Fukuchiin – Wakayama Prefecture

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Stay in Koyasan Onsen Fukuchiin, a ryokan within a 1200 year old Buddhist temple located at the heart of Mount Koya. Partake in Buddhist morning services and Sutra readings then soak in their hot-spring baths for a truly tranquil experience.
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For breakfast, they provide traditional shojin ryori dishes. You will be wanting more, so make sure to reserve dinner.

Information
Address: Koyasan 657, Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture
Access: 10 min. drive from Koyasan Cable Car Station
Book now: http://www.booking.com/hotel/jp/fukuchiin.html

3. Ryokan Koyokan – Shimane Prefecture

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Koyokan is located within the premises of Kiyomizu Temple in Yasugi, Shimane which is part of the 33-temple route of the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage, giving you the best views of the surrounding nature on the temple grounds.
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Achieve a complete state of Zen by strolling around the premises then having their shojin ryori dishes for dinner.

Information
Address: Kiyomizu-cho 528, Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture
Access: 15 min. drive from JR Yasugi Train Station
Book now: http://www.booking.com/hotel/jp/koyokan-yasugi.html

4. Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo – Kyoto

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Enjoy Japan’s changing seasons in this ryokan that is surrounded by beautiful Japanese gardens.
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Located next to historical Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto, you can indulge in a vegetarian multi-course dinner, prepared in the traditional Japanese style.

Information
Address: Sakyou Nanzenji Fukuchi 34, Kyoto City, Kyoto
Access: 25 min. drive from JR Kyoto Station
Book now: http://www.booking.com/hotel/jp/kyoto-garden-ryokan-yachiyo.html

10 reasons to do a farm stay in Japan

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One of the unique holidays in Japan you can take is a farm stay. Not only it is affordable, it is also a great chance to try something new while being eco-friendly. Also, there are places that cater to only English-speaking tourists as well! Check out the list of farm stays recommended by JNTO here!

If you love nature, green spaces, and crave adventure, a farm stay may just be for you!

10. All the wide open spaces

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You can finally get away from the cramped city life. No crowded roads, no rubbing shoulders with smelly strangers on public transport – you get to roam and explore an entirely new place. Mostly, you get to take a breather and enjoy your vacation at a slower pace.

9. Fresh air! 

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Most farms are located in suburban areas, away from the city, so fewer cars and transport means less toxic air from factories, exhaust gas and so on. Compared to Singapore’s less hazy seasons, the fresh air in Japan is on a whole ‘nother level. Of course, if you choose a farm with many animals, you’ll have to deal with the smelly poo.

8. Fresh produce; no preservatives

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For some farm stays, you are invited to harvest your own food, or even tasked to harvest some produce for the meals you’re about to eat! This may sound horrendous for the squeamish anti-dirt-under-nails people, but this is how you know your food is fresh. You may even be able to purchase some fresh produce from the farm directly.

7. Child- and family-friendly activities

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A farm stay for children is a great opportunity to teach them about where food comes from and how to work on the land. Also, there are some easy activities where families and children can do together as a group! However, farms do have a age limit and parents are responsible for the conduct of their children. 

6. Animals!

Sure, some of the farm animals may turn up on your dinner plate, but they are lovable creatures that you rarely encounter in the city. Some farms may even have animal-related activities, like horse-back riding, milking, or even helping out with feeding.

5. Explore nearby mountains or forest

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Depending on your farm, you may be able to explore the vicinity. Some farms are near mountains or forests, so you can go hiking and trekking. Just beware of wild animals and always check with your host if the areas are safe.

4. Experience new farm activities

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As some farms are interactive, you are literally doing a home stay in a Japanese farm! Not only you can practice some Japanese phrases and learn more about the culture, you can also tick off items from your bucket list and try new activities like staying in a traditional Japanese house, making bamboo chopsticks, tea harvesting, fishing… The list goes on.

3.  Unplug and unwind

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While most modern farm stays offer WIFI in their rooms, you can also choose to unplug and focus on the greenery around you. Have an authentic back-to-nature vacation by packing away your gadgets.

2. Support ecotourism and help the environment

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You may just be helping the environment by doing a farm stay as these travels are often low-impact and eco-friendly. In addition to learning about local culture, you are also supporting local effort to maintain their farms and their sustainable way of life.

1. Opt for a long and authentic farm experience

If you fell in love with rural life, you can always choose to join WWOOF, which is an organisation that helps organic farms to find farm hands. You are usually not paid a stipend, but you will receive awesome farm food and lodging in exchange for your hard work. What’s more, you can choose to sign up for month-long farm stays!

 Try a farm stay in Japan next time!

Read the original article on WAttention Singapore

WISE OWL HOSTELS, a special nest for night owls

When it comes to traveling, choosing the right accommodation is very important. So how do you choose the perfect place out of the sea of luxurious hotels, traditional inns, capsule hotels and airbnb hosts?

There’s now a place in Hatchobori you should give a hoot about.

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Location: Close vacinity to Tokyo sightseeing spots
The newly opened “WISE OWL HOSTELS” is a perfect central hub for sightseeing around Tokyo. Ginza, a high-end shopping district, Nihonbashi, a business area with the Edo flair, and of course, Tsukiji, the renowned fish market are all within walking distance.

IMG_2750_RWhen you get out of Hatchobori station, you’ll see an abstract wall mural created by an up-and-coming painter, Jun Inoue, on the side of the building. This place used to be a dingy old office building, but with a few innovative ideas and fresh designs, it is now a hip and modern hostel complex.

 

 

 
Facility: A cozy little nook for a good night’s sleep
Inside is minimalistic yet well designed. Compared to other typical youth hostels, WISE OWL HOSTELS has a sophisticated and grown-up feel to it. Each bed is compartmentalized with wooden walls for privacy and Simmons mattresses are provided for comfort.

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What they emphasize is not the amount of sleep, but the quality of sleep guests get. Because we all know that when you are traveling abroad, time is precious and you want to make the most of it. Would you rather sleep or go out and experience an exciting nightlife? WISE OWL HOSTELS suggests the latter.

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For those who are planning on staying in Tokyo for longer than a month, there is a spacious and upscale service apartment on the 6th floor.

Food and Entertainment: Under one roof
There are two in-house facilities worth mentioning. Located on the first floor is a “Fukurou (Owl)” restaurant. They serve Yakitori (chicken on a skewer) and Oden (winter hot pot) as well as a variety of local Japanese sake. Sharing a lively conversation with a Japanese businessman over a cup of artisan sake is an experience you can only get in Japan.

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If you are a night owl and want to mingle with the local club goers, just head downstairs to the “Howl.” A unique sound system designed with custom made vacuum amplifiers and speakers make this place stand out from the rest. It’s sure to satisfy music aficionados.

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For better or for worse, your accommodation plays a key role in making your trip memorable. Everybody has different priorities and preferences when it comes to choosing where to stay. But if you are one of those short sleepers, why not try the WISE OWL HOSTELS. Afterall, the name alone suggests that it’s a wise choice for a night owl like you.

Information

WISE OWL HOSTELS
Access: 30-sec walk from Hatchobori Station
Tel: 03-5541-2960
URL: http://www.wiseowlhostels.com/

Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi

Being established in the year 718 Houshi was once recognized as the oldest hotel in the world before another ryokan in Yamanashi prefecture beat its founding date by 13 years. Still, Houshi has been operated by the same family for forty-six generations giving it an amazing history.

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The ryokan’s hot spring is said to be founded by a monk. While he was climbing the holy Mount Hakusan he had a dream where the mountain’s deity told him about a spring with restorative powers and ordered him to find it for the people of Awazu.

