A Travellerspoint blog

Day 11 Hakone

Visiting the Top Sights of Hakone

sunny 81 °F
View Japan 2023 on Helen K.'s travel map.

===large_DSC_2026.JPG The night before Mike and I bought food for our breakfast this morning from our go to place, 7-Eleven, which the Japanese just calls “Seven”. Instead of reaching for an egg sandwich, I decided to check out their aisle of bread and pastry. There are donuts, croissants, and rolls; many are filled with jam, cream, or slices of fruit. I don’t have a big sweet tooth, so I choose a single butter roll. Mike gets his usual egg sandwich but he adds a banana for a little potassium boost. I enjoy my butter roll. It’s been packaged in such a way that the roll hasn’t hardened. It is soft, with just enough of a butter flavor to make it tasty without the need for more butter. The Louies enjoy their complimentary breakfast because of their Diamond status. 20230421_080425.jpg20230421_080303.jpg20230421_072511.jpg20230421_072858.jpg At 8:30 we head to the lobby area to meet with our group for today’s outing.IMG_0079.JPG We take photos sitting on the red buggy at the hotel entrance and then head up towards Gora station.


The day is warm and sunny. I am wearing a long sleeved shirt, as is Mike and Janet. We have sent most of our luggage ahead to Tokyo so some of us only have the shoes we wore to the cold Alpine route. Janet is wearing her fur-lined boots. The walk is uphill.IMG_0086.JPG We come up to some stairs and see a sign. We use our cell phone to translate the sign.IMG_0088.JPG It says it’s a shortcut into town We have a choice of walking along the street which turns into a two-lane road without any pedestrian sidewalk for parts of the way or a series of steep stairs. IMG_0100.JPG Either way it’s uphill. We chose the safer way with the stairs. a297b9a0-0355-11ee-8d87-4141163a6ec8.JPGa24728a0-0355-11ee-8d87-4141163a6ec8.JPGIMG_0094.JPGIMG_0096.JPG The Ma youngsters are several feet ahead of us. Towards the end I am saying to myself, “I can do this, I can do this” with each step that I take. Two guys pass us going down. By the time we reach the top Janet has taken off her shirt and is down to her tank top. Mike has taken off his King’s shirt (they are playing in the playoffs today against the Warrior in SF) and he is in his white T shirt. We are all hatless but the Ma’s are wearing sunglasses. I had brought my sunglasses but had left them in hotel. We do a little storefront browsing as stores aren’t open yet. IMG_0111.JPGIMG_0112.JPG9f78c660-0355-11ee-ad13-5f2bcd3eee8e.JPG As we head to our first place of interest, Gora Park, we run into the guys that we had passed on our way up to town. They had gone down to their hotel and had made the climb back up already. Gora Park is on a steep slope above the Gora train station. large_385290f0-0356-11ee-bc0c-5184360dbd17.JPG The French style landscape’s main feature is a large fountain and a rose garden. large_DSC_1986.JPGThe perimeter of the fountain is roped off so you can only take photos from the front of the rope. The rose garden is not in season so it is barren as is the wisteria vine.large_20230421_093621.jpg Near the fountain is granite compass that sits atop a large rock. IMG_0155.JPGThere are steps for you to climb up and stand on top of the compass. Trina climbs up to see the city below.DSC_1974.JPG A chair in a tiny garden patio beckons you to sit and enjoy the scenery. large_DSC_1975.JPG Curiosity gets the better of Janet as she checks out a treasure chest. 20230421_093729.jpg Symmetry is a major feature of a French garden and there are many instances where it makes for an eye catching view. large_IMG_0153.JPG 20230421_093202.jpgIndoor in the greenhouse with exotic plants it’s surprisingly cooler than outside. Gorgeous orchids greet your entrance.DSC_1964.JPG There are tropical plants like banana and pineapple plants.IMG_0140.JPG There is a craft house for working on pottery and glass, but we only have time to look through the gift shop next door. large_DSC_1987.JPGDSC_1988.JPG I am very tempted to buy some cat souvenirs but I have made a pledge to purge and declutter as I head towards retirement. IMG_0161.JPGIMG_0162.JPG This is a very beautiful park with an open view of the surrounding mountains and blue skies and if our stay were longer, I could see myself returning just to relax and enjoy the scenery. large_20230421_093709.jpglarge_20230421_094315.jpglarge_37253480-0356-11ee-8d87-4141163a6ec8.JPG But we have only one full day in Hakone so we must see as many tourist spots as we can with our 3 day Hakone Freepass today. The Freepass gave us free admission to the park. For our next destination we use the Freepass to take a cable train, and then the Hakone Ropeway to visit a geo thermal hillside in Owakudani.large_IMG_0170.JPG IMG_0164.JPGIMG_0165.JPGIMG_0167.JPG0b84ca50-042f-11ee-a3b5-d78a6c8cd3ab.JPGIMG_0175.JPG As our gondola leaves from the top of Gora and travels towards Owakudani I hear someone say “There’s Mount Fuji!” We shift our attention to the right side and aim our cameras on the majestic Mt. Fuji. large_IMG_0196crop.jpglarge_DSC_2010.JPG We are very fortunate that the weather is good and the sky is clear. Our third time to Japan has proven to be our proverbial charm. This is first time for some of us to see Mount Fuji up close and clear. Just like with the snow monkeys, we can’t seem to take enough photos. Soon our attention is diverted to the left side of the gondola and the scene is something I have never seen before, a geo thermal hillside. large_DSC_2006.JPGlarge_DSC_2003.JPGThere are no trees or vegetation. It isn’t an attractive view but it’s a fascinating view. Steam is continuously arising from fissures. The ground below some of the fissures are yellowed from the sulfur deposits. large_IMG_0192.JPGThe rotten egg smell of sulfur is in the air. We are in the area called Owakudani which means great boiling valley. Owakudani is the area around the crater that was created when Mount Hakone erupted 3000 years ago. The steam that we see is evidence of active volcanic activity. We are on an active volcano! If you look carefully there are pipes carrying hot spring to hotels and resorts. large_DSC_2007.JPG The gondola ride ends once we pass over the hillside. We walk into the ropeway station to shop and then head next door to the black egg building where Janet and Mike buy black T shirts with Mount Fuji on the back of the shirt.large_DSC_2044.JPG Janet puts that on over her tank top. DSC_2023.JPG The Ma’s buy a bag of Owakudani black eggs, a local specialty and give us a couple to try. 20230421_110155.jpgDSC_2022.JPG Its black shell is due to the mineral deposits that come from boiling in the hot spring ponds. Eat one, legend says and you will have healthy child rearing and your life will be extended by seven years. DSC_2024.JPG Mike says “Well since we shared an egg, I will live three and a half years longer”. The eggs are sold hot and once you crack the black shell, it is a regular egg.DSC_2028.JPG Because the egg is hot, it's very tasty when sprinkled with a little bit of salt. We can see Mount Fuji behind the souvenir building. We take another look at the steaming hillside from the viewing area.large_DSC_2052.JPGlarge_DSC_2032.JPG large_1c140730-04f4-11ee-b1c2-9d4f35b8d5db.JPG In the area are cameras that I expect are used for monitoring the activity of the hillside and sirens that alert visitors of dangerous volcanic activity.DSC_2051.JPG 9753e690-04f9-11ee-9b2b-dd065ef319a0.JPG We take the second set of gondolas to Lake Ashi. We see another close view of Mount Fuji, but there are clouds obscuring part of the view. large_DSC_2058.JPG At the lake we board a sightseeing cruise ship built to resemble a pirate ship. large_20230421_123410.jpgDSC_2067.JPGLake Ashi is the lake formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano erupted. Most of the area around the lake is undeveloped. The Torii Gate of Peace at the Hakone Shrine stands at the edge of the lake.large_IMG_0251.JPG A red bridge nearby leads towards the town of MotoHakone. 1a608d80-08a7-11ee-a965-edd81d1854a4.jpg We depart the pirate ship at MotoHakone and head to the main street which has a second Torii gate at the entrance of the town. large_b9f4e8a0-08a7-11ee-a965-edd81d1854a4.jpgThere we eat at a fish and chip or chicken and chips café. DSC_2097.JPGDSC_2096.JPG Outside the cafe is a vending machine that caters to cats and dogs. The cafe’s menu includes a pet menu. DSC_2090.JPG0335ee80-08ab-11ee-9fca-c3f7a1ee14ce.JPGDSC_2095crop.jpgTheir shirts which are available for sale has a cat logo. The Ma’s are seated at a coffee table and sofa chairs in a side room while the rest of us are sitting in the main dining room since they don’t have a table for six. IMG_0264.JPG IMG_5920.JPGThey finish first and shop for more souvenirs. We head to the train station and check the train schedule. Doug weChats the Ma’s that the express train comes in 5 minutes at 2:30. The next one is 20 minutes later. The Ma’s have texted photos of souvenirs with really cute cats at the shop they are at. They rush back to the station just in time for us to take the 2:30 train. Trina is now a certified cat lady like myself. It started with a stray cat and then a companion for it so she now has two. She had Kingman put together a catio so the cats can enjoy the outdoors in their own patio without being outside.
We squeeze in a visit to the Hakone Open Air Museum. At the entrance they asked if we still wanted pay for the admission since the museum was closing in one hour. We told them we understood and were ok. I really enjoy seeing art where the backdrop or canvas is the great outdoors.large_20230421_164434.jpg The museum is situated on a rolling hilly park which is surrounded by mountains. There many interesting sculptures. large_20230421_164449.jpglarge_20230421_163201.jpglarge_20230421_164806.jpg One of my favorite sculptures is a kinetic piece called Sixteen Sticks. It is made to rotate. The description states that the artist “exploits people’s tendency to stop and look when they see something moving.

