Diary and Tips About Traveling in Japan - Still Under Contruction

Welcome to my section regarding the experiences i've had on my travels in Japan.
So far I've been in Japan once, which was in September 2007.
I went to Japan together with my boyfriend Robert. The trip lasted the entire month of September 2007.
We decided to travel light with only two 30 litres backpacks with space enough for 3-4 days worth of clothing. This ment that we didn't have to worry about having to stash away our luggage every time we needed to change hotel. Generally we had 7 days in Tokyo and Kyoto and 2-3 days in each of the smaller cities. From Tokyo and Kyoto we took a number of day trips.

Contents

Note:This section is still under contruction.

Map Over the Journey

These are the places I've been in 2007. I started out in Tokyo and ended up in Osaka.
The big dots are where we had at least one nights stay, and the smaller dots are where we went on day-trips.
Tokyo (東京) Kamakura (鎌倉) Nikko (日光) Hakone (箱根) Takayama Kamikochi Kanazawa Kyoto Sekigahara Nara Himeji Koya-san Osaka

Route Details

Diary

Sunday, September 2nd 2007 - Flying to Japan

The day has finally arrived, everything is packed and the first part of the journey goes to Stenlose station (Stenlose is the Danish town in which I live). I'm really looking forward to the trip, but is also a bit reluctant to leave the house.

The train ride to Copenhagen airport was without problems, and there were no queues in the airport. The London train was a bit late, but nothing to get excided about. The plane was pretty stuffed with 6 seats per row.

In London we had to go through another security check but got to the gate pretty fast. We could at once get onto the plane to Japan. Great.
This JAL plane was a Boing 777 with 9 seats per row, but the seats are quite large and there are so many movies available, that we don't have a chance to see them!

We got our dinner, it became night and now we are just finishing up the breakfast.
There is about an hour untill we get to Japan, and get the oppotunity to try the Japanese language and transportation system.

Monday, September 3rd 2007 - Arrival in Tokyo (東京)

Now we have arrived at the hotel (Hotel Gimmond) and are washing off the traveling dust.
In the airport we got through all the checks after having filled out two forms. The train was pretty easy to find and within an hour we were riding the train. We saw some girls and boys in school uniforms - and yes they do have mini skirts on, just like in the animes (japanese cartoons).
We took the train to Ueno station and decided to walk the 2 kilometers to Hotel Gimmond which is situated near Kanda Station. It took some time, but we got there in the end.
Tip! Tokyo is a lot larger than it looks to be on the small map, and a lot of the streets are often not even drawn on the map.

The hotel room is described as "spacious" but it is not very large compared to the normal hotel rooms as we know them.

In the evening we went to a really nice and cozy sushi bar located south of Kanda station and walked a bit around in the neighourhood.

Tuesday, September 4th 2007 - Tokyo (東京)

After having spent part of the night awake due to jetlag it seems that Robert has finally refound his sleeping-heart since he was a bit difficult to get out of bed now that it the time has passed 9.30 in the morning Japanese Time. Japan is 7 hours ahead of Denmark (+7 CEST).
The weather looks a bit cloudy but otherwise alright.

We started out with finding a place to eat breakfast. (We are staying at the Gimmond hotel in a western-style hotel room without any meals). It partially succeeded when we at about 11 o'clock found a place which fullfilled Roberts requirements. We got rice with some meat.

Afterwards we walked the last 100 meters to the Tokyo station and changed our railpass-vouchers to real JR rail passes. They are valid from the 10th of September.

And we are sweating! It is soo hot, about 30 degrees i think and with a lot of moisture in the air. In the news we saw yesterday, we could see that a hurricane is on its way and will hit thursday or friday... Interesting.

After this we went to the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. It cost 1500 yen per person to get access to everything, that means around 75 Danish crowns.
4 hours later (or something like that) we were through 3 of the 4 buildings and decided that we had been cultural enough! Note: There are not that many things with English texts in the museum, for the most parts the texts are available in Japanese, and some texts are in either Chineese, Spanish or English.

On the way home from Kanda station we were caught by a thunder shower :-( After having used mony on a pair of umbrellas we could finally get back to the hotel and rest. Finally we could take off our wet clothes and try out the hotels kimono's.

At about six, it was already getting dark in Tokyo, and we walks to the nearest metro station and takes the metro a couple of stations. They have a LOT of stations in Tokyo, but it is fairly easy to buy tickets. You can also buy something called SUICA (Super Urban Intelligent Card) so you don't have to buy tickets every time. The correct amount is then automatically substracted from the cards value. We didn't try it out though.

In the neighbourhood of Kayamachi station, we walk a bit around and is quickly "invited" into a small restaurent. There is room enough for 8 people... but the food was fine.

Since Robert didn't thought that half a litre of beer was enough we went into a bar. It turned out to be a pretty boring bar with two Japanese sitting at separate tables playing on their mobile phones... Weird.
Robert ordered a beer and I a cup of tea. It turned out to be ice tea, and as is the usual Japanese way, it was without sugar and therefore quite bitter. It was rather unexpected, but I got through the drink before we decided to go to another bar.
It was at this time that the days second shower started. We ran, and waited, and waited and ran and ... and finally Robert found a bar where we ordered some more beer, sake and juice.

When we got out from the bar we walked the last distance home and are now sitting at the hotel. Robert started the boiler for two cups of tea, and about 15 minutes later we decided that the water had to be hot enough. It didn't even boil even though it had taken so long. It turned out to be a 400W boiler ... ZZZ. It is almost time to go to bed, and the news has yet again warned about the typhoon arriving Thursday.