It has 100 guest rooms and a ‘Hanare’, a private guest residence. There are two indoor and two same-sex-only outdoor hot spring baths. Two family baths can also be privately reserved by guests. There are a total of four buildings belonging to the Ryokan; Shinshun no Yakata (early spring building), Haru no Yakata (spring building), Natsu no Yakata (summer building), and Aki no Yakata (autumn building).

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The entrance to the building is very impressive with a beautiful decorative carpet. When you first arrive, you are welcomed with a cup of matcha and a sweet while looking at the inner garden.

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When you stay at a ryokan, food is served in your room and an attendant is there to help you explain the dishes and later to help you make your bed.

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After eating you can visit the amazing outdoor and indoor baths for a nice long and relaxing soak. The water is beautiful and it is not difficult to believe the legend that it has special curative powers given by a god.

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If you want to be truly luxurious, you can stay in the special VIP room where emperors have stayed before. It is a big complex that is more than just one room. But if that is out of your budget, you can still enjoy the view of the thousand-year old garden.

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Other entertainment at Houshi include a bar, occasional Noh plays and a small museum featuring crafts from the region.

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Access

Awazu Onsen, Komatsu-shi
Ishikawa-ken 92383
Website: http://www.ho-shi.co.jp/jiten/Houshi_E/home.htm

Read Also:
Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

Yufuin Hot Spring – Meien to Meisui no Yado Baien

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Oita in northeast Kyushu is sometimes referred to as the “Onsen Prefecture”, and this resort located in a sprawling 30,000 square meters garden with two hot spring sources is abundant in nature. Amidst the colorful plum trees and brooks teeming with dancing fireflies, stay in luxurious individual detached houses—many of which have private open-air baths. Or for a scenic change, the simple thermal spring and sodium bicarbonate saline spring public onsens boasts one of the best views of Mt. Yufu in the north. For music and movie lovers, come in the summer when Yufuin hosts a number of such festivals.

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Access:
Take the Oita Kotsu bus from Oita Airport to JR Yufuin Station, or take the JR Limited Express Yufu train from JR Hakata Station to JR Yufuin Station. A 5-min. taxi ride from the station.

WEB:
http://yufuin-baien.com (Japanese)

Lake Toya Hot Spring – The Lake View Toya Nonokaze Resort

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with private view spa: Yes

With views of Nakajima Island and Mt. Yotei (also known as Hokkaido’s Mt. Fuji) across the serene lake waters, and active volcano Mt. Usu in the south, Lake Toya is perhaps the most scenic spa resort in Hokkaido. Enjoy the balance of tradition and convenience with their wide selection of Japanese-Western style rooms, all of which face the lake, and some of which include a private view spa. Along with the top floor public spas, featuring chloride spring, sulfate spring, sodium bicarbonate saline spring, the private onsens are perfect for catching the evening fireworks shows on the lake between April and November.

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Access:
Take the JR Rapid Airport Train from New Chitose Airport to Minami Chitose, then take the JR Limited Express from Minami Chitose to JR Toya Station. A 15-min. taxi ride from the station.

WEB:
http://en.nonokaze-resort.com/

Beppu Hot Spring – Umikaoru Yado Hotel New Matsumi

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Known for its “Hell Tour” of eight multi-colored hot springs, Beppu produces the most hot spring water in the nation, and is perhaps Japan’s most famous onsen. At Hotel New Matsumi, sea, spa and sky combine as you overlook the Beppu Bay in all its glory. Commanding views of the ocean can be found on the top floor outdoor onsen as the soft breeze caresses your face, or from many of the rooms where you can conveniently dine kaiseki style on the freshest foods the bay has to offer. For a private dip, submerge yourself in the sodium bicarbonate saline spring waters in the private rock bath, or the open air ceramic (porcelain) baths attached to your room.

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Access:
Take the JR Limited Express Sonic train from JR Hakata Station to JR Beppu Station. A 10-min. walk from the station.

WEB:
http://new-matsumi.com/english/index.html

Noboribetsu Hot Spring – Takinoya

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Private-use hot springs: No
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Surrounded by the lush greenery of Shikotsu-Toya National Park in southwestern Hokkaido, Noboribetsu is heralded as one of the world’s most extraordinary hot spring resorts, boasting nine types of water. With four of these—salt/saline spring, iron-rich ferruginous spring, radium spring, and sulphur spring—sourced from the nearby Jigokudani Valley, Takinoya is an ideal hide away for physical healing. The three onsens here come with a variety of beautiful backdrops, including rich forestry and a beautifully manicured Japanese garden. Though lively in the spring and summer, winter also makes for a great quiet escape, under the gentle cover of snowfall.

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Access:
Take the JR Limited Express from New Chitose Airport to JR Noboribetsu Station. A 10-min. taxi ride from the station.

WEB:
http://takinoya.co.jp/ (Japanese)

Kawabaonsen – Yutorian

Experience Japan’s original surroundings at this hot spring lodge just 2 hours from Tokyo

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Kawaba Village in Gunma Prefecture, which is blessed with good quality onsen water, is where the elegant ryokan Yutorian – rich in history and nature – is located. What is unique about this place is not just the fact that the kayabuki building was constructed using kayabuki from all over Japan, and that it comprises “Annex Yuzan” which prides itself for its view from 634 meters above sea level, but the way of getting around via battery-run carts and monorails is also unique. The onsen water here is known to be highly effective in beautifying the skin.

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Spacious suites over 100m2 wide, complete with their own outdoor hot springs.

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A kaiseki dinner at Yutorian featuring local produce in all 11 dishes.

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Address:
Gunma Prefecture
Tonegun, Kawaba Village, Yuhara 451-1

WEB:
http://kawabata-yutorian.jp (Japanese)

Yakushionsen – Hatago

Enjoy a hidden onsen with character at Yakushionsen Hatago

An old country house sprawling over 23,000 sq m and a reconstruction of the village days of old in Japan, Kayabuki no Sato is a popular ryokan just two-and-a-half hours from Tokyo. Set amidst the glory of nature, one can enjoy natural spring water that has been gushing forth for over 200 years here. There are two types of rooms, the “yasuragikan” which comes with a partially open-air cedar bath, and the “seseraginokan” which is a new block along the stream. A kaiseki meal cooked over a “irori”(hearth) using local produce is very popular.

Enjoy a dip in this outdoor onsen with a view of the waterfall right before your eyes.

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All “yasuragikan” rooms come with an open-air bath. Japanese rooms with a hearth-space and another separate room.

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Enjoy the ambience of a hearth and the taste of local produce.

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Address:
Gunma Prefecture
Agatsumagun Higashiagatsumamachi, Motojuku 3330-20

WEB:
http://www.yakushi-hatago.co.jp/en/

Gero Hot Spring – Gero Onsen Yamagataya

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Named one of Japan’s top three onsens back in the Edo era, this region is still renowned for its ancient hot springs, with footbaths, public spas, and ryokans scattered all across town. The simple thermal spring waters here are known commonly as the “springs for the beautiful”, dating back to the 10th century, and Gero Onsen Yamagataya has been providing numerous ways to enjoy them for 180 years. Rest at the outdoor spa while surrounded by bamboo and maple trees, or listen to the soothing sound of the streaming Hida River from the private onsens. If you come in autumn, you can also catch amateur kabuki performances in town.

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Access:
Take the Limited Express Hida train from Nagoya Station to Gero Station. A shuttle bus is provided at the station.

WEB:
http://yamagata-ya.co.jp/lg_en/

Hakone Yumoto Hot Springs – Mikawaya Ryokan

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Collectively known as the “Hakone Seventeen Springs”, Hakone has been a favorite holiday onsen resort for nearby Tokyoites in particular since the Meiji era. For a classical Japanese inn that has been drawing artists and celebrities since 1883, Mikawaya Ryokan best maintains the historic atmosphere here while providing modern amenities like western toilets. Get a rare glimpse of its Meiji style bath with umbrella roofing, or gaze at the stars from the recently renovated large public bath. With the low alkaline hypotonic spring waters and simple thermal spring waters, your stress and fatigue will surely be relieved. Or for some onsen fun, head to water amusement park Hakone Kowakien Yunessun just a 3-min. walk away, where you can take a dip in sake, coffee, wine and more!

