Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Compact Tokyo

3 - 4 June 2016
Compact Tokyo

We went back from Takayama to Tokyo Shinjuku station by bus. Ticket costs JPY 6690 per person. We booked our bus trip online via this website and paid for the ticket at Takayama bus station. We departed at 8am and arrived Shinjuku around 1.30pm. Our bus stopped at Hirayu Onsen Hotspring and Suwako for a 10 minute break.

bus ticket

Suwako rest area
Suwako lake
Shinjuku station

In Tokyo, we stayed at Flexstay Inn Higashi Jujo this time (JPY 7150 per room per night). It is an old and tired inn, we don't recommend staying here. Wasou Hotel Asakusa (the hotel we stayed on our arrival day in Tokyo) was already fully booked on this date. Of course, we would have preferred to stay in Asakusa as Nakamise shopping street (we delayed shopping for souvenirs until we get back to Tokyo) and halal food are there.

facilities in between the bed

our room

fold the bed to have more space

Later that afternoon, after checking in, we went to Asakusa for shopping and dining. We ate again at Naratiya halal restaurant. We wanted to go to Sekai Cafe, but it was closed.


Tsukiji Market

Early in the morning, we checked out of our hotel and took the Keihintohoku line to Ueno, then changed to Hibiya line to Tsukiji station (JPY 340). We walked to the market which is not that far from the station. We didn't go to the tuna auction though, as it was too early for us to come, i.e. at 5am. We walked around the stalls taking in the sights and sounds of traders peddling their seafood, local delicacies, fruits and vegetables. We then had a sumptuous breakfast of tuna, salmon and yellowtail fish with rice (JPY 1000); tuna, salmon and caviar with rice (JPY 1300) and miso soup (JPY 100 ) at one of the stalls near the market.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

seafood

stalls around Tsukiji Fish Market
some of the sushi breakfast menu

sushi breakfast eatery

salmon, tuna and caviar with rice breakfast

miso soup with clam

Odaiba

Next, it was Partner In Crime's mission to get a view of the huge Gundam robot statue at DiverCity (a shopping mall ) in the modern, man made island in Tokyo Bay, Odaiba. We walked a bit to the Shiodome station and took the elevated Yurikamomi line to Odaibakaihinkoen station. (JPY 320). On the Yurikamomi line, we took some pictures of the Rainbow bridge.

rainbow bridge at Odaiba

Tokyo port

Partner In Crime was admiring the Gundam robot, taking pictures of it, and with it, 360 degrees and all (I'm exaggerating a bit here). We were not aware that there are showtimes when the robot will perform. Well not really, just some illumination, moving of the hands and smoke coming out of the robot exhaust. Partner In Crime had to buy a / some robots, so we went to the Gundam front shop nearby the robot statue, but unfortunately the items on sale are by cash only.  I enquired at the cashier, we were told there's a bigger Gundam robot store inside the DiverCity mall on the 7th floor. We wasted no time, and made our way there. The Gundam Front museum is also there, with entrance fee of JPY 1000. But you can enter the shop for free. Partner In Crime bought the same robot as the statue model of the 1/48 scale (375 mm) or Mega size model (the biggest size on sale) for JPY 8023. I let him sink it all in -his total Gundam experience.

Gundam robot at DiverCity

view from behind

entrance to Gundam Front store and museum inside DiverCity

From DiverCity, we walked to Aqua City (also a shopping mall) across the road to take a peek of Tokyo Bay. We saw a replica of the Statue of Liberty and took some pictures there.

Tokyo's statue of liberty at Odaiba

Aqua City Odaiba

Harajuku

I wanted to go to one of the biggest Daiso (a store where all the items cost JPY 100) in Japan, so we made our way to Harajuku. To go to Harajuku, we walked to Teleport station (unfortunately, we cannot be teleported anywhere from there), taking the Rinkai line to Osaki. Then we changed to Yamanote line towards Harajuku. The metro costs JPY 500.

Harajuku station

Harajuku is of course, famous for bizarre fashion styles. We got a few glimpses of that along Takeshita Dori shopping street. It was very crowded with shoppers, it was a weekend after all. After shopping, we made our way back to our hotel at Higashi Jujo. Of course, there are other sides of Tokyo that we did not cover within just 1 day, but we had to make do due to our time constraint.


