JP 2023 Aug JP Alps (Part 2)

 

On the next morning checked out from Hirayu onsen ryokan and drove to Myoko Kogen via Matsumoto. First dropped by the Hirayu folk museum, followed by the Daio Wasabi farm in the outskirts of Matsumoto. 

Wasabi can only survive in places with good water quality. The farm is huge and was featured in the movie “Dreams” by Kurosawa Akira in the 80s.

 

 

Arrived at Nojiri-ko, Niigata Prefecture and had Italian lunch at the lake rim. Though it was a hot day, the light breeze  was very much welcomed.  Afterwards, we visited the Nojiri Naumann Elephant museum which contains prehistoric fossils of animals including Mammoth Elephant, giant deers, which roamed the Earth 28K years ago. The fossils were excavated around Nojiri-ko. 

 

 

Myoko Kogen

Before hotel checkin we drove uphill to Naena falls, listed as one of top 100 waterfalls in Japan. Hiked for about 25 min. It was our second visit. 

On the next morning after checkout, we dropped by Imori-ike with nice view of Mt Myoko as backdrop. The small pond was full of lotus flowers in full blossom.

 

 

Dropped by Kagami-ike (“Mirror pond”) in Togakushi briefly while returning to Nagano city. In latter, dropped by Zenko-ji again to have a glimpse of a stolen but recovered wooden Buddha statue, which is believed to possess healing power to whomever has touched it.

When we were in Japan in Dec 2022, it was reported in the local news that it was recovered in Kyushu after being stolen.

 

 

Had lunch in Nagano city and took Shinkansen back to Tokyo afterwards, where we stayed for 2 more days before returning to Hong Kong.

 

 

**************   T H E    E N D   **************

 

 

JP 2023 Aug JP Alps (Part 1)

Seldom do we visit Japan in summer. However, due to a request from my in-law we visited Japan in 1 week in late Aug, with a few days in the northern Japanese Alps to stay away from extreme heat and humidity as much as possible.

After arriving at Tokyo/HND, collected reserved seat train tickets via the automated ticket machines in HND for the next day and checked in Shinjuku hotel.

On the next morning took the JR Azusa express train to Matsumoto direct in less than 3 hours. Picked up rental car after lunch and drove uphill to Norikura Kogen at 1500m in about 1 hour via R158.

 

Norikura Kogen @1500m

It was cooler up there at about 25C and we strolled to the first spot Ushidome-ike (牛留池) in about 10 min (from the nearest parking lot). Stayed for 10 min and drove to Zengoro falls (善五郎の滝). This time it took about 25 min descending downhill to the viewpoint.

This was my third visit in Norikura Kogen though first time to these spots, where there were a few visitors. In previous visits the focus was on Mt Norikura/Tatami-daira above 2700m+. This time it was shrouded in clouds and could not be viewed. Drove to Hirayu onsen where we stayed for 2n. 

 

Kamikochi @1500m+

On next morning we visited Kamikochi (K) by Alpico bus from the nearby Hirayu bus terminal – no private car is allowed into K. Although the line was long we were onboard the bus in about 10 min as Alpico kept on ferrying pax with empty buses. After 30 min, we alighted at Taisho-ike before 10am at 24C and commenced our walk to Kappa-bashi along the Azusa stream (6th time), though first time for my in-law. 

Though the former viewpoint in Taisho-ike was flooded and inaccessible, this alternate viewpoint offered good views of the Mt Hotaka range with reflections.

 

Finally arrived at Kappa-bashi before 11:30am. It was crowded along the trails and very crowded in latter. Lined up for apple-taste ice-cream and strolled around souvenir shops. As clouds gathered and shrouded the Mt Hotaka summits we decided to drive to Takayama for lunch iso visiting Shin-hotaka.

 

 

Returned to Hirayu onsen by Alpico bus. Picked up car from onsen ryokan and drove to Takayama in about 45 min.

Takayama

Had lunch in a local shokudo for the third time. Ordered Hida-Takyama gyu (beef) again while there was a line for the takeaway Takayama-gyu sushi outdoor. Inside the restaurant there is a small compartment displaying costumes/artifacts used in the Takayama Festival.