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Access:
Take the bus from JR Odawara Station towards Motohakone/Hakonemachi, and get off at the Houraien bus stop. A 1-min. walk from the bus stop.

WEB:
http://www.hakone-mikawaya.com/language/09en.htm

Hida Takayama Hot Spring – Hanaougi Bettei Iiyama

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Just a 50-min bus ride from World Heritage site Shirakawa-go, explore Hida Takayama’s charming townscape at this secluded 17-room ryokan. Hanaougi Bettei Iiyama offers a personal touch, with lovely wooden architecture from local trees, and even assigns a serving lady to take care of you from arrival to departure. And thanks to the spring waters 1,200m underground here, you can soak in the silky sodium bicarbonate saline spring waters in your room’s onsen and the public and private spas. The bi-annual Takayama Festival—considered one of Japan’s most beautiful—makes a trip here in the spring or fall ideal, while the melt-in-your-mouth local Hida beef is delicious all year round.

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Access:
Take the Limited Express Hida train from Nagoya Station to JR Takayama Station, then take the free shuttle bus from the station.

WEB:
http://www.hanaougi.com/english/

Gora Hot Spring – Gora Tensui

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Take a picturesque ride along the Hakone Tozan Railway to its final stop, Gora, 550m high in Hakone’s mountains. Just a minute walk from the station, this stylish resort welcomes you with a footbath café and bar where you can dip your feet while sipping on a cool drink. Take your pick of eight styles of rooms, as well as two private onsens, including the “Myojin no Yu” microbubble function bath. This frothy spa offers a panoramic view of Mt. Myojogatake, towering at 924m, which lights up with a flaming “大” character and bursting fireworks on Aug. 16 for the Hakone Gora Summer Festival Omojiyaki—an awe-inspiring sight!

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Access:
Take the Hakone Tozan Line from JR Odawara Station to JR Gora Station. A 1-min. walk from the station.

WEB:
http://www.gora-tensui.com (Click on “English” site)

Overnight trip from Tokyo- (2) Nostalgic Nagano

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Located to the northwest of Tokyo, Nagano is easily accessible with Hokuriku Shinkansen and serves not only as an ideal overnight trip from Tokyo, but also a great stopover on the way to Kanazawa. In this article we will bring you to Iiyama, Zenkoji Temple, and Karuizawa and show you what they have on offer. Join us and expect to discover a different Japan!

Suggested itinerary

Day 1: Tokyo Station 7:52 – (Shinkansen) – 9:32 Iiyama Station – (8 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio – (15 minutes on foot) – Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art – (10 minutes on foot) – Rokubei for lunch – (7 minutes on foot) – Tanakaya Brewing – (1 minute on foot) – Patisserie Hirano – (15 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Station 16:28 – (Shinkansen) – 16:39 Nagano – Check in at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano – (20 minutes on foot, or take a local train to Gondo and then walk 10 minutes) – Azumaya for dinner – (back to hotel) – Bar APOLLO of Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

Day 2: Nagano Station – (7 minutes by bus) – Zenkoji Temple – (7 minutes by bus) – MIDORI Nagano / Nagano Station 13:05 – (Shinkansen) – 13:36 Karuizawa Station

Option 1 (love nature): Karuizawa Station 14:00 – (bus) 14:23 Shiraito Waterfall 15:30 – (bus) – 15:53 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 18:51 – (Shinkansen) – 20:00 Tokyo Station

Option 2 (be sporty): Karuizawa Station 14:15 – (bus) – 14:35 Karuizawa Ice Park 17:02 – (bus) – 17:32 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 19:41 – (Shinkansen) – 20:52 Tokyo Station

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Day 1: Iiyama

Tokyo Station 7:52 – (Shinkansen) – 9:32 Iiyama Station

Located to the north of Nagano city, Iiyama is a compact small town reminiscent of rural Japan. Especially suitable for a walking tour.

Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio

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Iiyama Station – (8 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio

For over 350 years, craftsmen in Iiyama have been making the durable Uchiyama washi paper. Here you can try your hand at making washi and creating your one-of-a-kind postcard.

Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art

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Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio – (15 minutes on foot) – Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art

Based in Iiyama, Mayumi Takahashi seems to possess an innate ability to capture the essence of countryside life in the good old days. Once you step into the museum, you will be impressed by the dolls’ amusing facial expressions and thoughtfully designed details that recreate the heartwarming scenes occurring in everyday countryside life.

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Though it was the first time I visited the museum, I had a feeling I’ve seen these dolls somewhere sometime in my life. Maybe because they are so real that I had this déjà vu kind of feeling?

RokubeiJapanese traditional cuisine with a local twist

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Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art – (10 minutes on foot) – Rokubei

If trying local food is important to you when you travel, this is the place to be. Because of the harsh winter in Iiyama, people have been using plant fibers to replace wheat in making the local Tomikura soba, which gives the noodle a unique springy texture. Another local dish you can’t miss is Sasazushi (Sushi on bamboo grass), a local variation of sushi that has its root as portable food for troops of the famous warlord Uesugi Kenshin.

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Tomikura soba and Sasazushi
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Miyuki pork steak rice bowl

Tanakaya Brewing

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Rokubei for lunch – (7 minutes on foot) – Tanakaya Brewing

Delicious Japanese sake made with local ingredients and by local employees. Come and sample the sake of your choice.

Patisserie Hirano

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Tanakaya Brewing – (1 minute on foot) – Patisserie Hirano

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The patisserie offers a wide selection of cakes and pastries at reasonable prices, and is highly popular among local people and tourists. We had coffee with an apple tart, a matcha mousse cake, and a sakura swiss roll cake. After you tried its cakes, you will have no doubt why it’s a neighborhood mainstay.

Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

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Patisserie Hirano – (15 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Station 16:28 – (Shinkansen) – 16:39 Nagano – Check in at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

After exploring Iiyama, we headed to Nagano, the capital city of Nagano Prefecture. Tonight we stayed at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano, a modern city hotel boasts superb location (directly connected to Nagano Station), comfy guest rooms, and an elegant bar offering creative cocktails and charming night view. Certainly it is an ideal base to explore Nagano.

Azumaya – Treat yourself to a slice of Japanese high life

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Hotel Metropolitan Nagano – (20 minutes on foot, or take a local train to Gondo and then walk 10 minutes) – Azumaya

This was the place we had dinner in Nagano city. Hiding in an unassuming alley near Zenkoji Temple, Azumaya is a fine dining Japanese restaurant whose buildings are renovated from Japanese traditional storehouses with almost 200 years of history. Local delicacies served are as pretty as pieces of art. Recommended for those want to experience Japanese hospitality.

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Bar APOLLO of Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

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The night is long and we are not yet ready to call it a night! Bar APOLLO is located in the top floor of the hotel and offers creative cocktails and great night views. My personal favorite is the APOLLO cocktail mixing apple cidre, apple juice, and peach liquor.

Day 2: Zenkoji Temple and Karuizawa

Zenkoji Temple – Discover the mysteries of National Treasure

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Nagano Station – (7 minutes by bus) – Zenkoji Temple

Zenkoji Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple worshipped by many generations. The Hondo (Main Hall) is designated as National Treasure, and also the third largest wooden structure in Japan.

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The streets leading up to the temple are lined with souvenir shops, stylish cafes and soba restaurants.

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Mystery 1: The Buddha enshrined here is said to be the oldest in Japan and no one has ever been allowed to see it. Thus it is known as the “Secret Buddha”.