Takeshita Dori shopping street
Daiso Harajuku

After packing up our souvenirs and collecting our backpacks, we made our way to Ueno station, then took the Narita Sky Access line to Narita airport (JPY 1240) to catch our flight back to KL at 9.30pm. There is a prayer room available at Narita airport, complete with ablution facility.


prayer room at Terminal 2 Narita airport

ablution facility inside the prayer room


Goodbye Japan, it has been a great experience journeying through the scenic Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area and the hectic city of Tokyo. The public transportation is superb, we did not experience any harassment or scams and we totally enjoyed our time there. We hope to see you again Japan!

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Shirakawa-go

Shirakawa-go

2 June 2016

Shirakawa-go means white river village. It is a mountain village that is surrounded by mountains in the Gifu Prefecture. It is a Unesco World Heritage site, acknowledged for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. As mentioned in the Takayama post, Gassho-zukuri means hands in prayer, as the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs resemble hands pressing together in prayer. We took the J Hoppers half day tour (morning session from 8am to 12pm) to Shirakawa-go, which cost JPY 4400 per person. We booked online through their website and made the payment in cash on the bus. Shirakawa-go is about 1 hour away from Takayama.

Our guide Yamamoto was a bubbly person, giving some information on Shirakawa-go and Takayama; and some basic Japanese language lesson.  According to Yamamoto, the population of Shirakawa-go are mostly elderly people. There is only a primary school in Shirakawa-go, the nearest secondary school is in Takayama, so the students will have to travel 2 hours daily to school. There is no university in Takayama, so most of the graduates would leave Takayama and Shirakawa-go to find jobs outside, hence only the elderly remained.

our guide Yamamoto

It is a peaceful little village. Visitors are greeted by Shokawa river at the entrance and would have to cross the suspension bridge. The village is so small, you could just walk to cover the whole area. We were given 1.5 hours to walk around the village. Yamamoto recommended us to visit the Kanda house (entrance fee JPY 300) to experience a Ghasso-zukuri farmhouse and treated to a cup of hot matcha. Since we already visited the Folk Village in Takayama the day before, we skipped entering Kanda house. It was already a full house anyway.

Shirakawa-go from the view point

Map of Shirakawago (source: official site)

suspension bridge

shokawa river

The villagers of Shirakawa-go mainly are farmers, cultivating their land with paddy and vegetables. The drains around the houses are so clean, they rear fishes in them. The stream is so cool, they refrigerate their drinks in the stream water.







ghasso-zukuri houses

Kanda house

fishes in the drain

natural fridge

Shirakawa-go manhole cover

Shirakawa-go peak season is during winter where visitors get to see the ghasso-zukuri roofs covered in snow, with the climax in January and February with the winter illumination. But be warned, it would be freezing cold!

Later, back at Takayama, we had a sumptuous early dinner at Heianraku, a small home styled cooking restaurant (sits 12 people). We chose the vegetarian dishes of tofu teriyaki (JPY 850) and yaki miso (JPY 850). The restaurant owner who is also the cook and waitress- Naoko was really warm and friendly, chatting with us and ensuring we had a great meal. She provided us with some appetizers and cookies as well to finish off our meal. Such a nice little eatery.

Heianraku

menu

our table
appetizer. notice the hello kitty chopstick holder

soup

tofu teriyaki
yaki miso

We savoured our last day of serenity at the village of Shirakawa-go and Takayama before making our way back to the busy metropolis of Tokyo tomorrow.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Takayama

Takayama

1 June 2016

Today we would be travelling to Takayama from Toyama. We took the local train to Toyama, changing line at Inotani. We departed at 8.14am and arrived around 10.20am. Train ticket cost JPY 1660.