 

 

After lunch we strolled around the old town (for the 4th time), where there were plenty of tourists. Had coffee before returning to Hirayu onsen ryokan. Dropped by Hirayu-Otaki (falls) of 64m.

 

 

==========>   P A R T   2   ===========>

 

 

JP 2023 April Omihachiman

 

On next morning visited Nishiki market (in Kyoto) again which was very crowded. Dropped into a shop ordered grilled seafood and sake before lunch 🙂

 

Nishiki market

 

On the final day in Kyoto visited Omihachiman again for a day trip. It was filled with Spring ambience – totally different from our last visit 5 months earlier. New green shoots were everywhere along the canal area.  Strolled around in the old town area before dropping into a local shop serving famous Omi-gyu (beef) lunch 🙂

 

Omihachiman

 

 

After lunch we strolled to the Hachiman Jinja where huge tall columns were raised preparing for the Hachiman Matsuri (Festival) in that weekend.

Had coffee time in the same cake shop before returning to Kyoto.

 

 

On the next day travelled back to Fukuoka by Shinkansen. Stayed in latter for o/n before departure.

 

************    T H E    E N D   ************

 

JP 2023 April Sakura Uji

On next morning visited Uji Botanical Garden. Apart from sakura, tulips, shibazakura, nanohana there were many other varieties.  Spent more than 2 hours before returning to Kyoto.

 

Uji Botanical Garden

 

 

 

Lunch in our fav sushi restaurant beneath the Kyoto station again.

Coffee time in our fav local cafe – souffle pound cake with matcha, ice cream and red beans as toppings.

 

 

 

==========>  Omihachiman  ==========>

 

 

JP 2023 April Sakura Kyoto

Returned to Kyoto and stayed for 5 days. While the Somei Yoshino sakura has mostly finished, some late blooming varieties were in peak blossom. After dropping our luggage in the hotel, we headed westbound to the first site.

Umenomiya Taisha (梅宮大社)

It was a warm afternoon. Apart from sakura other flowers such as azaleas, tsubaki (camelia), suzuran were in bloom.

 

On the next morning we visited Hirano Jinja again, which is also famous for late bloomers.  Some locals were dressed up in ancient costumes preparing for rituals.

Hirano Jinja (平野神社)

 

Afterwards, went to traditional restaurant opposite to Ninna-ji for lunch course again.

 

 

==========>  Uji  =========>

 

JP 2023 April Sakura Okayama

As sakura in Tsuyama castle ruins park had almost finished, we drove to Miyasumi Koen in the outskirts. To our surprise, the purple/pink azaleas were blooming along the hillside.

Miyasumi Koen (三休公園)

 

 

After staying in Tsuyama for 2 nights, car was returned and train to Okayama city. Visited the Okayama Museum of Art as sakura had finished in Korakuen.

Bumped into an exhibition by the late Wada Makoto, who had drawn numerous illustrations for books, magazines and journals.  Some of those are fairly easy to identify.

Okayama Museum of Art

 

After lunch took Shinkansen to Himeji and transferred to Shioda onsen ryokan in the northern outskirts of Himeji via shuttle bus.

The ryokan was established in the Meji-era and thus it’s well over 100 years old. It has a fairly large premise along the hillside, including its rotenburo.

The Kaiseki dinner was sumptuous and delicious. Checked out on the next day and headed to Kyoto.

Shioda onsen

 

==========>  Kyoto  ==========>

 

JP 2023 April Sakura Kurayoshi

Drove to Kurayoshi in neighbouring Tottori Prefecture on the next morning.  By the time we parked the car it started drizzling. 

Utsubuki Koen (Park)

Symbol of Kurayoshi and a top 100 sakura spot. It was opened in 1904 (in Meji-era) by the Taisho emperor when he was a Prince.

While sakura was in peak blossom, there were not many visitors on a weekday.

 

 

Kurayoshi white-walled houses

Strolled around the old town area with white-walled houses. Had casual lunch before heading to nearby Misasa onsen town for hotel checkin. 