The Picasso Pavilion featured a biographical video about the artist in addition to a collection of his art that included sculptures. large_20230421_161540.jpg20230421_161830.jpg The outdoor sculptures brought out the kid in all of us. 20230421_160016.jpgDSC_2143.JPG The Louies were able to make it to the Symphonic Sculpture before closing. The rest of our group missed it as we had headed towards the entrance. From the photos they showed us, I wished we would have gone there first.

Doug climbed to the top of the structure for an aerial view. When we got back to Gora station we walked by some beautiful bamboo carvings with Japanese characters with the name of the nearby hotels. large_20230421_170632.jpg We browsed in the Cat Goods store. 20230421_171023.jpg The Ma's walked back to the hotel while we waited for the van. Once again, they arrived at the hotel before our van was able to pick us up. This time the delay was because we didn't have the hotel's phone number to schedule a pickup. For dinner tonight we decided to try the other nearby restaurant, Tabiya, a restaurant that served pizza and some Japanese food. Trina ordered a shrimp broccoli dish which paled in size to Doug's prosciutto ham salad.9a553b30-08d4-11ee-98d5-733b70c957b1.jpg Instead of pizza, Mike and I ordered meats with a side of rice, but when I ordered after Mike, the waiter said "no rice". I didn't understand what this meant. Mike got rice, why couldn't I? Eventually we figured out that he meant there was no more rice. Mike had ordered the last bowl! This was a first for me, a restaurant in Japan, running out of rice. Fortunately Mike shared his rice with me. 9a558950-08d4-11ee-99eb-85b599e8c4f5.jpg7eeca760-08b7-11ee-be52-e53a5b6863db.jpg20230421_191428.jpg The portions were small, but everything was delicious. Afterwards Mike and I walked to 7-Eleven for our breakfast snacks while the others retired to their rooms to soak and relax in the hot spring.

Posted by Helen K. 04:47 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Day 10 Odawara and Hakone

On Our Way To An Onsen Destination

sunny 70 °F
View Japan 2023 on Helen K.'s travel map.


Before leaving the REI hotel in Nagano this morning I take a photo of the hotel’s shampoo and conditioner. Janet and Trina had used the Stephen Knoll hair product the first evening and I tried it the second evening of our stay.


Janet had noticed the product had left her hair feeling soft and smooth and she commented on how much she like it. Trina agreed. I tried it and loved it. It had a light fragrance and it left my hair feeling silky and smooth without feeling as if there was any residue from the conditioner. The product was called the Stephen Knoll Collection New York Hydro Renew EX.I googled the product. Clicking on Amazon brought up “this product is no longer available”. When we check out, I ask at the desk to see if I can buy the product from them, but the answer is no, and they also don’t know where I could go to buy it. When I tell our group that we can’t buy the product, Trina tells us she put some in an empty container she had. Smart thinking. Darn, why didn’t Janet and I think to do that! We head to the JR station and take a JR train to Odawara today. On the train I work on the blog. When we reach Odawara Kingman suggest we go to the restaurant that we went to in 2017 and 2019. “Hopefully, the restaurant is still there”IMG_0012.JPGIMG_0016.JPG Kingman says. “You remember how fresh the sushi was, and Janet, you remember the alcoholic pineapple drink you ordered by mistake that you gave me? I want to order that drink again”. He pulled out his phone and showed us the photos of our food from the previous visit. Kingman recalls that it was very close to the station. He leads the way and he is happy to see it is still there. 7915e1b0-f36f-11ed-baaa-1b76a91217d3.JPGThere is no English signage for the restaurant. large_79180490-f36f-11ed-b253-b577ee0808be.JPG It’s called Shoya Odawara Honke. It’s an Izakaya, a Japanese style pub where the food and drinks are very reasonably priced.8bbaada0-f36f-11ed-baaa-1b76a91217d3.JPG We are shown to a room where there are three tables against the wall. A banquette seat spanned the length of the wall while the other side of the table had regular pull-out chairs. Our table can seat 6 people. Seeing the room with the tables brings back my memory of being in the restaurant. 8c06f8e0-f36f-11ed-b253-b577ee0808be.JPG The pineapple drink is no longer available so Kingman orders a lemon sour drink. IMG_2042.jpg We all order set meal that consist of a bowl of rice, miso soup, pickles, and the main entrée. I ordered fried chicken with tartar sauce. Mike had the sweet and sour pork. Kingman and Doug ordered sashimi. My set meal cost 950 yen or $7.00. Considering that here is no tipping in Japan, you can see that one can eat well for a very reasonable price.large_DSC_1848.JPG As we walk back towards the station after lunch I notice a statue of a boy carrying firewood while reading a book.


