Day Trip out of Tokyo, Tokyo
Once again because we had limited time to analyze how to go around Tokyo (our first-time), we just lazily had Sunrise Tours pick us up for a tour of Nikko which is a day trip from Tokyo. We only paid about $160 each for this whole day tour 9also includes visit to the Kegon Waterfall and lunch before that).
From the Hamamatsucho train station, we rode a deluxe to visit the Toshogu Shrine, which dates back to 1617 and has been named a World Heritage Site. The site had amazing wood carvings, copious gilding, and brilliant colors throughout along with elaborate architecture and the omnipresent mythical beasts meticulously carved on the various structures and watching over the grounds. I went specifically to the wood carving of the famous “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys at the Sacred Stable.
We also saw the place where the famous Shogun was buried - you have to climb up a little hill and I think only my sister and I were able to go up because we left the tour for a little while (time was of the essence!).
We also learned how to properly pray using the sacred waters and those little cups with long handles. This shrine is a must-see when in Nikko!
Ashi-no-ko or Lake Ashi was part of the tour that we took with Sunrise Tours for the Mt Fuji day-trip. This lake was created during an eruption of the volcano over 3,000 years ago, and it rests calmly in the shadow of the great mountain. You will see Disney-like boats (like a 17th century ship which you can ride), and also little swan-like mini-boats for going around the lake.
But we just took the simple boat which brought us in a few minutes to the Mount Komagatake Aerial Cableway. The view was spectacular at the top- the beauty of Hakone National Park can be seen and also Mount Fuji on a clear day, Lake Ashi, and the surrounding mountains. However, the cable car does not seem to be restored and it has been in use for several years - but it still ran okay (but I think it might need some renovations). At the top, there is also some kind of dwelling or museum, but we did not walk up to it but just spent time taking pictures.
Of course, our trip to Tokyo would not be complete if we did not see Mt Fuji (or Fuji-san since san means mountain). Fujisan though is actually a volcano and I think it was formed about 8000 years ago.
I was intent on seeing this mountain and so I booked it for our first day activity. I was a little worried though because Mt Fuji sometimes cannot be seen when the clouds are covering it (fog). And during this February 2010, Mt Fuji had been elusive and visitors only got up to Level 1 which is the lowest level of the 5 level heights. (Note: Fuji is 12,388 ft or 3,776-m)
While in USA, I booked a Mt Fuji Tour which also included a tour of Hakone and a bullet train ride later (through Expedia through JTB for Sunrise Tours) for only about $160 each.
Sunrise Tour has a list of hotels where they pick up guests and so I chose a hotel where they picked up - Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo. We were picked up at promptly 730 at the lobby by a HATO Bus which brought us in about 30-45 minutes to the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal in Minato-ku, Tokyo. The ride was pleasant and you get to see a view of the Tokyo Tower which is like a Japanese version of the Eiffel Tower (you can go up there for views of the city).
The tour officially starts at 9 AM and once at the Bus Terminal, you are asked to go to your counter to get your tickets and tour stickers (ours were at counters GHI). The bus was almost full and our guide was Harry who told us the good news - we can go up to LEVEL 4 on Mt Fuji!!!!
Level one is at the gate, then the following levels are at the following meter elevations:
Level II at 1000 m, Level III at 1201 m, Level IV at 2020m and Level V at 2305 -- the fifth level was inaccessible at the time due to snow, but in the whole month of Feb, they had only been able to go up Level 4 up to 4x only. This was a good day!
And once at the Fuji Visitor Center, we saw a great view of Mt Fuji! So lucky! There was still some snow on the ground, and don't forget to go up the second level of this Visitor Center to see the magnificent view. I jumped of course, hehehe.... The center provides info on the nature, culture, and artwork of Mount Fuji that demonstrates the tremendous historic and religious significance of this mountain to the Japanese.
Then we rode the bus to go to Level IV, and once there we went out and took pictures at the signs indicating the height of the mountain we were at. A man was selling grilled corn for 500 yen (about $5 each), but food was more affordable in the little store a few feet away (hotdog for just 250 yen) - and you can also buy little souvenirs there.
If you do not wish to take the tour, there are buses (from Go-gome or Shinjuku) or trains (faster way and gateway stations are Atami, Odawara, kawaguchi-ko) available - but I will just refer you to guide books for directions since I did not do this personal trekking. You can also climb the mountain if you are adventurous and I do hear that if the weather is right, climbing is not too bad and July 1 to Aug 26 is the official season for climbing with 200,000 people doing so. Climb from Go-gome takes 5 hours up and 3 hours down. From Shin-Go-gome is longer and stonier, but the descent is faster.
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Fujisawa is the sister city of Florida's Miami Beach. It's about 30 miles south of Tokyo and very entertaining. Long beaches, surfers, suntanners.
Also right there, the island-mountain of Enoshima which is famous for it's temple and nice village.
Go see my Fujisawa page for more details !
ChuckG's Fujisawa page
Yanaka is a step back in time to the stone courtyards of garden temples, craft shops and crumbling tombs. One of the best preserved older quarters of Tokyo.