By the way, we also found a book shop today, but it turned out to be completely impossible to find out what type of book it was by jurging the cover. So I didn't by any.

Wednesday, September 5th 2007, Tokyo (東京)

Today we woke up to cloudy weather, 28 degrees celcius and a humidity of 84%... so we decided to buy two smaller umbrellas, that can fit into my bag, and then we took off towards the Shin-nihonbashi station which is halfway between the hotel and Kanda station. From Shin nihonbashi we took the train to Tokyo station and walked to the park where the emperor's castle is located.

Before we got that far though, we went inside a restaurent/cafeteria and got some breakfast. This place had like a lot of other places one long bar (sitting on high chairs etc), and the special thing about this place was that you had to order the food from a machine. You stuffed in the money, pressed the button with the food you wanted (included pictures) and then a voice in the kitchen could be heard saying the name of the dish. From the machine came a receipt which should then be delivered to the kitchen. Cool!
Robert chose a rice-dish and I tried some udon noodles. Hmm, it was really good.

In the park you couldn't see much of the castle and much of the park was asphalted. :-(
But we did find the famous bridge and the eastern garden. The garden was ok, but nothing to write home about... before we got out we were caught by a new down pour, and more or less soaked we found a place to eat lunch.

At that lunch place I got the biggest bowl of noodles in curry soup that I've ever seen...
The food here is not as expensive as we had been told. Various dishes cost 400-800 yen (20-40 danish crowns) and a beer is about 400 yen (20 Danish crowns) and Sake (Rice wine) is about 800 yen. So it normally turns out that the drinks become the most expensive part of our meals.

After lunch we took the metro to the Ueno-Okachimachi station and walked up the street which in the old days had housed the cities black market. What we saw most was gaming places, but they only got one armed thieves and a ball (bead) game called Pachinko everywhere. No video games...
There were also booths with fresh fish, various noodles, sea weed etc. Even a shop with old records and another with VHS tapes. Hardly the modern technology for which Japan is so famous :-)

We took the train home again so we could rest our tender back muscles. It's unbelieable how hard it is for the legs and back to walk on concrete all day. But hopefully we will get used to it.

Later in the afternoon I went for a walk near the Ningyocho station in order to find a book store, but I only found a few shops with office utensils, some supermarkeds like 7-eleven, family mart etc, and then a billion small places to eat. But I bought a Doraemon manga and a melon bread. Melon breads by the way are super sweet breads which tasts more or less like honey melon. Really good.

In the evening we went to Roppongi (六本木) station in order to find a restaurent in the other end of Tokyo. It was really expensive and most of the places were foreign (non-japanese). By accident we ended up on a Korean restaurent and got something near the smallest evening-meal i've yet seen... Disappointing.
So we went back to the hotel and drew a few beers in the hotels drink-dispencer and went into our room.

Today we have started a large laundary project today, so it will be interesting to see when it gets dry...
Tomorrow we get up really really early in the morning in order to go to the fish market at about 5 or 6 in the morning.

Thursday, September 7th 2007, Tokyo (東京)

Today the clock rang at 4.50... but we got up, and after having found the single open port into the metro we got the metro to the fish market at Tsukiji station. We arrived at 6 o'clock. There were lots of people busy with packing, cutting and transporting fish.
After about half an hour we took off to find something to eat. According to all the guides it should be easy to find some fresh sushi here. It turned out to be harder than execpted since the clock was not 6.30 and most of the eating places do not open until 10. Some way down a side street we found a place that sold noodle soups, so that was what we got.

After that we decided to find the sword museum at near Shinjuku and walk through a park on the way, since the museum did not open until 9 o'clock. It turned out that the park did not open until 9 o'clock either... so we found a coffee shop and enjoyed a cup of coffee/cocoa.
After that we walked through the Shinjuku park, since the museum, according to our map, should be located on the other side of the park. The park was large, and had a lot of old trees, and a super atmosphere. It is one of the places where you completely forget that you are in an urban area. It reminded me of a rain forrest (probably because of the 25 degree celcius and the 87% humidity). At the same time the cicadies and crows are so noisy that you can't hear any trafic.
In the middle of the park there was a huge temple with some large wooden entrances and tori's. On the other side of the park we went hunting for the museum which was marked with a dot on our map, where the roads were not shown. On the local maps there were roads, but no museum... We ended up asking a policeman in a police box. He immidiately drew forth a map from his drawer with route and everything :-) So we were probably not the first foreigners who couldn't find our way!

The museum wasn't very big, but they had a very nice overview about how you make a samurai sword (be sure not to miss it in the entrance). We also got a folder in English with the title "Manual for Appreciating the Japanese Sword".
After some walking about it had become time for lunch. We chose to walk back to Shinjuku, since we had seen some interesting places there. At about noon we found a "katsuya" (かつや). It turned out to be a shop/restaurent specialised in pork chops, just like a ramen shop only has noodles. The food was just terrific!
And it should be noted, that we only tree days into our month long journey, at this point don't have any problems holding the piece of pork with the chop sticks while biting over the meat!

At Shinjuku station we reserved tickets to Nikko (日光) valid on Monday, and bought the tickets to Kamakura (鎌倉) for tomorrow. Since everything was done in Japanese we didn't manage to get a return ticket, but I guess we will find out how to get a ticket back to Tokyo once we are in Kamakura :-)

It has gradually starte to be a bit windy, but it doesn't feel like a hurricane/typhoon plans on dropping by this evening... but I guess it will get worse.