I wonder about the reason for the statue so I googled information about who he was and found out he is Ninomiya Sontoku, a self educated orphan who rose to prominence in the 1800’s. He had tremendous foresight and his knowledge about agriculture and economics greatly helped the peasants living in Odawara. He became a symbol of success through education and there are numerous statues of him throughout of Japan, particularly, in front of schools. During WWII, many of his statues were confiscated and used for arms manufacturing. After the battle of Okinawa, a US lieutenant commander took a statue of him from Okinawa and gave it to Rollins College, his alma mater. In 1994, Japan asked for the statue back and after some sensitive negotiations, the statue was returned in 1995 in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII. Besides the statue, I see other commemorative items in Odawara, particularly on the manhole covers.DSC_1849.JPGDSC_1855.JPGDSC_1861.JPG We go back to the station to the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center. Mike recommended that we check out the discount passes for sightseeing in Hakone because that is where we are staying for the next few days. While the passes were being purchased, I check out a souvenir shop next to the service center.DSC_1852.JPGDSC_1853.JPG From the station we head to Odawara Castle which we can see from on our way there since it stands on a hilltop. DSC_1854.JPG On the way we stop in a Mr. Donut. The mochi donuts that are shaped like teething rings are my favorite. Mochi gives the donuts a chewy texture. Today’s mochi donuts are very fresh so we sit in the donut shop to enjoy them as we can’t eat while walking on the street. large_DSC_1858.JPGThere are more decorative manhole covers on the way to the caste.DSC_1924.JPGDSC_1862.JPGDSC_1856.JPG The castle has a large park area with the Ninomara moat and the Manabi bridge, a long red bridge. large_DSC_1868.JPG The moat is filled with large carps that we can see swimming near the surface. The castle park has over 300 cherry blossom trees that have survived since WWII. It is one of the top 100 places in Japan for cherry blossom viewing. Had we visited earlier, they would have been in bloom. DSC_1874.JPGThere are benches for visitors to sit and enjoy this area.DSC_1870.JPG The garden area has beautiful flowers. I see a wisteria garden that is off to the left side of the grounds leading to the entrance of the castle. I am surprised that there are only a couple of visitors as the wisteria is in full bloom. My guess is that people overlook it because it requires going several feet away from the path to the castle.large_DSC_1898.JPG This park has stately cedar trees with spreading branches that are supported by wood poles.large_DSC_1908.JPG There are several walls and gates and more moats. Here we are standing in front of the Sumiyoshi moat and bridge.large_DSC_1893.JPG When we cross the bridge, we find the Akagane (Copper) Gate which has copper color bands on it. large_DSC_1895.JPGA little further uphill we come across a converted moat filled with neat rows of irises in plastic containers.large_IMG_0031.JPGlarge_IMG_0028.JPGlarge_8c012c80-f36f-11ed-baaa-1b76a91217d3.JPG The irises will blossom from May to June. Azaleas are in gorgeous bloom during this month of April. Crossing the vermillion bridge we go up the stone steps through the last gate, the imposing Tokiwagi (evergreen) Gate, named because of the tall pine trees seen through the opening of the gate.large_IMG_0036TokiwagiGate.JPG We come into the full view of the castle grounds. large_IMG_0041.JPG The first thing I notice is a small dome shaped cage with Snow monkeys.


If I hadn’t seen the Snow Monkeys yesterday, I might had found these red-faced monkeys in the cage fascinating. But I had seen these monkeys roaming freely, jumping, cavorting on the ground, in the trees, on the mountainside, in the hot spring. The cage I saw was no larger than a small classroom. I could not look at the monkeys. I did take photos for the purpose of documenting the presence of the cage, but it was just too depressing and sad to see these wonderful little beings caged up. I don’t understand the reason for having a mini Snow monkey zoo on the castle grounds. It made as much sense as leaving several five year old kids in a locked classroom 24/7. My cousins had the same reaction and they walked past the cage in dismay. In my past visit to Japan, the one thing that distressed me were the Sika deer in the island of Miyajima. We went there to see the famous torii gate that sits in the sea. What I didn’t expect to find were deer that rooted in any bag, purse, or pocket that they could find in their quest for food. There is no vegetation left on the small island for the deer to eat so they are starving. large_DSC_1921.JPG
On the castle grounds are the Samurai Museum and the Ninja Museum. The Louies head to the Samurai Museum to see the samurai swords and armor. DSC_1912.JPGMike and I went to the front of the Ninja Museum, but we didn’t go inside.


The Louies returned shortly, with Doug being disappointed that the Samurai Museum was closed. He is just not having any luck checking out swords on this trip.Our group is content to enjoy the castle from the outside, and Janet tells us that she doesn’t expect that Doug will want to go in the castle either. I think the effort of walking up the long path to the castle ground had stemmed our enthusiasm for walking up the long flight of stairs to the castle and then walking around the five floors of the exhibits inside. Doug, however, proved Janet wrong and he was the lone person to go inside the castle. He didn’t want to miss out on seeing the samurai suits of armor, swords, firearms, and scrolls. The rest of us waited and sat on a bench near the gift shop.
We take the train from Odawara to Hakone, a town known for being one of the most famous places in Japan to bathe in a traditional onsen.DSC_1925.JPGDSC_1933.JPGlarge_DSC_1928crop.jpg At the Gora station in Hakone, our very fit cousins walk along the busy road (parts of which had no pedestrian path) down the steep hill for a little over half a mile to the Hotel Indigo, while we sit and wait for the shuttle. The shuttle takes a group before us and by the time it comes back for us, our cousins are already waiting inside for us.DSC_1936.JPGDSC_1937.JPG Our group has been to a traditional onsen in Hakone in our prior visits. The onsen features your own private hot spring tub. The majority of Japan is made up of mountains with many volcanoes. This results in many natural source of heated water rich in minerals thought to provide healing benefits. One of the unique experiences to enjoy when visiting Japan is to acquaint yourself with the experience of being in an onsen. It can be a public one or it can be a private one. Using an onsen with others is perhaps the only time that the normally reserved nature of the Japanese people is shed in preference for communing with nature and shedding one’s clothing to rid oneself of all pretenses. It’s called “hadaka no tsukiai” or “naked relationships”, a platonic relationship meant to strengthen ties when one uses an onsen with others. Our westernized group isn’t ready for “hadaka no tsukiai” so we opt for the onsen with private tubs that are in our rooms. The Hotel Indigo was selected because it was an IGH hotel with membership benefits.