There are several types of onsen to enjoy. Dinner was sumptuous and delicious.

 

 

Misasa onsen (三朝温泉)

Famous for high radon contents with healing effects.

 

 

On next morning checked out and headed south to Maniwa, Okayama Prefecture.  Dropped by Mikamo which used to be along the road to Izumo. 

 

Mikamo sakura (美甘宿場桜)

The Somei-Yoshino sakura was grown along a dyke. Just a few visitors and we left in less than an hour heading into Tsuyama city for 2 days. 

 

 

==========>  Okayama  ==========>

 

JP 2023 April Sakura Matsue

Drove to Matsue Castle after checking out of onsen ryokan on next morning. Luckily it was a sunny day while sakura was also in peak blossom. Though the sakura matsuri (festival) was on, not many hawkers were open on weekday.

After staying for about 1.5 hours, drove to a 100-year old unagi (eel) shop for lunch. Eels are sourced from Aichi Prefecture directly. It’s a favourite shop of Koizumi Yakumo in the Meiji-era.

 

 

Adachi Museum of Art

Drove to this museum whose garden is famous. It has a wide collection of paintings, carvings and ceramic. However, photography is not allowed for the collections.

Stayed for 2+ hours and checked into another onsen hotel overlooking Shinji-ko, Matsue.

 

 

=========>  Kurayoshi  =========>

 

JP 2023 April Sakura Shimane

Embarked on the first sakura visit from early April 2023 since the covid travel ban has been uplifted for foreign tourists since Nov 2022.

Main theme of the trip involved visiting the Sanin area for the first time – Shimane and Tottori Prefectures followed by Okayama and Kyoto before returning to Fukuoka in 13 days.

Took a super-early domestic flight from Fukuoka to Izumo in 1 hour by a propeller. Picked up rental car and drove to Izumo Taisha in less than 30 min.  As the latter is famous for courtship amongst locals, the Izumo airport is nicknamed as “Musubi” airport.

 

Izumo Taisha (出雲大社)

Izumo Taisha is one of the oldest and most important shrines in Japan. The current shrine was built in 1744 and is designated as a national treasure. Its grand scale is compatible to the 3 Kumano Taisha and in Suwa-ko that we had visited before.

It was lucky that we bumped into peak sakura blossom there 🙂

 

 

Next we drove to the coastal area for the Izumo-himisaki lighthouse and Inasa-no-hama before heading to Shimane Museum of Art, along the lake rim of Shinji-ko, Matsue.

Inside the museum, there was an exhibition of calligraphy in traditional Chinese characters. Most were beautifully written and adorable. We stayed for an hour and drove to our first onsen ryokan nearby.

 

 

Tamazukuri onsen

Strolled along the onsen town where sakura was also in bloom after hotel checkin. Dinner was sumptuous and delicious using local produce – asari. Service was excellent 🙂

 

 

========>   Matsue Castle =======>

 

JP 2022 Dec Koyo Tokyo (Part 1)

Took Hokuriku Shinkansen to Tokyo direct in less than 3 hours. There were plenty of vacant seats in the non-reserved cars till Nagano.

Stayed in Shibuya – one of our fav areas and keen to find out how it might have evolved after new buildings like Shibuya Scramble Square have sprung up in the last few years. Overall it was as busy as in the past.

 

Rikugien (六義園)

Our first visit. Although Koyo has slightly past peak, there were plenty of local visitors on a normal weekday.  It is a beautiful landscape garden with well designed trails, interspersed by streams, ponds and bridges.  Stayed there for 1 hour+.

 

 

Kamakura

On the next day we headed to Kamakura and Shonan – our fav spots outside Tokyo metropolitan.  It happened that a festival was held in the Tsuruoka Hachiman-gu, where we found many youngsters in school uniforms, apart from many locals.

 

 

In the evening, met up with local friends who had arranged a Japanese dinner in a traditional restaurant in Omotesando, which served produce from Niigata Prefecture.  It was such a nice reunion in Japan post-covid 🙂

 

 

 

======>   Tokyo (Part 2)   ======>

 

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