After a well decerved rest at the hotel, the last couple of hours of the afternood was spent in the large center in Akihabara. Darn it is big! 7-8 floors only with electronics, anime related stuff and so on. The first floor was filled up with laptops in all sizes and colours. The 2nd floor had PC accessories and some huge flat screen TVs, the 3rd floor had watches, cameras, telescopes/binoculars etc. The 4th floor contained house appliances like washing machines etc. On the 5th floor there were mp3 players, anime, movies etc. On the 6th floor were books, glasses and various other stuff. Definately a huge place.

The first floor gave Robert a craving for buying a small Sony Vaio laptop (91.000 yen), the next floor had huge flat screen televisions which made ours at home look like a small mini television. On the third floor we bought a divers-case for our Ixus camera (called Ixy in Japan). The fifth floor's anime were very expensive. The first season of "Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex" for instance cost 57.000 yen). On this floor we also found a lot of Gundam figures, and I bought a cute one. The 6th floor finally gave me the possibility to buy some children books in Japanese (which is about the level I can read right now). But I could only find exercise books and manga, but it was better than nothing.

We continued directly from Akihabara to the Sushi restaurent where we ate the frist night i Tokyo.
On our way home from there it was a bit more windy with hard gusts of wind, but it almost didn't rain. On television they covered the hurricane very intensly and a lot of train sections had been closed down because of water. When we went out of the hotel later that evening to see the weather it was actually quite disappointing. No more wind than on a normal day with a strong breeze in Denmark, I guess it must be due to the many buildings. So now we just hope that the trains to Kamakura are running tomorrow morning. But we will see.

Friday, September 7th 2007, Kamakura (鎌倉)

(Written Friday the 14th 2007)
Today we are going to our daytrip from Tokyo to Kamakura which is located south of Tokyo. The trip takes about an hour with a normal slow train (called "limited express" here in Japan). It took a bit longer today because we due to the hurricane yesterday had to wait 20 minutes on one of the stations in the southern Tokyo. The weather today is not as hot as it has been the last few days - great.


After a bit of searching around the station, we found the turist information (marked with a "?" and not a "i") and got a map over the city. We started going down the road to the big tori-gates and ended up in front of one of the citys large temples. The temple was located at the top of a very long stone staircase, and was really beautifully made.

From here we continued walking around the city trying to find one of the city's walking trails, which leads up into the mountains, which shields Kamakura on three sides. On the way we were asked several times by locals if we needed help. They were incredible helpsome and in the city we also found signs recommending a turist friendly way of life like "keep the city clean" etc. It was practically as good as impossible to see that the city had been hit by a hurrican the night before.
When we arrived in the morning there were very few turists, and we really enjoyed it.

We found the trail, and even though the route according to the trails should only take half an hour, we spent more than one hour getting up to the top and down to the temple which marked the end of the trail. On the top a fresh breeze blew, so we could enjoy both the breeze and the view at the same time :-) Only the fact that the leaves on the path was green indicated that they had fallen recently. There were no big branches or anything else from the hurrican lying around. Terrific!

Back in Kamakura we ate lunch and then walked down to see the great buddha in the southern part of the city. The buddha really is very large and it is incredible that they could make a thing like that so many hundred years ago. The streets to the buddha was pretty narrow, but people drowe very carefully, just like we also experienced it in Tokyo.
For the very small amout of 2 Danish Crowns (40 yen) we could get into the buddha and see how the metal plates had been nitted together. I'm sure that it has been much more impressive in the beginning when the bronze has still shined in a red color.

The trip home and the evening went by without the big events with the exception that the station was totally overrun with lots of school children in all ages.

Saturday, September 8th 2007, Tokyo (東京)

Weekend.
After I fell asleep at about midnight yesterday, we woke up around 10 today. But it is weekend, so I think that it is well deserved. The plan for today is not as ambisious as the one for yesterday. We only need to find a post office and see the Tokyo Science Museum which we didn't have time to see when we were at the National Museum tuesday.

After having asked for the location of the post office in the hotel lobby, we walked down to Kodemmachi station and took the metro to Ueno station where we found a place to eat breakfest. Todays menu was Udon noodles with bacon.

The Science Museum turned out to be a zoological and geological museum more than a technical museum despite of the fact that there was a huge train wagon standing outside the hotel. Bummer. But we got to see an excibition of the japanese rock types, animal life, earth types, human races and various other things. It was a good museum, but unfortunately for us, they had not yet completed the English signs and computer-guides, so everything was in Japanese.

After this we decided to continue to Akihabara again so Robert could by the laptop to 91600 yen. It was crowded with people and it was even worse than the Ueno Park and the Science Museum. You can really feel that it is weekend today. And yes, the sun is shining from a clear sky. Magnificent.
Tip: Avoid Akihabara in the weekends if you want to buy something.
After having walked confused around the electronics shops we finally found the place were we were thursday. The Yoshida Akiba Centre. Having fought our way through the human crowds, we reached the laptop and found a salesman who in Japanese told us that the laptop was cheap because it contained an Intel processor and not a Quatro or Duo processor. At the information desk they told us that none of them could speak English. So we found yet another salesman (which couldn't speak English either), and asked if we could buy the laptop. After having ordered extra RAM and said Ok to the installation we found out that we had misunderstood the price which was handwritten on the sign! It said ¥160000 and not 91600... Damn. So we apologized and said that we were not interested anyway. We then went up and bought a plastic gundam figure for Robert.