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Mystery 2: Go down into the crypt passage and search for the “key to the paradise” in absolute darkness. The key to finding it is to keep faith and just move forward.

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Mystery 3: Find the plaque under the eaves of the Sanmon Gate and take a close look at the first character (善). It is stylized to look like the face of a cow due to an old Japanese saying that goes “following a cow to Zenkoji”.

Mystery 4: Take a look again. Can you find 5 pigeon figures hiding among the strokes of the three characters?

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Free guided tours are available in several foreign languages. Check out the details at http://www.zenkoji.jp/ENGLISH/guide/

Nagano Station & MIDORI Nagano – Everything under one roof

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Zenkoji Temple – (7 minutes by bus) – Nagano Station / MIDORI Nagano

Nagano Station is not only a perfect gateway to exploring Nagano, it is also a shopping haven as well! You can get everything you need from souvenirs to a taste of local gourmet at MIDORI Nagano without stepping out of the station building. Since Nagano is most famous for its honey sweet apple, why not choose something from an array of souvenir snacks made from Nagano’s apple?

Karuizawa

Nagano Station 13:05 – (Shinkansen) – 13:36 Karuizawa Station

Before going back to Tokyo, we made a stop at Karuizawa, and propose you the following two options for a quick of the famous resort. Both options require travelling on bus. While you can follow our itinerary listed here, make sure to check the latest bus schedule (Japanese only) to ensure a smooth trip.

Option 1: Shiraito Waterfall – Artful and graceful

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Karuizawa Station 14:00 – (bus) 14:23 Shiraito Waterfall

Standing 3 meters high and 70 meters wide, the crescent-shaped Shiraito Waterfall is named so because the water off the rock surface looks like hundreds of white threads (shiraito) are flowing down. The waterfall is refreshingly cool in summer and ever flowing in winter because geothermal heat keeps the water temperature at about 11 degree Celsius even in wintertime.

Option 2: Karuizawa Ice Park – Play chess on ice

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Karuizawa Station 14:15 – (bus) – 14:35 Karuizawa Ice Park

Checkmate! No, we are not talking about moving chess pieces on a chessboard but sliding stones on a sheet of ice. This is curling, a unique winter sport in which two teams take turn sliding stones towards a circular target. A great deal of strategy is involved, that’s why curling is often called “chess on ice”. Here at Karuizawa Ice Park, the curling venue for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, basic curling lessons are offered all year round for anyone interested in learning the game. Come and give the unique sport a shot. You will fell like an Olympian! After you have experienced curling, you may try ice skating before the next bus comes.

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Information: 2,380 yen per person for a 60-minute curling lesson. Inquiry and reservation by email: [email protected]

Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza – Indulge in a shopping spree before going back to Tokyo!

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If you followed option 1: Shiraito Waterfall 15:30 – (bus) – 15:53 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 18:51 – (Shinkansen) – 20:00 Tokyo Station

If you followed option 2: Karuizawa Ice Park 17:02 – (bus) – 17:32 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 19:41 – (Shinkansen) – 20:52 Tokyo Station

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Located right next to JR Karuizawa Station, Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is a shopping heaven less than 90 minutes away from Tokyo. Find outlet shops of overseas designer brands and local specialty food and products at this huge shopping mall set among acres of grassland. If you are looking for distinctive souvenirs to bring home, head to the Souvenir Court for a great selection of local delicacies of Nagano. And of course tax-free shopping is available here!

Key takeaways

Boasting the highest life expectancy of all 47 prefectures in Japan, people in Nagano seem to exude friendly warmth as naturally as the sun gives out heat. In this article we have shown you an itinerary covering top tourist attractions and places off the beaten tracks. The rest is up to you to experience!

Previous in the series:

Overnight trip from Tokyo- (1) Countryside Gunma and Snow Country Niigata

Overnight trip from Tokyo- (1) Countryside Gunma and Snow Country Niigata

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Countryside Gunma & Snow country Niigata

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If you’ve been to Japan many times, chances are you’ve explored almost every corner of Tokyo and wondering where else can you go. In fact, there are many attractive sightseeing spots and activities in adjacent prefectures known only by locals. Thanks to Japan’s efficient transportation network, you can easily visit these places with an overnight trip from Tokyo.

In the first series of our “overnight trip from Tokyo”, we are bringing you to Gunma and Niigata. Located to the north of Tokyo, the two prefectures are easily accessible by Shinkansen and boast many gems yet to be discovered.  So join us and embark on a journey through nature and culture!

Suggested itinerary

Day 1: Tokyo Station 8:24 – (Shinkansen) – 9:18 Takasaki Station 9:26 – (Local train) – 10:12 Numada Station 10:30 – (bus) – 10:44 Harada Farm 13:35 – (bus) – 14:06 Denen Plaza Kawaba – (5 minutes by car) – Yutorian

Day 2: Yutorian – (45 minutes by free shuttle bus) – Jomo Kogen Station 10:10 – (Shinkansen) 10:37 Urasa Station – (15 minutes by car) – Hakkaisan Yukimuro – (20 minutes by car) – Kaisando, Saifukuji Temple – (15 minutes by car) – Urasa Station 13:43 – (Shinkansen) – 13:55 Echigo Yuzawa Station, and then choose from:

Option 1 (for a quick snow experience): Play with snow at GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort and then go back to Tokyo.

Option 2 (from amateurs to pros): Stay at Naeba Ski Resort to fully enjoy this powder snow paradise.

Option 3 (great for families and kids): Stay at NASPA Ski Garden for a memorable family ski trip.

Departing from Tokyo Station.

Day 1: Countryside Gunma

Tokyo Station 8:24 – (Shinkansen) – 9:18 Takasaki Station 9:26 – (local train) – 10:12 Numada Station 10:30

Get your stuff ready and we are heading to Gunma for a perfect countryside getaway! Today we will be taking a Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Takasaki, and then transfer to a local train for Numada. From there on you can follow our suggested itinerary, but make sure to check the latest bus schedule (find the schedule at the link below “沼田駅4番のりば”, Japanese only) to ensure a smooth trip.

Harada Farm- Fruit picking all year round

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Numada Station 10:30 – (bus, get off at Shimogumi 下組) – 10:44 Harada Farm

After a 15-minute bus ride, we are at Harada farm. Here you can hand pick fresh fruit and eat it on spot. From strawberries and cherries to grapes and apples, there is always some fruit in season whenever you visit. Definitely a fruit farm that makes a fun family outing!

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Also check out the Apple Baum Factory and indulge in an apple feast of fresh apple juice, apple pie, and baumkuchen that has a whole piece of apple filled inside.

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After having lunch in the farm restaurant, we took the 13:35 bus for our next stop: Denen Plaza Kawaba.

Denen Plaza Kawaba – A roadside station that has its all

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Harada Farm 13:35 – (bus, get off at Denen Plaza 田園プラザ) – 14:06 Denen Plaza Kawaba

While a roadside station basically functions as a rest area along roads and highways, Denen Plaza Kawaba has evolved to become a tourist attraction on its own and is among the most popular roadside station near Tokyo. From café to bakery and pottery workshop to farmer’s market, the place has everything to keep you and your kids busy for a whole day.

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We had rice bread, fresh yogurt, grilled German sausages, blueberry crepe and apple caramel crepe. Maybe a bit too much for an afternoon tea but obviously we couldn’t resist the temptation of gourmet food! It’s a mere 5-minute taxi ride from here to the Japanese inn (Yutorian) we will be staying, so you may stay at Denen Plaza Kawaba as long as you like (though you may want to check-in at Yutorian earlier to fully enjoy it). If you prefer to take a bus, you can do so by taking a 15:01 bus for Numada Station, and from there transfer to the free shuttle bus (reservation required) for Yutorian.