It is a very modern onsen decorated with stylish Japanese décor. When you enter, you are greeted by friendly staff. The entrance looks like you are stepping into an open kitchen restaurant. DSC_1941.JPGlarge_DSC_1939.JPGYou are shown to waiting area with round tables and vinyl covered chairs in front of a large window view of the wooded hills. While you wait you can go to the open kitchen counter to help yourself to juice, water or tea. The check in set up was also different as there wasn’t the usual counter where everyone is standing. You sit around a large square table. IMG_5915.jpg The décor was a blend of modern and vintage. Suspended above the table is a traditional teapot just like we saw at the Hokkaido historical village. Janet notices complimentary face masks in a basket and hands one to me. All our rooms have private Japanese style baths. DSC_1951.JPGUnlike traditional onsens with floors covered with tatami mats and roll up futons for sleeping and no chairs for sitting, our rooms have wood floors, Western beds, and a sofa in a spacious setting. DSC_1943.JPG For showering privacy you can draw a 3 panel shoji screen.DSC_1953.JPGDSC_1952.JPG For hot spring tub privacy you press a button on a wall panel to bring down a screen. DSC_1956.JPGDSC_1954.JPGDSC_1957.JPGThe wash room is very large. large_DSC_1946.JPG There is a beverage preparation center. DSC_1959.JPGDSC_1960.JPG Complimentary water is from the springs of the mountains around Hakone. The glass bottle can be recycled.DSC_1958.JPG You select your rooms with either a mountain view or river view. Based on the website information, you might expect that a river view is superior, but in the case of this hotel, the river view is marred by the ugly buildings and underbush across from the river.large_DSC_1950.JPGDSC_1949.JPGDSC_1948.JPG The window in front of the hot spring is left open so you can enjoy the sound of the flowing river. In the small town of Hakone, businesses shut down at 5 p.m. To eat at the hotel we needed to have made a reservation. Our only choice for dinner tonight is a pizza restaurant or a Chinese restaurant. Both are five minutes from the hotel. We choose Chinese tonight. We cross the bridge over the river that we saw from the window of our room. We are headed towards the ugly buildings across the river. We are happy to see a 7-Eleven so close to our hotel. IMG_0056.JPG The restaurant, Wafujing, has a small aquarium at the entrance.large_IMG_0058.JPG IMG_0060.JPG We order six dishes. The most interesting presentation was the fried rice. It was served dome shape with slices of pork belly around the side. IMG_0062.JPGec9e61e0-ea1c-11ed-85d1-6bad8b32d1a5.JPGIMG_0063.JPGIMG_0064.JPGIMG_0065.JPGThe dishes were tasty enough and portions were decent. Doug ordered a tomato dish expecting it to be a stir fry, but it was a flavorful broth.IMG_0067crop.jpg After a satisfying meal, it was time to go back to our rooms and rejuvenate in our own private hot spring tubs. Some in our group say they plan to get up early in the morning before breakfast to soak in their onsen to maximize their use of this time honored Japanese experience.

Posted by Helen K. 06:13 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Day 9, Nagano

Visiting the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

sunny 53 °F
View Japan 2023 on Helen K.'s travel map.


There are certain images that stick in my mind. One of them is of an award winning photo of a Snow Monkey in a hot spring that I saw when visiting Washington DC at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. It may have won first place in the Nature category for the Smithsonian Magazine. The monkey's face was covered with snow and there was steam arising from the hot spring. I never would have imagined that I would ever get a chance to see a snow monkey in person, let alone photograph one. We had many options for sightseeing while in Nagano, from temples, to shrines, to castles, to a shopping plaza, to a ski resort, but when I/we heard the words, "snow monkeys" from Kingman's mouth, that's all he needed to say. Yesterday it was the Snow Corridor, today, it's going to be Snow Monkeys!
We meet on the first floor of the REI hotel at 8:30 IMG_1881.JPGand stop by a 7-Eleven for snacks.


I notice a sign for the store says Seven & i Holdings and ask Kingman about it.


He replied "Some 7-Elevens are owned by a holding company and some are independent franchises" In most of our travels overseas, 7-Eleven is ubiquitous, but particularly so in Japan. In Sapporo we found two 7-Elevens within a two block radius of each other right near our hotel. I remember the 7-Eleven near my parent's house in Hollywood Park. It was where my brothers, Tyrone, James, Caleb and their buddies, hung out and kept the store owner, Sunny Fong, company after school. When Sunny's kids went away to college, Sunny asked Caleb to work after school. I remember 7-Eleven as the place to buy Slurpees and the Big Gulp, but in Japan, it's a place we go for egg sandwiches and rice onigari. When we need more yen, we always look for a 7-Eleven with an ATM. If you have a Charles Schwab debit card, cardholders have zero foreign transaction fees and receive ATM fee rebates at the end of each month. Here's a bit of trivia that I have learned since I googled Seven & i Holdings; 7-Eleven is owned by a Japanese company, Ito-Yokado which serves as a holding company (the "i" in Seven & i is because of Ito-Yokado) as the US company went bankrupt over thirty years ago. Japan has over 21,000 stores, over twice as many as in all of the US with it's 9,400 stores. No wonder they seem to be everywhere in Japan. While not as large as Walmart, Amazon, or Costco, Seven & i Holdings ranked number 8 in the Global Retailers 2023 top 50 list.
After getting our snacks from 7-Eleven, we head to the JR station. Signs on the manhole cover and in the JR station proclaim Nakone as former host of the 18th Olympic Winter games




If you're reading this Corey, tell Amanda that there is an annual Olympic Commemorative Marathon held here in mid April. This year it will be held on April 25th. There are a couple of ways to get to the park, and Kingman has determined that we will take the express bus. There are convenient signage to direct us to bus 23. 8f561080-e7c1-11ed-9a28-695231aae856.JPGIMG_1888.JPG We head to the same east gate that we arrived at yesterday afternoon. We get in line and wait for the bus. large_IMG_1889.JPG The cost is 1500 yen per person one way. We attempt to pay when we get on, but the driver tells us to pay him at the end. The bus is almost full. As we head for the park, I am noticing an abundance of pretty trees with blossoms. large_IMG_1905.JPG large_IMG_1892.JPGWe pass by many orchards and farmland. When we arrive at the destination, we pay by cash because that is what was stated online, but we notice some passengers taking a bit longer to get off the bus. The driver does accept credit cards now. The bus lets us off near the cone shaped cafe call Crystal Terrace and the Shigokgan Roman Museum, a small museum by a noted Japanese architect. Near the drop off spot is a beautiful cherry blossom tree. large_DSC_1711.JPG We stop to take photos.What you're supposed to do when you are next to this tree?

What you're supposed to do when you are next to this tree?