Then we continued to the post office - where they didn't speak English either - and not more or less understandable Japanese we bought a package, 11 stamps for postcards and got a form to the package.
Back at the hotel we ate the able-cream bread and curry sauce bread which we had bought on the way. A bit special, but ok.
The box turned out to be more than spacious enough, and we are considering if we should add some newspapers for insulation or if we should try to buy a smaller box.

In the evening we went to Ikebukoro where we by accident ended up in the district of "massage clubs" and "girl bars". Girl bars turned out to be bars where men can pay for the right to talk to a woman in X minutes while drinking beer or drinks. A funny concept, but harmless enough.
Near one of the universities we found a good restaurent. After having eaten, we went down the "green street" which is a street lined with trees. On this side of the station there were a million young people out partying.

We used some time looking at the gaming arcades before heading back to the station. On the station the 3rd rush hour of the day had started. On all tracks there were filled with young people who were going home one the last trains (around midnight).

Sunday, September 9th 2007, Tokyo (東京)

Hmm. It is nice to have vacation and being able to sleep until 11...
Todays only plan is to go to the post office, so we started out with a walk in the good weather to the Nihombashi post office (located just south of the Nihombashi bridge). The post office was closed!!! And this is despite the fact that we checked with the hotel staff who said it was open. The only thing which was open was the ATMs.

So we decided to leave the package (around 5 kilograms) in a coin locker at the station, and then send it tomorrow when the post office opens at 9 AM. Our seat reservation for Nikko was for 10.30 so we should be able to be on time. As far as we can find out we need to enter coins for "day 2" (midnight to 9 AM) when we retrieve the package tomorrow. Hopefully it will suceed, because none of the people at the station could talk enough English (and I could not talk enough Japanese) to get all the details straight.

After this we went to Tokyo station where we ate some lunch. At the tokyo station we decided to visit the Kiyosumi garden which supposedly contains rocks from all over Japan and a lake with 10.000 japanese carps!
From the Monzen-Nakacho station we walked to the park. The park was really beautiful, and definately worth a visit. From my point of view, this is the most overlooked sightseeing attraction in Tokyo! Go there.
The park definately has a lot of carps, ducks, a heron, a cormorant, turtles and a fantastik garden. So it was a good trip.

Since we at this point was pretty hot (there is about 31 degrees celcius here), we went back to the hotel. On the hotel Robert started the big "wash and try" activity. Since they required 60 DKKR (1200 yen) per piece of clothes to be washed at the hotel, we used the sink, a clothes-line and some of the hotel's hangers. The other day we found a hairdryer, so we are misusing that to speed up the drying process a bit.
So far it works fine, and a fresh t-shirt a day is the bare minimum together with a break in the afternoon to allow us and our clothes to dry up.

In the evening we decided to go towards the north east of the hotel to find a restaurent. So we walked up to the Edo dori and walked east. It is easy to see that Tokyo is shut down in the sunday. The larger shops are open in the sunday, but all the smaller shops are closed.
After having crosed a bridge we found a really cozy restaurent with small booths. Here we ate sushi, salmon-cheese rolls, rice triangles with seasoning, salad, a whole fish and dessert. Needless to say, we were stuffed... It was definately good food.
After this we strolled home and watched some television.

Monday, September 10th 2007, Nikko (日光)

Today is the time has come to travel further into Japan - more specifically Nikko (日光). The alarm has been set to 7 o'clock.

After all our stuff with a bit of violence again has been compressed into our 30L backpacks, we check out and go down to Nihonbashi station (日本橋) to finishing sending our package. On the station we retrieved the box from the coin locker (a stay for the night cost ¥600 which equals two days) and got it shipped of on the post office, where one of the employees could speak a bit English. So now we just have to wait untill we get home and wait some longer for the package to arrive. 6 kilo gram of packages cost os 250 DKKR (about ¥5000). Pretty cheap actually, and VERY cheap when compared to the Danish postal service costs.
Actually with the current prices the same would cost 440 DKKR (about ¥10000) for a transport from Denmark to Japan, since there is no choice for surface mail, it would only take about 10 days... in constrast to the 2-3 months our package from Japan was under way.

From Tokyo station we took an express line to Shinjuku station, and could for the first time use our JR Rail Pass which is valid from today, and gives us access to use the JR lines in the entire country for free. At the Shinjuku station we asked an employee and found track 3 from which our train leaves. The train is the Spacia "shinkansen" line towards Kunigawa onsen. Apparently we need to change train at the Shimaimoichi station (下今市). We located the station and the local train to Nikko. In Nikko we found out that we had to pay 1000 yen for the ticket because this wasn't a JR line. It is a bit of a mystery why we didn't get tickets for the JR line when we showed our JR Rail Pass when we ordered the seat reservation at the JR ticket sale...

At the station we furthermore bought a 2000 yen "Unlimited Tobu pass" for the busses i Nikko and the surrounding areas. So we took the buss down to the hotel which is the "Annex Turtle Inn Hotori-an".

The check-in involved us reading a note at the reception, phoning to the Turtle Inn to tell we arrived, and then waiting a short moment for a very friendly lady to arrive to check us in. That is definately the first time I've done that, but I guess it cannot be avoided when you run two hotels so close to each other.
After check-in we went to the nearest convenience store and bought something to eat since we hadn't had any lunch yet. After this we went up to look at the many temples located in Nikko.