JR local train ticket

passing through rivers along the way

change station at Inotani
Takayama Nohi bus station, next to train station
Takayama JR train station


After arriving at Takayama station, we walked to our hotel - Country Hotel just across the road, above Family Mart (JPY 6800 / room / night). Since we cannot check in yet until 3pm, we just dropped our backpacks first then proceeded to the Miyagawa morning market along the Miyagawa river. Fortunately, there was still activity going on, the stalls and shops were still opened. The morning market is opened from 6.30am to 12.00 noon. The stalls sell food, farm products, and local crafts, among others. There are also many souvenir shops here, which also operates from 6.30am to 12 noon.

stall at Miyagawa morning market selling crafts

stall at Miyagawa morning market selling farm products


souvenir shops at Miyagawa morning market

shops and stalls at Miyagawa morning market

You can also just chill by the Miyagawa river, snacking on the local delicacies or enjoying matcha ice cream. The special local dish here is the hida beef. But since we didn't make any prior reservations for halal beef, we didn't get the opportunity to try it. Perhaps next time.

just chilling by the Miyagawa river

the pristine Miyagawa river

fish windsock at Miyagawa river
fish in the clear water

After chilling out, we made our way back to the Takayama station to purchase the Hida No Sato Folk Village ticket with return bus trip via the Sarubobo bus which cost JPY 930. Oh yes, Sarubobo is the local mascot of Hida Takayama which is a faceless red coloured monkey baby. Traditionally, sarubobos are made as a charm for good marriage, good children and get a good match.

us with a Sarubobo monkey doll


On the way back to Takayama station, we walked through the  Old Private Houses (Sanmachi) at the south of Yasukawa-dori street. The houses have remained largely untouched from their time as part of a prospering merchant district from the Edo and Meiji periods. There are also many souvenir and sake shops here.

the private houses of Sanmachi
the private houses of Sanmachi
the private houses of Sanmachi

We took the 12.40pm bus to the Folk Village. The Folk Village is really charming with its exhibition of traditional houses from the mountainous Hida region. According to the Japan guide, the houses were built during the Edo Period (1603 - 1867) and were relocated from their original locations to create the museum in 1971. There are a few gassho-zukuri houses with steep thatched roofs resembling a pair of hands joined in prayer.  One of the gassho-zukuri houses - the Wakayama house was constructed in 1751. It was relocated from Shirakawa-go as it was in the area where dams were being built for hydroelectric generation. The ground floor was built by carpenters and the upper floors were constructed by the village people. It took them 4 days to make the thatched roofs which could last 40 to 60 years. The fire at the hearth (irori) is always lighted to preserve the house. The smoke protects it from harmful insects, keep the ropes tight and gives it moderate moisture. The irori is also used to cook food.

Wakayama's ghasso-zukuri house

the thatched roof of  Wakayama's Ghasso-Zukuri house

the ghasso-zukuri roof from inside at the upper floor

irori
another irori
irori in the centre of the hall

The 4 National Important Cultural Property at the Folk Village are Wakayama's house; Tanaka's house - a typical old farmhouse built in the mid 18th century in Takayama city; Taguchi's house (built in 1809) - who was the head of village in Gero city and often held meetings, so most of the rooms could be resized by moving the sliding doors; and Yoshizane's house (built in the mid of the 18th century)-  the only house in the Hida village not destroyed by a big earthquake on 1858, because of the forked pillar holding it.

Tanaka's farmhouse

Taguchi's house
spacious hall in Taguchi's house. There were school kids assembling handcrafts in the house during our visit

Yoshizane's house

this fork pillar helped Yoshizane's house withstand the earthquake

artisan at work

There is also a pond in the middle of the village with fishes and ducks swimming happily. You could feed the fishes by purchasing the animal food for JPY 50 each. You could also reminisce the atmosphere of the village in the old days, complete with traditional games on display (which you could also try) such as spinning the top and walking on giant stilts.

Goami pond at Hida No Sato village

Goami pond at Hida No Sato village

mother duck and its ducklings

swan

We took the 3.30pm bus back to Takayama station, then checked in our small room at Country Hotel. Later that evening, we chilled out at Miyagawa river again and checking out some shops for souvenirs before retiring for the day. Please note shops here close early, between 5pm to 6pm. Tomorrow we would be going to Shirakawa-go, a Unesco Heritage site.

Country Hotel facilites

Country Hotel small room

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