Janet had read online that the entrance to the Snow Monkey Park was ten minutes, so when we read the sign, we were surprised to read forty minutes. IMG_1911.JPG What was misleading to Janet and perhaps anybody else looking at online information is that it's five to ten minutes to walk up to the entrance of the TRAIL leading to the park. We walk along the car road where there is a restroom area with a sign telling you that there are no further restrooms leading to the park until you reach the entrance about a mile ahead. The scene is so beautiful because trees are still in full bloom. large_c1b9add0-e798-11ed-9a18-91f58561aa1c.JPG There are small spa resorts that line the road that beckon you with their outdoor displays and landscaping.IMG_1930.JPGIMG_1928.JPG IMG_1918.JPGDSC_1723crop.jpge8235ee0-e79c-11ed-bbfb-adf9ad5ad9c0.JPG The weather is sunny and the temperature is in the mid fifties. It couldn't be a better day for a little hike. I see someone who is using a small brush to clean the blossoms off the top of a car. There is a carpet of blossoms on the ground.large_IMG_1921.JPGlarge_IMG_1922.JPG What a contrast from yesterday, where we are blanketed by snow, fog, and haze. Today the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and spring bloom is everywhere. I know we won't see monkeys covered in the snow like the photo in my memory, but just the chance to see the monkeys in any season is worth this hike. Plus, we don't have to hike in the snow. We see a big sign pointing the way to the park.


IMG_1924.JPG There is an area that has a small torii gate and Shinto shrine. IMG_1932.JPGIMG_1933.JPG A few steps ahead is a mysterious tree with hanging creamy white pods. I need to ask a Master Gardener about this one. IMG_1934crop.jpg. We approach a ramp and stairs. At its foot is a sign pointing to a live monitor which shows the scene at the hot spring. IMG_1936crop.jpgIMG_1937.JPG We see visitors taking pictures of monkeys, so we head up a short flight of stairs which soon changes into an unpaved path that is wide enough for 3 people to walk. IMG_1938.JPG IMG_1940.JPG The mountain side path has no guardrails and and the path is muddy. Afraid of heights, Janet hugs the right side of the path and walks at a quick pace ahead of the rest of us. She keeps her head down and looks at the ground. Janet way up ahead

Janet way up ahead

Because of the physical exertion of walking and the sun being out, Janet has taken off her ski coat. She is also wearing her fur lined boots as the all her other clothes and shoes have been shipped ahead. The mud on the path gets kicked up on our pant legs as we walk. My fear of heights isn't too acute today as the path is wide and the drop isn't deep enough to set off alarms. There are many clusters of cedar trees that can break a fall as well. Like Janet, I don't venture on the left of the path, but I take my time to take photos, take on and off my down jacket, and step around puddles, looking for the least muddy area to walk on. It didn't matter, my black flared pant legs were splattered with brown mud. Trina was sporting a sprain in her leg having jumped up suddenly to pick up her phone to answer an emergency call in the early a.m. She and Kingman wore hiking boots. Despite her sprain, she and Kingman were up ahead of all of us. When we are about half a mile from the entrance we see a snow monkey in the woods!

first monkey sighting

first monkey sighting

A bit earlier on the path I had noticed an animal dropping so I had wondered if we would encounter a monkey soon. The further we continued, the more monkeys we saw. There is a sign telling us not to feed the monkeys. IMG_1949.JPG This isn't the first time I have seen monkeys up close in the open. The Port Oasis in Cartagena had free roaming monkeys that were climbing on trees overhead, but I only caught a glimpse at them as we walked pass. We had taken a bus to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and Monkey Park near Kyoto on our first Japan trip, but it was dark by the time we arrived so we saw neither the bamboo or the monkeys. To see the snow monkeys, also known as Japanese macaques roaming among us, nonchalant, oblivious, or unmindful of the presence of humans was captivating. As Kingman likes to describe it, "Helen's eyes grew wide open the moment she saw those monkeys". As we neared the Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan (Inn) we see a monkey eating leaves from a twig. He scared away a fellow who wanted some too.


DSC_1733crop.jpg We see a snow monkey in the tree with the Jidokudani Onsen in the background. DSC_1752crop.jpg If you stay at this onsen, you can use their hot springs and have your own private view of the snow monkeys. How the snow monkeys came to use the hot spring is a tale about adaptation, or if you want, a case of Monkey See, Monkey Do. The story goes that in the early 1960's a Ryokan owner who liked to feed the monkeys, accidently dropped an apple into the onsen (hot spring) and a monkey jumped in to get it. The monkey stayed in the hot water and soon other monkeys copied it. It soon became a popular place for the monkeys. As the area around the mountain became more populated with farms, the Snow Monkey Park was established in 1964 as a way to protect the monkeys from the encroaching farmlands, and the hot spring was turned over to the exclusive use of the monkeys. As we are passing by the Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan towards a bridge, we see a lone monkey in a tree, and another walking on the edge of a path, and yet another on a bridge. Everybody has their cameras trained on these monkeys as if IMG_1951.JPG7f1f4a70-e7d9-11ed-991f-972ab8da5e1e.JPG9b8d94a0-e7d9-11ed-82d0-39bc056343d1.JPG9b69b8f0-e7d9-11ed-991f-972ab8da5e1e.JPGwe aren't sure if there will be more to be seen. Then we come upon a scene of monkey grooming. It starts out peacefully but soon it leads to a monkey fight. IMG_1973crop.jpgIMG_1979crop.jpgIMG_1986crop.jpg Then we see three monkeys. One peaceful spectator is watching a fight. Then there a truce. A very short one. Then they're at again. IMG_2004.JPGIMG_2007.JPGIMG_2008.JPGIMG_2010.JPGWe stop by a geyser and take turns walking around the side carefully to stand behind the geyser for a picture. The Ma's tell us that if we go around on the left side we will get wet from the spray, but if we go around to the right side, our shoes will get wet from the big puddle. The Louie's go right and left. Mike and I both go left. I think this is my first encounter with a geyser. What's unusual about the Shibu no Jigokudani Geyser is that unlike most geysers, such as Old Faithful, which erupts at intervals ranging from minutes to hours, this geyser emits a continuous plume of water. In addition, the water isn't quite at a boiling temperature which is the reason we are able to be so close to it. The little bit of spray that I felt wasn't noticeably hot.


DSC_1739.JPG Near the geyser is a covered excavator. Is it covered to keep the acidic plume from corroding it or it is covered to keep the smart monkeys from monkeying around with the gears? IMG_2022crop.jpg We are now at the entrance of Snow Monkey Park. IMG_2026.JPGIMG_2027.JPGThe sun is peeking through the cedars. It's 12 degree C out. We buy our tickets and read the Don'ts sign and encounter our first curious little snow monkey as we enter. IMG_2029.JPGIMG_2037.JPGIMG_2030.JPGIMG_2036.JPGlarge_IMG_2041.JPG The park attendant tells us that there are 200 Snow Monkeys in the park. The monkeys are nonchalant about people coming to their hot spring and go about doing what monkeys do. They eat.


DSC02269.JPGThey drink.

They drink.

The babies nurse and sleep on their mother's backs

The babies nurse and sleep on their mother's backs

They groom.
They go in and out of the hot springDSC02289.JPGDSC02283.JPGIMG_2157.JPG
They ignore intrusive humans, but they are attracted to inanimate objects.DSC_1770.JPGDSC02176.JPGDSC_1760.JPGeb4e3390-e84d-11ed-80c9-4136a99f0a73.JPGDSC_1807crop.jpg
Especially this inquisitive guy. This little fellow loves ice chips and is exceedingly curious. IMG_2082.JPGIMG_2098.JPGI'm going to check this out!