First we visited the Taiyuuin temple, which is located among a lot of huge cedar trees. Hereafter we walked passt the grand Toshogu temple, which we did not visit. But there were lots of different temple buildings, gates and beautifull craftsmanship in the area. We continued down towards the city and teh holy red bridge Shinkyo, and the roaring Owa river. In total a really nice trip.

It was almost 5 o'clock, and we found a restaurent with super good food. It wasn't open until we entered, but the single servertrice and the single cook managed fine with cooking and serving the 5-6 different dishes what we ordered. We will probably go back here tomorrow!

Back at the hotel we slipped into the hot tub. It was great! The temperature was good, and the beer which we had smugled with us was also good. Later we sat and enjoyed a beer in the hotels common area, and met some of the other visitors which stayed at the hotel. The employees of the hotel we didn't see much since they are primarily staying at the Turtle Inn hotel further down the road.

Tuesday, September 11th 2007, Nikko (日光)

The first thing we had to do this morning was to crawl out of bed after having slept on tatami mats all night. Despite the unfamiliar bedding I only woke a few times, and slept well that night. It also to a bit of getting use to, to sleep with an open window next to a large seething river. No matter where in the city you are, you are not in doubt when you are getting close to the river. The river is almost as dampening on the trafic noise as the cicada was in Tokyo. In Nikko there is almost no cicadas but there is quite many beautifull red dragonflies.

We ate breakfast at the inn, since we were told that none of the cities restaurents opened until 10. Unfortunately the breakfast was a bit boring.

After breakfast we went to the station to reserve seats back to Tokyo and further on to Hakone. It seems it is necessary to take a bus from Odewara station to get to Hakone, but we will see once we get there. Since the employee at the station spoke English, it was easy enough to make the reservations.

After some time we found the bus for the Chuzenji lake and the Kegon waterfall.
When we arrived, we were at 1300 meters height in the middle of a cloud, and could see about 20 meters out on the lake, and not an inch longer. We started out by walking through the Nishirokuban park which turned out to be the smallest "park" i've ever been to. We continued down the lake shore on the many walking paths available.
As we have tried so many other times it started to rain (umbrellas are a required ingredient in our backpacks now) so we entered a cafe and enjoyed a cup of hot coffee and tea at the edge of Chuzenji city. At this point it started pouring down. This made the clouds lift a bit, so we could see to the other side of the 1-2 kilometre wide lake. It was a pretty sight with the clouds drifting over the lake and between the tree covered mountains.

We walked the few hundre meters to watch the famous Kegon Falls, but it was so foggy/cloudy that we (and all the others) could not see the waterfall from the lookout post. In the end we gave up and found a place to eat a good lunch.
Just in time we got out of the restaurent and caught the bus back to Nikko.

In Nikko we decided to visit the Botanic Garden which has more than 2300 different (primarily local) plants and trees. The trees were grown, so the visit was more like a walk in the forrest near the river. Unfortunately not many of the flowers were blooming in September, but the garden was pretty in the ligth rain. So even though we were more or less alone, the garden was well worth a visit.

Back at the hotel, we immediately jumped into the Onsen and stayed there until we looked like two cooked crabs (about 15 minutes later). The hot water helped loosen up my abused leg muscles. It is really hard to be on vacation :-)

Since we had found the hotels washing machine and dryer the last part of the afternoon was spent on washing clothes. A chore we need to get used to since we only carry enough clothes for 3-4 days.

In the evening we went down to the city (actually we took the bus, now that we have bought a 2-day free pass with the Toobu company, which operates all busses in this area) in order to eat dinner at the same place that we ate yesterday. But apparently in Nikko the close-day is placed on tuesdays, which means that museums, restaurents and shops are mostly closed. So it has been a bad timing with the sunday in Tokyo (closed everywhere), the monday spent on transportation (normal museum close day in Denmark) and the tuesday in Nikko (close day). So "our" restaurent was of course also closed.
We in stead walked a bit up and down the street, and found another place that looked like a restaurent. It turned out to be an inn for japanese locals with both high (western) and low (japanese) tables, all with a skillet (barbeque plate) in the middle of the table. Encouraged by some of the locals (which were smiling all over their faces) we were placed at one of the low japanese tables and given a pillow each.
After a bit of confusion regarding the order we got our raw dishes and enjoyed the grilled food (chicken, beef, garlic etc with cooked rice). It was so much better than the place we had been at in Ropponji.

On the way home the rain started pouring again, and now one and half hour later it is still pouring. As long as we are inside it is actually quite nice to look at.

Wednesday, September 12th 2007, Hakone (箱根)

Today we are leaving Nikko and heading for Hakone, and seen in the light of hind sight, it turned out to be a bit of a long trip: Nikko turtle inn --> Bus stop --> JR station in Nikko --> local train to Utsunomiya station --> Shinkansen to Tokyo station --> Another shinkansen to Odawara station --> local train to Hakone Yumoto station --> local bus to Ashino koen mae --> Moto Hakone Guest House.
It took 4 hours!

We actually started the morning by taking a dip in the hotels onsen, after which we returned to the room and ate the "breakfast" we has bought in the local convenience store yesterday evening. Shortly before 9 o'clock we checked out, took hitched our bags and walked to the Imperial Villa in Nikko which is located just a few hundred meters from the hotel.
We were the first to arrive (they opened at 9), and because of this we had the 100+ room villa more or less to ourselves. It was a very pretty villa with lots of good craftmanship, beautifull metal ornaments, tatami mats and so on, but it didn't look like much from the outside since it was not painted. The house was from 1850s and has been expanded a number of times, but in the same original japanese style. Outside the house was a small garden which we walked through after having been through the house. The garden had originally been larger, but most of it has been donated to the Nikko Botanic Garden lots of years ago.