Yutorian – Escape from city life and unwind in nature

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Denen Plaza Kawaba – (5 minutes by car) – Yutorian (Hire a taxi or take the 15:01 bus for Numada Station and from there take a free shuttle bus (reservation required) for Yutorian)

Located on an expansive land dotted with seven thatched-roof lodgings, Yutorian is the perfect place to experience Japanese country life. Thanks to the beautiful natural surroundings and soothing hot springs, we enjoyed a relaxing stay in a serene environment reminiscent of old Japan.

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Spacious guest room provides guests with utmost relaxation.

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You can move around in the hotel with electric cars, or ride the monorail to the observatory deck. Kids will love it!

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There is even a mini museum exhibiting Japanese antiques and artifacts.

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Enjoy a course meal with a total of 11 dishes prepared using local and seasonal ingredients.

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Heal your body and mind in the spacious open-air bath. Rooms in the main building even have private outdoor hot spring bath.

Day 2: Snow Country Niigata

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Yutorian – (45 minutes by free shuttle bus) – Jomo Kogen Station 10:10 – (Shinkansen) – 10:37 Urasa Station

After having breakfast, we headed to Echigo Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture, the snow country depicted by Nobel Prize winning author Yasunari Kawabata in his novel “Snow Country”. Apart from Echigo Yuzawa, we also had a side trip to Hakkaisan Yukimuro and Saifukuji Temple. The two places are more easily accessible if you’re traveling by car. So it’s up to you whether to do the side trip or head to Echigo Yuzawa straight from Jomo Kogen Station by Shinkansen.

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Hakkaisan Yukimuro

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Urasa Station – (15 minutes by car) – Hakkaisan Yukimuro

Yukimuro, literally a snow room, is a product of wisdom of local people to co-exist with nature by storing snow inside a cellar for various usages. Hakkaisan Yukimuro is a modern snow room that uses the cool air to store sake and food. You can actually see the storing space and take home some local products as souvenirs. It’s a great place to learn and experience lives in the snow country. There are also restaurants serving udon and soba noodles.

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Kaisando, Saifukuji Temple

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Hakkaisan Yukimuro – (20 minutes by car) – Kaisando, Saifukuji Temple

Hiding behind an unassuming façade is the breathtakingly beautiful and exquisite ceiling carving created by Uncho Ishikawa. Drop by and take a look, you’ll surely be convinced why Uncho is known as the Michelangelo of Echigo.

Echigo Yuzawa

Kaisando, Saifukuji Temple – (15 minutes by car) – Urasa Station 13:43 – (Shinkansen) – 13:55 Echigo Yuzawa Station

With more than 10 ski resorts, Echigo Yuzawa is a paradise for skiers of all levels. From absolute beginners to experts, everyone can find something suited to his or her needs. The area is also famous for hot springs that are especially soothing after a few rounds of skiing. Here we propose three options for you to enjoy the snow experience!

Option 1: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort – Right next to the station

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This option is good for a quick snow experience. Play with snow at GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort before going back to Tokyo.

Located right next to Gala Yuzawa Station (direct Shinkansen service during snow season), GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort is such a skiing heaven that offers everything from rental gears to dining services. While advanced skiers can enjoy various new facilities, first timers can take ski lessons and have a whole lot of fun. Be it skiing or snowboarding, a variety of courses are sure to satisfy you!

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Directly connected to Echigo Yuzawa Station, CoCoLo Yuzawa Gangi-dori Shopping Street is a mall that has everything from local specialty products to gourmet food and souvenirs. You may nibble on many kinds of free samples before deciding to buy or not. Even an onsen bathhouse is here for you to enjoy hot spring that has sake poured into it.

Option 2: Naeba Ski Resort – Powder snow paradise

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This option is suitable for anyone from skiing amateurs to pros. Stay at Naeba Ski Resort to fully enjoy this powder snow paradise.

50 minutes by bus from Echigo Yuzawa Station, Naeba is one of the most popular ski resorts in Japan and attracts numerous visitors from abroad as well. Everything from accommodations and hot springs to various dining options and fun family activities are all available directly in front of the slopes! While families and kids can enjoy various snow activities in the snow land play area, those who would like to learn skiing or snowboarding can take lessons provided by English speaking instructors.

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Breeze through snow trails! If skiing or snowboarding is not your thing, why not try riding a snow mobile? The staff will give you a basic lesson and guide you through the snow trails.

Option 3: NASPA Ski Garden – Great for families and kids

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Stay at NASPA Ski Garden for a memorable family ski trip. Recommended for families and kids.

NASPA Ski Garden is a skiers-only (snowboarding is not allowed here) ski resort offering various ski courses and such facilities as cafeteria, onsen bathhouse, pool and fitness. In particular, kids can have fun playing with snow at NASPA Kids Garden in a dedicated and safe environment.

Key takeaways

That wraps up our trip in Gunma and Niigata. It takes only 80 minutes to travel from Echigo Yuzawa back to Tokyo, so it’s totally possible to do an overnight trip from Tokyo covering selected destinations in Gunma and Niigata. If you’ve been to Japan several times and want to discover a different Japan, this is definitely an ideal travel option for you! 

Next in the series:
Overnight trip from Tokyo- (2) Nostalgic Nagano

Tohoku Secluded Hot Springs: Lamp no Yado Aoni Onsen

Away from modern life

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Quality hot spring are scattered throughout the mountainous Aomori Prefecture, but for the most authentic experience, head over to Lamp no Yado Aoni Onsen. The writer of this article has been to many different hot springs throughout Japan, but calls this the real deal.

That doesn’t mean it has the most gorgeous looking bath or spectacular ryokan attached to it, but actually kind of the opposite…hear me out!

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Located along Aoni Valley deep in the mountains of Aomori, every twist your bus or car makes up to the mountain, is a step away from modern society. It was only the beginning of the winter during my visit, but thick snow had already piled up so much it wasn’t hard to believe that Aomori is the snowiest city on earth.

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While too white to be true during winter, nature brings much more to these mountains than just snow. During autumn, the area is known for its golden foliage, and expect lots of fresh verdure as well as bright hydrangea flowers during the summer. The ryokan itself is surrounded by some sakura trees which are usually in full blossom during May, a bit later than in most other parts of Japan because of the long winters.

The moment you arrive at Lamp no Yado, which translates itself as “Inn of Lamps”, you will realize that you have come to a true mountain retreat completely surrounded by nature.

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Heading inside the ryokan, you make a slip in time to a more traditional Japan, completely untouched by the invasion of convenience stores and hamburgers. Electricity here is scarce and the whole ryokan is lit only by oil lamps, which add an authentic touch to the Japanese style rooms.

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Expect no power sockets in your room, but consider it a small price you pay to experience something truly unique.

The mountain vegetables and freshwater fish make for a divine, healthy meal that will allow one to appreciate the blessings of nature.

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Dinner at Lamp no Yado

The fish are grilled on an irori, a traditional Japanese hearth, which together with the tatami mats, a Japanese wooden table and your yukata (the kimono you wear at the inn), create an atmosphere that is about as Japanese as it gets.

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Lamp no Yado comes with a total of 4 different baths. One of these baths is a rotenburo, or open-door bath. The lukewarm water allows one to stay in for a long time without getting too hot. Ladies should note that this bath is gender free, which was more common in the old days in Japan. Special ladies only hours are available from 11am to 12pm and from 5pm to 6pm.

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Lamp no Yado’s open-door bath

The other 3 inside baths each look at the scenery from a different angle. The scent of the large wooden tubs add a lovely fragrance to the hot water. Ladies can feel at ease as men and women go in separate baths here.