I'm going to check this out!

Can I have a look?

Can I have a look?



I need to take a look!

I need to take a look!



I said Hey!

I said Hey!

Can you see me now?

Can you see me now?

How about now?

How about now?

Is this better?

Is this better?

How about now?

How about now?

This is a park no no, I gotta go

This is a park no no, I gotta go

The park attendant signals to the little guy that he needs to stop.
large_f8ebb4f0-e7e4-11ed-8f9b-6f84d33f96a5.JPG As we leave the park we are left with indelible memories of our time with the gentle, well mannered, captivating, and contemplative Snow Monkeys. DSC02220.JPGDSC02341.JPGIMG_2122.JPGDSC_1790.JPG On the path back we make a pit stop at the cute Enza Cafe for a snack. large_DSC02360.JPGDSC02362.JPGIMG_2175.JPGNagano produces some of the best apples in Japan. We bought the apple turnovers as well as their apple flavored soft service ice cream. The turnover was flaky and the apple filling inside was delicious. This was the first time trying apple flavored ice cream and it did not disappoint. It had a light, refreshing flavor in a decorative cone.IMG_2177.JPGIMG_2178.JPG We were able to sit at a table to enjoy our snacks. I would definitely recommend stopping at this cafe on your way back from the Snow Monkey park.
As we walk back down to catch the bus, Kingman and Trina head to the restroom near the beginning of the route. The rest of us keep walking, oblivious to the signs pointing to the bus stop. large_DSC_1826.JPGDSC_1831crop.jpg At a fork in the road, we decide to go right. The descent is steeper than we remember and when we get out to the street, nothing looks familiar. DSC_1833.JPG Kingman WeChatted "We are at the bus stop. Bus may get here at 1:28". Trina tried to called us by voice call 3 times. Doug WeChatted back "We took a detour". As we head back up we see a guy heading down and we tell him that the bus is the other way. He says he knows, he's just killing time. By the time we head back up at the fork of the road we are huffing and puffing. It's only then that we notice bus stop sign pointing left. Fortunately by this time, Kingman tells us "You got 16 minutes". When we reach the bus stop, we go to the ticket booth where our cousins are first in line. large_DSC_1835.JPGDSC_1837.JPG Then they realize that we need to go across the road and stand at the spot where the bus had dropped us off, in front of the Crystal Cafe. As we wait I comment to the gentleman behind me about how he managed to keep his white tennis shoes spotless. He replied that he had used the restroom area to clean his shoes. There was a shoe cleaning station there, which is what had kept our cousins occupied as we walked ahead. Our cousins shoes were spotless too. So the moral of the story is, when you don't take time to check for signs, you miss out on more than just time. We went to the Mi Do Ri mall's food floor and enjoyed a pasta lunch. Kingman has ordered one of the classic izakaya drink, the lemon sour. large_IMG_2185.JPG IMG_2042.jpgThen it was time to go to our rooms, change our muddy clothes, and do a load of laundry. For dinner, we went our separate ways. The Louies tried the soba restaurant that the Ma's recommended after their experience from the previous evening. Mike and I walked the streets which were really little alleyways around our hotel, but wound up going back to the Mi Do Ri food mall as well. Then it was time to call it a day and go to sleep with visions of cherry blossoms and Snow Monkeys in our heads. d8cb98d0-e851-11ed-8cfc-af42ede0a733.JPGlarge_06768c10-e855-11ed-bc49-e31d21d89648.JPG

Posted by Helen K. 17:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Day 8, From Toyama to Nakone

The Roof of Japan, the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

snow 24 °F
View Japan 2023 on Helen K.'s travel map.


Today we are leaving Toyama and going to Nakone via the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route, one of the world's most beautiful mountain sightseeing routes. large_alpen_map.jpg This is a bucket list item and this route just opened three days ago. Our hotel in Toyama has a massage chair, no doubt for the weary and cold guests who have returned from sightseeing, skiing, or hiking in the Japan Alps.


The hotel is also right across the street from the Toyama Castle which we could see from our hotel window. large_DSC_1686.JPG Janet had asked that we scope out the local Dentetsu station's ticket counter yesterday as soon as we got out of the JR station when we arrived in Toyama. It was located to the left or south of the exit from the Toyama JR station. IMG_1527.JPG You go up a short escalator and the counter is to the left of the front door.


The ticket counter was closed at the time, but fortunately a sign indicated what time it opened today.


We wake up at 6 am to go to the train station by 7:00. We needed to exchanged our 1:20 pm tickets for earlier tickets in order to reach Nakone before dark. Trina had purchased the tickets online from the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route official website before we left for Japan and the 1:20 pm slot was the earliest time she could book. The Alpine route takes over six hours. We wanted to get to the train station when they opened in the hopes that they would allow us to exchange our tickets. You can't take any baggage on the route, so we used our ANA hotel's baggage forwarding service to send our baggage to Nagano.
The cost depends on the baggage destination. large_img-baggage01_190417.jpg Our larger baggage had already been forwarded to Tokyo. The Louie's got up even earlier than us and enjoyed a complimentary breakfast. As they were leaving a whole bus load of guests came in for breakfast. There was a line for the dining room when we met in the lobby. Kingman said "all those people are going the same place we are". When we arrived at the ticket window in the train station there was a long line already. large_IMG_1615.JPG A staff member asked if we were buying tickets and Trina told them that we needed to exchange them. Hearing us speak English a young lady came over to join the line behind us. She started to talk to our group, explaining that she had bought a ticket before her trip too, but she got into the ticket counter line for her ticket but had missed her train! She had to exchange her ticket now for a later time. As we waited she told us that she was from Oakland. Mike said the Kings were playing against the Oakland Warriors. She proclaimed herself to be an ardent Warriors fan and she had been listening to the game during her trip. Mike showed her his King's ski cap and gloves. She said "I only have this little souvenir hanging on my backpack". It took a while for Trina to get up to the ticket window. The young lady eventually gave up waiting and decided to take a taxi to the first part of the route. While Trina was in line, Kingman noticed that the line for the 8:00 train was forming. He advised us to get into the line, just in case Trina could exchange the tickets for this train. He figured that if we didn't get the 8:00 we could just let people go ahead of us. It was a very smart decision, Trina was successful in getting the 8:00 tickets and it was just a couple of minutes later that we were allowed to board the train, the Alps Express. IMG_1636.JPGIMG_1639.JPGThe train was an older style express rail train with cushioned chairs and wood trays for non reserved riders. The reserved car had wood chairs and a long wood counter that faced the wood framed windows. The one hour ride went past homes, farmland, a very old, wood framed train station that I would have mistaken for a defunct station, a cemetery, a forest of trees and a tiered river stream.IMG_1625.JPGIMG_1621.JPGIMG_1627.JPGIMG_1632.JPG When we reached the Tateyama station there was a sign of two fighting cats, a warning against assaulting the police!


there was a shop at this small station. I had been shopping for a knit ski cap in Osaka and Kyoto without success so I was happy that there were many to choose from here. I had brought a hat that a patient had knitted for me, but it was crocheted and not meant for the snow. I bought a cap and when I saw Janet looking at a colorful heavy sock I bought a pair of socks too. I found a seat and took off my thin sock and put on the warmer new pair.IMG_1648.JPG A live view screen showed the temperature at difference sections of the route.IMG_1652.JPG We headed to join the line waiting to board the Tateyama cable car.