From the Imperial Villa we took the bus to the station and the JR Nikko line to Utsunomiya. From there on we went with the Shinkansen from track 5 to Tokyo where we had to change to another Shinkansen train. It really goes fast when traveling with the Shinkansen. The most amazing part is that they are not loud or noisy at all. You just glide through the scenary!
In Tokyo we had to change to the "kodama" train (which turned out to leave from track 18) and soon we were on our way to Odawara station.

At Odawara station we found out that Hakone (like Nikko) is not covered by JR, but rather by local companies. At this point we are beginning to doubt wether or not it made sense to buy the 21-day rail pass. In Nikko there are JR (station only) and Toobu (train and 99% of the busses), and here in Hakone there are two companies: Izu and Hakone Tozen.
Just as in Nikko it is possible to buy a pass that allows you to travel free for x days (thanks god for that because these local companies are very expensive). So we bought a freepass for the Hakone-Tozen lines for three days (+ access to various turist attractions like a boat ride, cabel and ropelines etc). It cost 4000 yen per person (200kr) which actually isn't that bad.
Well equiped with a free pass we started out trying to figure out where we were going (we got this low quality print out from our traveling agency with a sketch over where our Minshuku was supposed to be located) and comparing our map to the brochures that we got at the station.
lso at the station we managed to reserve two seats on the Shinkansen on Friday where we need to continue to Takayama (this time in Japanese... sigh). Anyways, we reached our destination through a local train and a bus.

A Moto Hakone Guesthouse is a small privately owned house/hotel with 5 rooms (4 double and one single room), 3 toilets, 3 sinks, 1 japanese bathtub, and 1 shower. The hostess is a small japanese woman and she speaks English quite well.

Pretty tired on the long journey we looked forward for some relaxation (it is almost 16 o'clock), but the hostess told us that the restaurents closes early in Moto Hakone, and early ment between 18 and 19...
So we walked the 10 minutes down the mountain to Moto Hakone. It is a clasical one-street-town. And as we had been told, we only found 3 restaurents that were open, and all with prises well over the normal level. Definately adjusted for turists. Sigh.

We chose a restaurent with a "special menu", but it turned out that they didn't have the special menu... so we ordered something else. What a disappointment. It was the most uninspirering food we had yet been served here in Japan. So we drank our shared medium size beer (1/2 l) and left the restaurent.

Nearby there was supposed to be a "cedar avenue" and we went looking for it in the last light of the day. On the road we found a 7-eleven and bought 2 sausages on a stics. (quite good actually). We found the "Hakone Old Highway" but it was blocked due to the typhoon we had last week. So we returned to the normal road.
Upon reaching Hakone Machi (Hakone city) we realised that the old highway probably was what we had been looking at, and took the buss the one and a half kilometres back to Moto Hakone.

Back in our room we planned what we are going to see tomorrow, ate our bought 7-eleven desserts, took a shower and went crashing to bed at 22.30.
Oh by the way. it is so foggy here that we cannot see anything besides the road we walked on. Lets hope it clears up tomorrow. Else there will be no Fuji watching for us...

Thursday, September 13th 2007, Hakone (箱根)

After another night on hard tatami mats under soft and warm covers, we woke to the ring of the clock at the stroke of 7 AM. Today and tomorrow we have ordered breakfast at the minshuku, since it is impossible to find something near here.

We ate the breakfast together with two other couples, one from Canada and one from Israel. The israli couple didn't talk much but they should like us be in Japan for a month and had just arrived less than a week ago. The canadian couple was an older couple who had been in Hakone almost a week (although not at this minshuku). They had planned to be in Japan for two weeks, and were then continuing to New Zealand and Australia for a total of 3 months.

After the breakfast we walked down to Moto Hakone, bought some lunch and took the bus to Hakone Machi. After having enjoyed the view over the lake for about 20 minutes we boarded the first departure of the Pirate Ship to Moto Hakone and Togendai located in the northen part of the Ashi lake. We had the ship complety for our selves (besides the crew of course) for the first part of the trip - fantastic. In Moto Hakone more turists got on board, and in Togendai where we departed the ship, about 50 people stood in line waiting to board. So it was a good idea to take the very first departure in the day!

The weather is clear with a few clouds and about 22 degrees celsius. Perfekt. This also ment that we got some pretty good pictures of Mount Fuji from the boat. Unfortunately the battery indicator on our camera started glowing, and halfway out on our hiking trip the camera died completely...

From the mole in Togendai we went directly to the ropeway station building. The wagons in the rope way were quite large and had large windows. This together with the scenary gave a fantastic view both down at the lake and to the surrounding mountains and Fuji. At Owakudani station we got off the rope way to see the volcano activity in the form of Hydrogen-Sulfide clouds. It was very pretty despite the fact that the toxic gasses had limited the amount of vegetation quite a bit.

Back at the rope way we continued to the last station and continued with the cabel car down the mountain to the city Gora. From Gora we continued with the local line to Kowakidani station. Finally at the town where we are to start our hiking trip... now we just have to find the start of the track!