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Lamp no Yado’s indoor bath

According to the owner, the natural hot spring water here is not only good for the body, but also has the power to “make a love that has cooled down hot again”. I believe that it is not only the water, but the unforgettable experience Aoni Onsen Lamp no Yado provides as a whole, that brings the romantic inside one. While its inconvenient location and lack of electricity make it a destination that is certainly not for everyone, if you appreciate a truly secluded hot spring far away from the hustle and bustle of modern society, this is one of the best mountain retreats to forget about the stress and worries that come with modern life. A relaxing soak in the middle of nature together with the precious people in your life next to you here, will be a lifetime memory for sure.

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SHIBUYA HOTEL EN Opens Feb. 5

SHIBUYA HOTEL EN will open on Feb 5th, 2016 in Shibuya, with a design based on Japanese culture, nature, art, tradition and history.

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Entrance

Each of the 9 floors are decorated according to different theme, like Hokusai, “WA”, and manga.

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The Manga Floor

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Torii floor
Torii (Gate) Floor

Why not try a stay here for a new kind of “WA” hotel!

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Information
SHIBUYA HOTEL EN

PRICE: Single 19,000 yen (per night)/ Twin 25,000 yen (per night)/Special floor 40,000 yen (per night)

TEL:03-5489-1010

ADDRESS: 1-1 Maruyama-cho, Shibuya

ACCESS: From JR Yamanote Line Shibuya Station (Hachiko exit), cross the Shibuya scramble and head towards “Shibuya 109”. Turn to the left at the traffic light at Dogenzaka 2 Chome. Shibuya Hotel En will be on the left after passing the first traffic signal.

WEBSITE: http://www.shibuyahotel.jp/en/

Ski in Japan: Top 5 Central Japan Resorts

Within just 3 hours of Central Japan, you can find slopes to suit any ski level, not to mention a great selection of spas. Our top four picks take you high, where trees freeze into “ice monsters” and the onsens thaw you out at the highest altitude in the country. For sliding and soaking fun in the heart of Japan, start here.

APPI Snow Resort (Iwate Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Private and group lessons available. Advanced booking needed
Number of courses: 21

With the mind-boggling number of courses available, this is the place to go to ski or snowboard to your heart’s content. Slope levels varying from beginner to advanced, plus meticulously manicured slopes and dry light snow makes this the ultimate skiing and snowboarding haven no matter what your level is.

Address: 117 Appi Kogen, Hachimantai City, Iwate Prefecture
Access: Take the JR Hanawa Line from Morioka Station, there is a free shuttle bus available between JR APPI Kogen Station and the resort buildings.
Web: http://www.appi.co.jp/foreign_country/english/winter/index.html

Manza Onsen Ski Resort (Gunma Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 9

If ski and spa is your ideal combination, Manza is your most convenient choice. At a 1,800m altitude, enjoy fresh powdered snow and choose from ten relaxing onsens – the highest in Japan – at the Prince Hotel, located right on the slopes.

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Address: Manza Onsen, Tsumagoi-mura, Agatsuma-gun
Access: Take the Seibu Kogen Bus to Manza ski area from Karuizawa Station. Guests of the Manza Prince Hotel or Manza Kogen Hotel can take a free shuttle bus through advanced booking.
Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/manzaonsen

Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort (Niigata Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Yes
Number of courses: 17

With a decent amount of courses, Gala Yukawa is the ideal ski resort for skiers and snowboarders of any level, and is also conveniently connected to the Shinkansen Station. Have a hot bath at hot spring SPA Gala No Yu afterwards to get the most out of this all-in-one ski facility.

④SPA温泉

Address: Yuzawa 1039-2, Yuzawa-machi, Minamiuonuma-gun
Access: Take the Joetsu Shinkansen to GALA Yuzawa Station from Tokyo Station
Web: http://www.galaresort.jp/winter/english

Zao Hot Springs Ski Resort (Yamagata Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Private lessons only (advanced booking needed)
Number of courses: 12

Soak in one of Japan’s most famous onsens after a full day of skiing amongst the awe-inspiring juhyo (ice-frosted trees) here. From December to February, the unique weather conditions create these natural wonders – often called “ice monsters” – particularly beautiful when illuminated at night.

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Address: Zao Onsen 708-1, Yamagata
Access: A 40-min. bus ride to Zao Onsen Bus Terminal from Yamagata Station.
Web: http://www.zao-spa.or.jp/english

Shizukuishi Ski Resort (Iwate Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 13

Experienced skiers will love the challenging slopes here at Mt. Iwate, home to the FIS ski and snowboard world cup multiple times. If you’re feeling brave, glide down its longest course, which is a good 4.5km long!

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Address: Takakura Onsen, Shizukuishi-machi, Iwate-gun
Access: A 20-min. taxi ride from Shizukuishi Station, or take the free shuttle bus to Prince Hotel Shizukuishi through advanced booking.
Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/shizukuishi

Ski in Japan: Top 3 Hokkaido Resorts

While crisp gold and red leaves are still falling across Tokyo, it won’t be long until Japan’s peaks are powdered with fluffy white snow. And with the ski season starting as early as mid-November in Hokkaido, it’s not too early to plan for your winter wonderland trip. In this series, we bring you the hottest resorts for the coolest ski trips, complete with onsens and scenery to accompany your downhill thrills. 

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Top 3 Hokkaido Resorts

Snow and Hokkaido are a natural pair, where feather-light powder falls throughout nearly half the year, and its famed Sapporo Snow Festival crowns the season from Feb. 5-11. So for the full Japanese winter experience, start here on its most northern island, where blankets of white wonder await!

Niseko United

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Number of courses: 60
English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Pick up an All-Mountain Pass for access to all four resorts on Mt. Nikes Annupuri. With a total of 48km of groomed slopes and a course as long as 5.6km, this 4-in-1 spot is great for longer stays.

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Address: Niseko Annupuri: Aza Niseko 485, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun
Access: Take the Niseko United Shuttle Bus to all our resorts from Kutchen Station.
Web: http://www.niseko.ne.jp/en

Hoshino Resort Tomamu

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English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 25
Just over an hour away by train from Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport, this resort comes with an open air hot bath facing the lush forests of Tomamu. Give ice skating a go as well as the Ice Village and enjoy its various ice sculptures.

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Address: Naka-Tomamu, Shimukappu-mura, Yuufutsu-gun
Access: Take the shuttle bus from Tomamu Station.
Web: http://www.snowtomamu.jp/winter/en

Furano Ski Resort

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English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 23
Known for its gorgeous rural landscapes and clear blue skies in the winter, you will not find a more picturesque skiing backdrop than the Furano Valley. After skiing, grab a drink at a snow dome ice bar.

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Address: Nakagoryo, Furano-shi
Access: Take a taxi from JR Furano Station or the direct shuttle bus from New Chitose Airport.
Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/furano/index.html

 

Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 5 : Feasting at Furano

Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island, is also referred to as the “The Big Land in the North” by the locals. Blessed with picturesque nature and bounty from the sea and land, it is a favorite getaway destination for the Japanese and tourists alike. WAttention flew in to Sapporo and did a 5D4N rail and rental car tour through the big land. Follow our trip and train details here!  

FURANO MARCHE 

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Furano is well-loved for its wine and cheese. Just a 10min drive from the Furano Prince Hotel is the Furano Marche, where you can find a vast array of Furano fresh produce, such as the various types of potatoes (fresh or boiled and flavored with butter and vacuum packed), souvenirs, food as well as handicraft.

JAM AND THE ANPANMAN AT THE ROKUGOU VIEWING PLATFORM 

 

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After stocking up on souvenirs, we headed to the Kyohsai Farm’s Furano Jam Garden around a 20 min drive away at the base of the Rokugou Viewing Platform. This viewing platform is very popular in the summer months as a place to view fields of lavender. At the jam store, you can try 35 types of jam, many of which are only available here, such as haskap berry jam and pumpkin jam. Right next door is the Anpanman Shop, which stocks a whole array of Anpanman toys, books and snacks, with an Anpanman gallery on the second floor, where if you are lucky, you can even meet Anpanman for a handshake and photo. It is the only Anpanman shop in the whole Japan to have been operated directly by the creator of Anpanman, Takashi Yanase.