They pack you into the car. We didn't have seats and we all stood.IMG_1664.JPG Mike had a large backpack and I had to tell him to be careful moving around because he could hit someone with the pack. I took my backpack off and held it in front of me. There wasn't much to see as there were too many heads in the way. It was a very cramped seven minute ride as the car goes up slopes of almost 25 degrees through the tunnel under the mountain. These are the most powerful cable cars in Japan. IMG_1667.JPG At the next station we wait until 10:20 to board a highland bus. IMG_1669.JPG
The seats are comfortable. large_IMG_1726.JPG During the ride a recording is played in English and Japanese sharing facts about the area and points of interest along the way. IMG_1680.JPGIMG_1671.JPG I kept my eye out for the Shomo Falls and the Sendo Cedar, one of Japan's 100 biggest trees, at the tree line along the road.IMG_1685.JPGlarge_c5aaddc0-e5ee-11ed-960d-d9e09913a966.JPG I couldn't get a good photo of the Sendo Cedar.IMG_1676.JPG Mount Tateyama or Mount Tate for short, is an ecological treasure and everyone is working to preserve it since most of Japan's forests are not natural, but rather consist of man made forests of cypress and cedar. That is the reason why no cars are allowed to drive from the station to the top of the mountain.IMG_1682.JPG The bus stops to let some passengers off at Midagahara which has a hotel.IMG_1704.JPG The snowcapped mountain is stunning, but I am glad we are not staying overnight on Mount Tate. Soon we are going through the 500 meter (1,620 foot long) pathway known as Yuki no Otan (or Great Valley of Snow). A section of the snow corridor around Murodo is only open to pedestrians from April 15 to June 25. IMG_1695.JPG A pathway cuts through towering snow walls that rise up to 20 meters (66 feet) at the highest point of the route. large_IMG_1707.JPGThe tourist attraction is the result of months of strenuous work by snowplow drivers who carve through the snowed-in Tateyama Toll Road. We go inside the rest stop for a few minutes before heading out to the snow wall entrance. There were people walking along the snow wall corridor when our bus drove pass. Some were holding umbrellas, not because of rain, but because it was snowing. large_IMG_1714.JPGIMG_1713.JPG Today the wall is 13 meters (42 feet). The area is just a sea of white and so bright, I should have worn the sunglasses that I had sent ahead to the next destination.large_IMG_1747.JPG We head towards the corridor but stop along the way to take photos.large_IMG_1732.JPGThere was a group waiting in front of a roped off area. large_IMG_1725.JPG The group we saw on the corridor was the last group to be able to walk along the corridor. IMG_1748.JPG Our bus load of people were turned away because the conditions were deemed unsafe. There was nothing to do but make snow balls. IMG_1755.JPGIMG_1756.JPGIMG_1759.JPGIMG_1760.JPGIMG_1768.JPGIMG_1766.JPGIf you're standing around in -4 centigrade (24 degrees) weather without doing any physical activity to produce heat or to distract you from the cold, you might as well enjoy the snow from inside. We went inside and took a snack break after which we caught the Tateyama tunnel trolley bus.


The bus runs every half an hour. It traverses a tunnel under Mount Oyama, one of the peaks of Mount Tateyama. It runs on battery electrical power so there is no production of gas fumes. The tunnel is only one lane wide but near the middle of the tunnel there is a short section where it is two lanes wide to allow for another bus to pass going in the opposite direction.IMG_1782.JPG The tunnel was originally built as access for the construction of the hydroelectric plant for the Kurobe Dam. After the plant's construction, it was converted for public use. The trolley ride is a quick seven minutes and we head for the next station which has an assortment of stuffed animals who are found in this snowy region as well as some toy rope car, as example of what we will be riding next.


We are directed where to queue. 708d6a70-e633-11ed-9cb5-35cab8395b42.JPG As the empty rope cars return, you can see the snow and icicles on the top. IMG_1796.JPGIMG_1797.JPGThe car fills quickly and I chose to stand. Mike and Janet sit.IMG_1799.JPG Because it is snowing and the sky is grey and overcast, the 360 degree aerial view of the valley and peaks looks nothing like this advertisement from the Takeyama Kurobe Alpine Route website. large_63135cc0-e632-11ed-870c-793c2a1fb4d3.jpg I take a couple of photos but give up because of the bleak view.


IMG_1803.JPGThe ride is a quick five minutes to travel 1.7 km. This rope car is unique in Japan in that it does not have any support towers between the upper and lower stations. We exit the ropeway car and head for the Kurobedaira station where they have a cafe. IMG_1814.JPGOne of the menu highlights include Tateyama Black soft serve ice cream. We take a short break again for snacks and head to a tunnel. large_e4bfd2c0-e642-11ed-8c61-5b37598ab5b2.JPGlarge_IMG_1821.JPG This is the first time we find our group completely alone in this tunnel that resembles a bomb shelter. Are we going the right way? As we near the exit the ground is wet and it's hazy with fog. IMG_1823.JPG We walk out and the view is awesome. It's the Kurobe Dam, Japan's tallest and largest dam. large_IMG_1828.JPGIMG_1826.JPG It was a perilous feat of engineering to build this dam in a long, steep, narrow mountain range. large_DSC_1705.JPGlarge_076f2f60-e651-11ed-9ba8-719b134664c4.JPGlarge_DSC_1695.JPG The building of it was a source of national pride, particularly coming after World War II. It was needed to supply the Kansai area with hydroelectric power. If we had come in the summer we would be able to see water being released from the dam. On this drizzling day we see the stretch of aqua colored railing along the paved walkway above the curved wall of the dam. large_IMG_1825.JPGWe see the snow dotted mountainside. Looking below, Lake Kurobe is a dark forest green color instead of the emerald green often mentioned in descriptions of the dam. The lower part of the mountain slope is covered in concrete. IMG_1839.JPGIMG_1836.JPG Had it not been raining and if we were not on a tight route schedule, I would have liked to explore this area longer to be able to appreciate this engineering marvel. A lot of thought went into preserving the breathtaking beauty of the area. The power generating equipment and facilities are all built 490 feet underground, not just for preservation of the natural scenery but also to avoid problems with snowfall and avalanches. The walk on top of the dam takes 15 minutes. We are heading to the other side of the dam to yet another station. IMG_1841.JPG With rain coming down, I try to open my umbrella with one hand while holding my camera with the other. I finally just give up on the umbrella and try to take more photos while also trying to not lag behind my group who have made their way across the dam and are heading into a building. Our group takes a short break while waiting for the Kanden Tunnel electric bus. IMG_1847.JPGIMG_1850.JPG A poster on the wall announces that the Kurobe Dam is sixty years old, younger than the majority of our group.IMG_1848crop.jpg The electric bus takes sixteen minutes to reach Ogizawa. Now we step back to civilization. We catch the 2:40 limited express train to the JR Nagano Station which lets us off at their East exit at 4:25.large_IMG_1863.JPGIMG_1864.JPG The JR station has restaurants, fast food, and shops. We buy a strawberry flavor croissant takiyaki for a snack. IMG_1865.JPGIMG_1871.JPG A store selling premium Japanese snacks and candy has many cute and appealing products, many featuring licensed characters such as the Sanrio Hello Kitty which are hard to resist. I buy a bag of fruit flavored mochi candy with a creamy filling. We check into the Nagano Tokyu REI hotel across the street from the station. We're all on our own for dinner tonight, having had a long but very satisfying day in the Japanese Alps. I want something quick and easy for dinner so Mike and I settle for a low budget pre-cooked meal to go. They heat up the food upon request. IMG_1866.JPG We sit at an area for eating take out which has a water station. Then it's time to get some rest and get ready for our next adventure!