It didn't take us long to find the first waterfall and the map showing that the track split up depending on which mountain you wanted to climb. At this point we missed the track totally. It turned out that we took a third path which ended up being almost completely overgrown. The track went past an old abandoned temple and out to a road which led back to our starting point...

Despite all the sweat (due to the vegetation we had had to put on our windbreakers) we had only walked half an hour, so we decided to try again. 5 minutes later we stood at the waterfall again and walked in the other direction this time. And as by magic the path split up shortly hereafter towards the two different mountains. We found the route and started walking - although it was up and up and up. (Note: Denmark is a very flat country with the highest point only a few hundre meters over the surface of the sea.) For almost an hour (it felt like a long time) we walked gasping for breath towards the top using -1 meter dirt paths with rocks, roots and various other forest elements. After several times having reached the "top" only to discover that the path continued to a new ridge we decided that it was time to eat our lunch. A dry looking tree stump was selected, and the giant ants also got some sushi, since Robert insisted on eating the lunch with sticks...

Another 15 minutes walk brought us all the way to the top. There was a fantastic view over the mountains. Unfortunaly we have no pictures of this as our camera was completely out of batery at this point. The walk down was much easier, especially because our destination - a bus stop - was located significantly higher than the part of the track where we started. So we will definately recommend people to start from the Yuhanroiriguchi (湯販路入口) bus stop so you don't have to walk that much upwards.

Back at the hotel we relaxed with a cup of green tea, television and a shower. A little to five we walked down to Moto Hakone to find some dinner. But our usual luck hit us again... because thursday is apparently the "close day" in Hakone, so even though we had gotten a restaurent recommended by the canadian couple, we couldn't try it out because it was closed! There were only two placse open; the place from yesterday and an "Ham and Sausages" shop and restaurent. We chose the last one. To our supprise, they also had curry on the menu, and to our big disappointment, the were out of rice!! So no curry to us. However both my beef and Robert's beef sandwich were really good.

After having raided the local 7-Eleven we went back to the minshuku and invited our hostess on beer, snacks and a chat. She seemed very eager to hear about us and about Denmark, and since we were the only guests left, it seemed appropriate with an invitation. We talked about everything from schools, taxes, politics, mountains (or lack of them) over turist attractions to the Royal Copenhagen brand. After at couple of hours later we said good night and went up to our room.

In the weather broadcast a new typhoon was mentioned. It is located just south west of Japan and is supposed to hit on saturday. Since we have only heard very little of this typhoon compared the the one in Tokyo, we assume that it is a small typoon this time - if there is such a thing as a small typhoon :-)

Friday, September 14th 2007, Takayama (高山)

As so many other mornings, the clock rang early, so we had time to pack the last of our things and be ready for breakfast at 7.30. The breakfast today included fried eggs with bacon-bottom and was at least as good as yesterday. Today the hostess also sat down and chatted with us :-) After breakfast we wrote a greeting in her very substantial guest book.

Then it was time to check out, and about 1 hour of zig zag bus driving through a large number of needle sharp bends on the way to Odawara station. At the station we quickly located the track of our train, and sat down on a Star Bucks and drank coffe and white chokolade mocha.

Right now we are in the train towards Nagoya where we need to change to another train. The train keeps driving in and out of tunnels and based on the air plugs in my ears, the train must drive a lot up and down. There is no doubt that we are heading into the mountains of Japan.
After Nagoya we have another hour of train travel before we reach Takayama. According to our cards and guide book, Takayama is a not so large city which can be crossed in 20 minutes by foot. I think it will be nice not to have to walk and walk to get from one place to another.

To be continued...

Still to be done: Add maps over local areas, traveling tips, area specific notes, rest of diary, links to other sites, photo viewer etc.

General Tips

Japan Airlines

Intro The service we got on the flight from London to Narita Airport at Tokyo and back from Osaka to London was superb. We really did not lack anything. Even the japanese food on board was quite nice, and was our first taste of being "abroad".
The seats were spacious, and I can definately recommend flying with them, also on economy tickets. The best part was probably that only half of the seats were taken so there were no feeling of having been packed onto the plane.

Tip Become a member of the Japan Milage Bank (JMB). This can be done before or on the flight, and the points from you first flights can be added - but this does require that you send in all boarding-passes etc. to Japan, so I would suggest enrolling before your flight. JAL bonus points can be used e.g. on British Airways or on various American Airlines. So even if you don't plan on getting back to Japan, get the points!. I got almost 9000 points for the trip.

The weather

Buy good umbrellas as fast as you can. You are going to use them lots of times throughout your journey in Japan.

Hotels, Ryokan, Minshuku and Other Places Where We Stayed

Name Location Type Score out of 5 Price out of 5 Online bookable
Hotel Gimmond Nihombashi, Tokyo Hotel 3 3 Yes
Turtle Inn Hitori-Ann Annex Nikko Minshuku 4 3 Yes
Moto Hakone Guesthouse Moto Hakone Minshuku 3 3 Yes
Sosuke Takayama Minshuku 4 3 Yes
Nakanoyu Onsen Kamikochi Ryokan 3 5 Yes
Murataya Ryokan Kanazawa Ryokan 3 2 Yes
xxx Ryokan Kyoto Ryokan 3 ? ?
Rejgejo-in Temple Mt. Koya Temple 3 ? ?
Hotel New Hankyu Osaka Hotel 3 5 ?
Definition of price categories: Per person when traveling two: 5 = 9000+ yen, 4=7000-9000 yen, 3=5000-7000 yen, 2=3500-5000 yen, 1=0-3500 yen