 

FURANO OMUCURRY 

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Furano Omurice at Natulux Hotel

Furano Omucurry, or short for omurice curry, is the soul food of Furano–which is also known as the bellybutton of Hokkaido for being right in the middle of the island. It has to meet 6 criteria to be called Furano Omurice, such as using local vegetables, eggs, cheese or wine, serve a local beverage or Furano milk, make sure the cost is kept within 1,000 yen (excluding tax) and display the Omucurry Flag. Each restaurant offers a unique interpretation of the dish. A must try the next time you are in Hokkaido! We tried the omucurry at Natulux Hotel, which is just 3min by car from the Marche.

WINE, CHEESE AND DESSERT

wineWithin close driving distance is the Chateau Furano, Furano cheese factory and Campana della Vigna Rokatei. Sample Furano wine and pure grape juice here…

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Try five kinds of cheese and butter here such as wine flavored cheese and squid ink cheese, or try  your hand at making cheese, bread or pizza here.

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Rokatei is a confectionery maker from Furano, and is a popular choice for souvenirs. It recently opened a store and eat-in cafe in Furano with a stunning view of rolling vineyards. The ice cream Another must-try sweet treat is “Santa’s beard”, which is another Furano creation of half a melon topped with a tower of soft serve ice cream.

Having feasted on the best of Furano classics, we drove to Asahikawa whereby we then took the train, L’EX Super Kamui No.38 back to Sapporo, before taking a plane back to Tokyo, already missing the vast space and fresh foods of Hokkaido.

Here’s the rest of the series:
Hokkaido By Rail & Car: Day 1,2 – Sapporo, Lake Toyako
Hokkaido By Rail and Car: Day 3 – Kamikawa, Sounkyo
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 4: Biei and Furano

Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 4: Biei and Furano

Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island, is also referred to as the “The Big Land in the North” by the locals. Blessed with picturesque nature and bounty from the sea and land, it is a favorite getaway destination for the Japanese and tourists alike. WAttention flew in to Sapporo and did a 5D4N rail and rental car tour through the big land. Follow our trip and train details here!  

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0840h Leave Sounkyo Onsen by local bus
0915h Arrive Kamikawa Station
0925h Leave Kamikawa on L’EX Okhotsk No.2 for Asahikawa
1010 Arrive Asahikawa Station
1030 30 min drive from Asahikawa to Biei

BIEI, LAND OF ROLLING HILLS AND FAMOUS TREES

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Biei’s rolling hills and fields of patchwork colors (depending on the crop of the season) makes it a picturesque place to drive through and almost transports you to an English or European countryside.

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Some of its famous trees include the Ken and Mary Tree, a poplar tree that became popular after it was used as a location for a Nissan Skyline commercial in the early 1970s, and the Parent and Child Trees, though the “child” tree in the middle was recently blown away by strong winds, leaving the parents behind (bottom right of the photo collage).

PICNIC LUNCH

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Picnic is the name of a cosy little cafe that serves soup, burgers and sandwiches for eat-in or takeaway, perfect for an outdoors picnic in summer or autumn!

AOIKE (BLUE POND)

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After lunch, WAttention headed to the Blue Pond, around 20 minute’s drive from the Biei Station. This pond is naturally blue due to the natural minerals dissolved in the water. It is actually part of an erosion control systme to prevent damage to Biei in the event of an eruption by Mount Tokachidake nearby.

WINE DINNER AT FURANO

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Around 45 minutes’ drive from Biei, is the city of Furano, which is famous for its wine and cheese production. Furano Wine House, located atop a hill, offers a great night view to go with fine food, from steak to deer meat, and pizza made with Furano White Cheese.

NINGURU TERRACE AT FURANO PRINCE HOTEL

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Ninguru Terrace is a quaint little village of boutique shops housed in cottages, and makes for a particularly pleasant stroll when colored by autumn foliage or covered in snow. Enjoy the scent of the surrounding pine trees as well for a truly sensory walk.

 

Stay tuned for the final leg, Day 5 where we try Furano’s soul food, Omurice Curry, and sweets!

Here’s the rest of the series:
Hokkaido By Rail & Car: Day 1,2 – Sapporo, Lake Toyako
Hokkaido By Rail and Car: Day 3 – Kamikawa, Sounkyo
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 5 : Feasting at Furano

Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake: A Japanese Wine Paradise

Savor it, experience it

Japan is not the first destination that comes to mind for wine tasting. But times have changed and Japan is no more a country of just sake. The quality of the country’s whiskey has been acknowledged globally with some of the finest liquors, and while still standing in the shadows of top-class vineyards as, say, Italy’s Tuscany or France’s Provence, Yamanashi Prefecture is gradually spreading its name throughout the world as an area of quality wine.

The best way to see, feel, and of course savor the wines of Yamanashi, is without a doubt by staying at Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake located in Hokuto city. This “wine resort” allows you to get familiar with the local wines in style and comfort that few, if not no other facilities can compete with.

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At Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake, the amount of activities available to get you familiar with the local wines are staggering. Taste 24 different local wines at the resort’s YATSUGATAKE wine house, have dinner at OTTO SETTE – the resort’s chic Italian restaurant that serves refined dishes to go with the wines – and enjoy a conversation with an experienced sommelier.

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But that is not where it ends. Hosnino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake offers various plans to make your stay as romantic and wine-full as possible. How about a stay at the “wine suite room”, for example? While a stay in this wine-themed suite might be a little pricey, do note that it includes 5 quality wines for you to freely drink and take home, a chic dinner and breakfast at the resort’s restaurants and more.

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Everything about this suite just screams wine!

Of course, there are plenty of other activities not related to wine available as well. The resort’s stylish Piment-dori street has seasonal activities and stores that range from local bred vegetables on sale in summer to Halloween illumination and a Christmas show.

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Il Mare, the resort’s spacey pool equipped with a cafe is ideal to relax and Yatsugatake activity center offers plenty of outdoor activities for the children while you receive a winter limited VINO Fonte treatment at the resort’s spa that uses wine grape draffs.

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If you are an outdoor person, horse-riding through Hokuto city’s picturesque forests or skiing in the winter can also be enjoyed.

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Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake

Location: 129-1 Kobuchizawa-cho 129-1, Hokuto, Yamanashi

Access: 5-min by pickup bus from Kobushizawa Station (Chuo Main Line, Koumi Line)

URL: http://www.hoshinoresorts.com/en/resortsandhotels/risonare/yatsugatake.html

Fun Around Mt. Fuji (3): Mt. Fuji By Sky!

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Mt. Fuji by sky: Soaring at Fuji-Q Highland

Looking to enjoy Mt. Fuji from another angle? How about while speeding down the Takabisha ride above, with its world-record holding 121-degree drop, or while spinning upside down on one of its 7 inversions?

From sea to sky, let’s get high at Fuji-Q Highland! With some of the world’s tallest, fastest and steepest rollercoaster rides, just looking at some of these is enough to make one queasy.

 

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Fujiyama, the park’s centerpiece attraction, was the world’s tallest and fastest roller coaster when it opened in 1996, and it continues to rank among the best coasters in the world. When climbing slowly up to the peak of 79 meters high, we couldn’t keep our eyes off Mt. Fuji, which seemed even closer from such heights…that is until we started dropping at 130 km per hour!

Soaring of a different sort

But fortunately for the faint of heart, there’s more than one way to soar here at this scenic theme park. We boarded a flight on the new Fuji Airways (Hikousha) ride – a “next generation movie theatre” – that gave us stunning aerial views of Mt. Fuji from the comfort of our carriage seats. Complete with forest scents and splashes from the lakes, this flyby around Mt. Fuji made for a full sensory experience.