Posted by Helen K. 05:55 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Day 7 Toyama

A Town of Tulips, Glass Art and a Castle



Before leaving for Toyama this morning, the four of us are having our larger luggage shipped ahead to either Nagano or Tokyo. We are only taking what we can manage to put into backpacks as traveling to our next destination, the alpine route is not easy to get to with suitcases. IMG_1518.JPG
The first thing Janet suggested we do when we got off the train in Toyama was to check for the ticket office for the trip to the alpine route. Trina had booked an afternoon departure time which was the only time slot available online before the trip. She hoped we would be able to exchange them for a morning departure once we got to Toyama. The ticket office was easy to locate as the station is small. It was upstairs near the entrance of the station. The signs confirmed that the office opened at 7:30 am so we know we need to head out by 7:00 tomorrow.


Another sign said the snow wall route was closed today due to weather. We keep our fingers crossed that tomorrow would be clear. Kingman checks for the cherry blossom mug at Starbucks just on the slim chance that it’s there but of course it isn’t.


Janet buys a coffee and Trina buys a green melon drink. As we head out of Starbucks there is a display of glass art. There is a Toyama Glass Art Museum here that showcases a large collection of glass art from around the world. IMG_1535.JPGIMG_1532.JPGIMG_1533.JPGIMG_1534.JPG It’s past noon so we head into town in search of lunch along the route to the hotel, the ANA Crown Plaza where we are all staying. A ramen place meets with everyone’s approval. IMG_1543.JPGIMG_1539.JPG Toyama is a quiet and small city. More displays of glass art line the street along with hanging baskets of gold and purple flowers on light posts and and on railings.


IMG_1547crop.jpgIMG_1544.JPGTulips line the street corners and crossings


IMG_1550.JPGIMG_1536.JPG Apparently Toyama is a tulip town. The tulip is Toyama’s official flower. There is a tulip park and a tulip festival, but we are too early for it. DSC_1642crop.jpg We check into our rooms a little early and rest for half an hour. At 3:15 we meet up. The Louie’s head to a sword museum and the rest of us go across the street to the Toyama castle. By the time we buy the tickets the Louie’s came inside as well as they found out the Sword Museum was closed. It’s a tiny castle with a moat and we go through quickly, especially since there are no English signage.DSC_1537.JPGDSC_1539.JPGlarge_DSC_1531.JPG At the top of the observation tower we watch a flock of white birds with long necks and beaks. I think they are herons or cranes, roosting on a big tree. Some were grooming themselves and spreading out their fine feathers. large_IMG_1569.JPG We strolled through the adjacent garden which had many spots for taking photos. large_DSC_1619.JPGDSC_1575.JPGDSC_1560.JPGDSC_1600.JPGDSC_1567crop.jpg A stream runs under the bridges and Doug was able to take a photo of a heron as he flew and then rests on a rock. large_DSC_1625crop.jpgDSC_1629crop.jpgThe park has two beautiful bridges, one is red and the other has panels of colorful flowers in stained glass.large_DSC_1596.JPGlarge_DSC_1609.JPG The garden was the best part of the castle and there were many spots to take photos.
We search for more sights or shops and head over to Sogawa Mall, a covered street mall. It’s quiet and and we walk through quickly just like the Tanukikoji Shopping street in Sapporo, but as not as long. DSC_1647.JPGDSC_1652.JPG At the end of the street there is a very colorful piano that has a sign that says "Street Piano, Play Me, 10:00-18:00". DSC_1649.JPGWe noticed a burger place with advertisement of a juicy Wagyu burger and fries. That will be plan A if we don’t come across another option. Not having found any other dining choice of interest we went back to Shogun Burgers. They had won an award in the 2022 Japanese Burger competition.DSC_1655crop.jpgYou can order takeout from a window or sit inside the tiny cafe like we did. There is a counter facing the front window and 4 sets of tables and chairs for couples. A very friendly staff member took our orders at the counter. She spoke English and had worked for a short time in Seattle. As we waited for our orders I pulled out a waxy piece of paper that was in a stand next to the condiments. I first thought it was a small placemat. The staff member came over and demonstrated how to fold the paper into a holder for the hamburger. DSC_1660.JPGDSC_1661.JPGDSC_1670.JPG She joked “you can use it to hold your hamburger or if you make one more little fold you can wear it as a hat”.
A Shogan burger is not made with a traditional patty. They take fresh, not frozen, meat, that has been “manually stripped of streak, rolled after ordering and then crushed on an iron plate and grilled”. Their domestically made wheat bun has been “branded” with a Shogun trademark.IMG_1588.JPG The result is a very loosely formed patty that has coarsely grounded meat that is juicy and flavorful. The hamburgers were piled tall with lettuce, tomato, with cheese that had melted over the meat. When I took off my top bun to give Mike the tomato I found several pieces of pepper.IMG_1581.JPG I gave those to Mike too. I was puzzled why my burger had peppers. It was only after Janet commented on why Kingman hadn’t gotten his burger when he and Trina had ordered first that I thought to ask “did you order peppers with your burger? He said yes. We realized that I had gotten Kingman’s order so we informed the staff of the mistake. Trina ordered a chicken burger, Doug had a burger with chili, Janet had a slider set of a regular cheese burger and a teriyaki burger. Mike and Doug got unlimited drinks for 300 yens extra. I ordered French fries and they were good enough that I would go back just for the fries. For a hamburger fix, Shogun burger will make you want to go back for more. If I have any criticism it would be that the burger could be a little bigger for the normal appetite but it was plenty big enough for me.large_DSC_1675.JPG On the way back to our hotel there is a Hello Kitty manhole cover.DSC_1677crop.jpg DeAnne would enjoy visiting Toyama! We have an early morning wake-up time tomorrow so we retire to our rooms afterward.

Posted by Helen K. 06:11 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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