Hotel Gimmond

Type: Hotel
Score: 3
Price: Twin room: 10000-11000 yen without breakfast
City: Nihombashi, Tokyo
Address: 1-6 Nihonbashi Odenma-cho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-0011, Japan
Homesite: http://www.gimmond.co.jp/tokyo/english/index.htm
Can be booked at: http://www.gimmond.co.jp/tokyo/english/index.htm, and lots of traveling sites
Review: An ok hotel where you can rest up after having walked around Tokyo all day.
Good: Own bathroom. Internet access payable per minute. Friendly staff. Nice neighbourhood complete with sleeping salarymen some nights. Near several different metro and JR lines.
Bad: Small room. No washing machine available for guest use.
Directions: Print a good map e.g. from here: Access with ALL the small streets on, and then make your way from Kanda Station. Kanda station is the nearest station when traveling with JR from the Narita airport. It is definately not the easiest place to find due to the many small streets in the area.

Turtle Inn Hitori-Ann Annex

Type: Minshuku/Ryokan
Score: 4
Price: Two persons: About 12400 yen depending on the season
City: Nikko
Address: 8-28 Takumi-Cho, Nikko City, Tochigi, Japan
Homesite: http://www.turtle-nikko.com/hotori-an/index_en.html
Can be booked at: Via e-mail or webform: http://www.turtle-nikko.com/cgi-bin/form_hotori_en/form.cgi
Review: This annex is a nice japanese style guesthouse. Most of the staff is at the Turtle Inn. The common room is good for enjoying a beer from the vending machine outside while chatting with the other guests. A super thing about this place is the little private hotspring. The hotspring is shared among all the guests, but a private-sign means that you can have it for yourself whenever you want to. The annex also cantains a small show room with all sorts of different things to look at and buy if you want.
Good: Small hotspring with a great view and room for 2-3 people. Private toilet and bath. Breakfast is available (although not Japanese style). Washing machine.
Bad: Tuesday is the "sunday" in Nikko, so it can be quite hard to find a restaurent.
Directions: Print out the map here: Turle Inn Annex. Take the bus from the Nikko station (JR or local) and get out at the "Nikko Sogo Kaikan mae" stop. Walk down the small streets, and cross the bridge over the river and continue 100 m down the street. It takes about 5 minutes. When you have arrived, follow the instructions on the phone at the front desk to call for the staff, which are mostly at the Turtle Inn, they will be there in a flash.

Moto Hakone Guesthouse

Type: Minshuku
Score: 3
Price: Twin room: About 10500 yen without breakfast
City: Moto Hakone
Address: 103 Moto-Hakone Hakone Kanagawa 250-0522, Japan
Homesite: http://hakone.syuriken.jp/hakone
Can be booked at: Via e-mail or webform: http://hakone.syuriken.jp/hakone
Review: We had a good stay with nice clean rooms, lots of toilets (although only a single bath) to share among the 4 rooms in the Guesthouse. The hostess was very attentive, and was always ready with recommendations for tours, help and a chat. The breakfast can definately be recommended although it is a Western breakfast (with toast etc) it has all you could wish, and you get to chat with the other guests at the guesthouse around the large kitchen table.
The town is really nothing to shout hurray for. It has 3 eating places, the first one we visited was pretty bad and expensive, and the next day everything besides a shop selling german sausages and the like was closed. But at least there is a 7-11 convenience store. Remember to buy a local bus-card as this will save you quite a bit of money. The JR rail pass cannot be used in this area.
Good: The hostess is very friendly, and it was very interesting to spend a night chatting with her in English about Japan and Denmark while enjoying a snack and some drinks. Computer available for webmail and internet. Bus stop 30 meters from the Minshuku leading to the other towns in the area.
Bad: The location. Besides a steep road and a single street town 10 minutes walk from the Minshuku there is nothing there.
Directions: See the homepage or read my diary above. It takes quite a bit of traveling to and from the Shinkansen.

Sosuke

Type: Minshuku
Score: 4
Price: Twin room: 10,080 Yen without meals
City: Takayama
Address: 1-64 Okamoto-machi, Takayama-shi, Gifu-ken. Zip code:506-0054, Japan
Homesite: http://www.hida-yado.net/yado/sosuke/english.htm
Can be booked at: Webform: http://www.hida-yado.net/yado/sosuke/engmail.htm
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Bad:
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Nakanoyu Onsen

Type: Ryokan
Score: 3
Price: Two persons: 30000 - 60000 yen with meals
City: - (outside Kamikochi)
Address: Nakanoyu, 4467 Azumi-mura, Minamiazumi-gun, Nagano-ken, 390-1516
Homesite: http://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/db/nagano/nakanoyu.htm
Can be booked at: Online with credit card: https://id280.securedata.net/japaneseguesthouses/reservation.htm
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Murataya Ryokan

Type: Ryokan
Score: 3
Price: Two persons: 9000 yen
City: Kanazawa
Address: 1-5-2, Katamachi, Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture. zip 920-0981, Japan
Homesite: http://www.spacelan.ne.jp/~murataya/
Can be booked at: E-mail only: murataya@spacelan.ne.jp
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xxx Ryokan

Type: Ryokan
Score: 3
Price:
City: Kyoto
Address:
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Rejgejo-in Temple

Type: Temple Loging
Score: 3
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Hotel New Hankyu

Type: Hotel
Score: 3
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Links

Kanaday's site with traveling tips