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A taste of France by Mt. Fuji

Once our stomachs had settled from free-falling and flying, we couldn’t resist the smell of fresh baked pastries at the Café Brioche, where we had tea and croissants with our new favorite French picture book duo, Lisa & Gaspard. With the sound of accordions playing as we walked along this character-themed town, we felt as though we’d been transported to Paris itself!

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Having gotten our fill of panoramic views and pastries in the Highlands, join us as we go low next time, even underground, as we explore some natural beauty by the Lake Saiko Area.

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Hotel Tip: The Highland Resort Hotel & Spa next door is certainly the most convenient place to stay when visiting Fuji-Q Highland, with re-entry in and out of the hotel allowed. Also, the Fujiyama Terrace on the 4th floor had the most dynamic view of Mt. Fuji from any dining facility we’d eaten at. A trip here for breakfast or lunch is a banquet for the eyes and stomach.

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Attraction & Hotel Info:

Highland Resort Hotel & Spa
Address: 5-6-1 Shin-nishihara, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi
Access: A free shuttle bus is available from Fujisan Station.
Tel: 0555-22-1000
URL: http://www.highlandresort.co.jp/english/

Fuji-Q Highland
Hours: 9:00am-5:00pm (varies based on season)
Address: 5-6-1 Shin-nishihara, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi
Access: A 1-min walk from Fuji-Q Highland Station (Fujikyu Railway Line)
URL: https://www.fujiq.jp/en/

Fun Around Mt. Fuji (2): Mt. Fuji By Sea!

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What could be more beautiful than a clear sight of Japan’s most famous mountain? How about seeing its perfect symmetry reflected upon the waters of nearby Lake Yamanakako – the largest of the Fuji Five Lakes. We set out for the perfect view aboard two cruisers that are quite peculiar sights on their own: the Yamanakako no KABA, and the Excursion Ship [Swan Lake].

A bus…that swims?

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If you’ve never been on a bus that drove straight into a body of water…and survived, now’s your chance! Fear not, the Yamanakako no KABA, an amphibious kaba (“hippo”) bus runs both on land and lake. Led by our scout uniform-clad tour guide, who provided lively explanations throughout the ride, this hippo took us on a 10-min. expedition through the lake’s surrounding forestry, before splashing straight into the lake itself. If you don’t mind a little spray of water on your face, this 30-min. adventure makes for a great first encounter with Lake Yamanakako.

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Then, sail like a swan

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From one animal-themed cruiser to another, we hopped off the hippo and headed next to the far smoother and less wild Excursion Ship [Swan Lake]. While no real hippos live around this lake, there are quite a few gracefully gliding swans – the inspiration for this ride. You can even greet them up close before hopping on board, by picking up some feeding bait for 100 yen!

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While the double-deck interior cabin with its sleek wooden design and window-side seating make for a comfortable viewing spot, be sure to head to the balcony to take in the lake’s natural scents and sounds. Sailing along the serene lake, with the cool sea breeze in our face and the glittering sunlight reflecting off the lake’s waters, made for the perfect setting to gaze upon Mt. Fuji in all its majesty.

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So now that we’ve sailed, you ready to soar? Come back next time as we go airborne above Fuji-Q Highland, and see Mt. Fuji from a different angle, even while upside down!

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Tip: For luxury lodging just above the banks of Lake Yamanakako, stay at Hotel Mount Fuji, just like we did. With views of Mt. Fuji from our room, the courtyard, and even the outdoor onsen, it was like a buffet of Mt. Fuji photo spots! Speaking of which, we enjoyed the hotel’s buffet breakfast and its signature fluffy omelets – seasoned with a view of Mt. Fuji.

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Attraction & Hotel Information:
Yamanakako no KABA
URL: http://mtfuji-jp.com/lake-yamanaka/

Excursion Ship [Swan Lake]
URL: http://www.fujikyu.co.jp/en/leisure/leisure16.html

Hotel Mt. Fuji
Address: 1360-83 Yamanaka, Yamanakako-mura, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi
Access: A free shuttle bus is available from the Fujisan-Yamanakako bus stop, reservations required.
Tel: 0555-62-2111
URL: http://www.mtfuji-hotel.com/english

Fun Around Mt. Fuji (1): A Short Trip To The Fuji Five Lakes Area

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Part 1: Let the fun begin!

Thousands of tourists travel to Mt. Fuji each summer to make the strenuous ascent to its peak.

Others of us just want to have a little fun.

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Which is why I’m hanging in a hammock, rather than strapping on my climbing gear.

Ready to have some fun in the Fuji Five Lakes Area? Follow us in this 5-part series as we bring you onsens, high-flying rollercoasters, panoramic views, and yes, even a Hammock Café, where I’m hanging now. Everything is five times the fun with the majestic view of Mt. Fuji in the background, so let’s get started!

Train otaku, all aboard!ふじっこ号

First things first, you’re going to need to get around the Fuji Five Lakes Area, which is no problem with Fujikyu Railways. And if you’re a train otaku and vintage vehicles get your engines moving, these retro buses and old-fashioned trains will take you for a trip back in time.

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The Fujikyu Limited Express, featuring 58 cartoon characters of Mt. Fuji on its exterior.

Even if you’re like me, simply just wanting to get from point A to B, some of these rides will still stop you in your tracks…like the Fujikyu Limited Express, with 58 cartoon characters of Mt Fuji on its exterior.

Tip: Pick up your “Mt. Fuji and The Fuji Five Lakes Passport [Fujikyu Train Set]” at Otsuki Station to ride unlimited on Fujikyu Railways’ buses and trains for two consecutive days.

And while you’re at the station…

Station-side snacks

Since food is half the fun when traveling, try these two treats, conveniently available upon arrival at Fujisan Station.

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The Fujiyama Taiyaki combines the traditional taiyaki fish shape with Mt. Fuji, and is ready to erupt with steaming hot sweet bean filling! (160 yen)

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With vanilla “snow” on top, and native aobara (“blue rose”) as the mountain base, this soft serve embodies the shape and local flavor of Mt. Fuji. (350 yen)

Now that we’ve got some sugar in our system, where should we explore first?

A sacred starting point

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Even for non-climbers, you won’t want to miss the historical starting point of the Mt. Fuji climb, at the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine. This shrine, dedicated to restrain the erupting of Mt. Fuji, is preserved as one of Japan’s largest forest shrines with sacred trees dating back over 1,000 years. For a taste of Mt. Fuji’s ancient heritage and abundant nature, starting here will get your trip off on the right foot.

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Now, off to see Mt. Fuji! Come back for Part 2, and follow us as we catch some spectacular views from sea at Lake Yamanakako.

Tip: If looking for an affordable stay close to Fujisan Station, try the Fujisan Station Hotel, just a 2-min walk away. With rooms starting at 7,000 yen, including breakfast, this newly renovated hotel is equipped with free wifi in every room, and would certainly be my pick if traveling by myself to the Mt. Fuji area.

[Attraction & Hotel Information]

PICA Yamanakako Village (Hammock Café)
Access: There are several bus services per hour from Shinjuku Station (Fujikyu and Keio). Shuttle services are available for those staying at PICA Yamanakako Village (reservation required)
URL: http://yamanakako.pica-village.jp/en/

Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine
Access: Take Fujikyu Railway from Otsuki Station to Fujisan Station. A 20-min. walk from Otsuki Station
URL: http://sengenjinja.jp/english/

Fujisan Station Hotel
Address: 2-7-12 Matsuyama, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi
Access: A 2-min. walk from Fujisan Station
Tel: 0555-24-3300
URL: http://www.fujisanstation-hotel.com/ (Japanese)