Yanaka survived the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 and the fire bomb of 1945 unscathed. This is a rare enclave of the old city. Observe famous Yanaka graveyards, mossy tombs, buddha stones, cherry trees, leafy walks, resting place of famous literati, actors and shoguns.
Yanaka is the reclusive reteat of artists, writers and designers. Its narrow streets discourages heavy traffic. You'll find quaint shops, run-down businesses, ultra-modern medical school, exquisite paper art shops, many temples.
Walk to the Sensho-en Temple to discover a 20ft high gold-leaf statute "Kannon" after the goddes of mercy.
Follow the main road down to busy Shinobazu-dori and dog-leg to Nezu shrine to arrive at the impressive vermillion Zuishinmori gate, then a second portal, the Karamon Gate with licquered colourful partitions and carvings.
The plan to climb Fuji in April was a non starter. You need proper gear and it would take all day.
In July and Aug, you can easily climb the summit, but it is a long trip from Tokyo to the starting point.
Outside of summer, the best bet is to see it as you go from Tokyo to Kansai on the Shinkansen. On the way there, we saw it clearly, on the way back, it was too cloudy.
The area around Hakone is meant to be nice, but without being able to climb the volcano, we didn't bother going all the way there.
Before going to Japan, we had set our sights on finding the Monkey Bar as was featured on CNN a few months ago.
It seemed a futile task, but we found it.
For 3000 YEN, you get unlimited drinks, food and the monkey service/show. Some may see this as cruel, but the monkeys live in a large area and seemed more than happy to do their tricks. You will need to decide for yourself.
Monkeys work from 7pm-9pm, bar closed TUE and SUN.
We arrived on Sunday but the owner was very pleased to see foreigners so let us in to eat and drink with his close friends. Ended up eating raw squid and got drunk on beer and sake.
To get there.....
Take Shinkasen (Bullet) from Ueno or Tokyo station. Get off at Utsunomiya station (approx 55 mins).
Exit the main enterance and walk straight ahead. After 50m you reach a main road (Route 10). Turn right. Keep going, branching left at the train track junction (approx 1km). This road merges with Route 4, keep going (to the left). You will come to KFC. Turn right immediately after KFC (small road). Then 3rd left, right at the end, then 1st left. The tavern is at the end of this street.
3000 YEN in taxi from station, or 40 mins walk.
If ghosts, ghouls, and the macabre is your game, then you should make some time to visit the infamous "Suicide Forest" of Japan, Aokigahara.
Aokigahara lies at the base of Mt. Fuji and is known as the 2nd most popular place in the world for suicides after San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Until most recently, local authorities conducted an annual "body hunt" where they would comb the woods for undiscovered bodies. They stopped doing the hunt because it drew too much attention to the woods and thereby more suicides so the local governments decided to halt the searches for a few years.
Once a body is recovered, it is taken to the local forestry where a worker has to sleep next to it overnight, in separate cots, of course, because of an old superstition where the body might awake in the middle of the night and howl if left alone.
For a long time, stories were told of compasses giving false readings in the forest. Skeptics who doubted the reports would find themselves lost in the forest, sometimes they got lost and perished in the elements. Aokigahara in Japanese is called "Sea of Trees" because of it's enormous expanse, it's easy to see how someone could get lost in it's thick woods. The false compass readings were later discovered to be caused by magnetized iron lava that covers the forest floor from an eruption at Mt. Fuji in 1707 (this eruption, combined with 2 others in Europe, put so much gas and particles in the air that many places experienced a mini-ice age. The River Thames in England completely froze over as well as the Venetian Lagoon in Italy.) If you are venturing into the forest it is advised that you bring GPS equipment with you. You can find ribbons all over the forest from searchers who use them to track their path so they can find their way out again.
One in the forest, there are lots of macabre souvenirs; nooses dangling from trees, wallets, watches, belts, shoes. On Flickr, there's a picture of an Aokigahara explorer holding up a dirty mixtape that he found.
Those that venture into the forest say that it feels like concentrated evil. The local townsfolk have a dismal existence, they hate that their town is known for suicide and that they must confront it everyday. The locals say that they can tell apart the soon-to-be suicide victims, body hunters, and nature tourists that pass through the town into Aokigahara.
There are anywhere between 50 and 70 suicides on average in the forest per year.
If you come to Tokyo, I can recommend to go to Okutama area in the suburbs of Tokyo.
You can find a wonderful nature world. You will be surprised at here. Because even here, Tokyo JR Train!! From Tokyo station to Okutama , use JR. Chuo line, about 2 hours, 1,210YEN. Pictures are one of the hiking course from Hatonosu station to Shiromaru station next to Okutama station. If you are interested, try it! I hope you enjoy this course."Ohtama Walking Trail" and after enjoying the hike, you can enjoy spa near the Okutama Station!!
Mt.Jimba, 857 meters above the sea level, is the second highest mountain in the city next to the Daigomaru. At the top of the mountain, there stands a statue of a white horse, where the grand panoramic scenery in 360 degrees of high-rise buildings in the east and Mt. Fuji in the west could be appreciated under the FINE weather... yada yada...
Yes yes... the official website makes it sound SO easy... Rubbish! Unless you are the type who are used to living in the country full of thick forest, it is, in my opinion, pretty dangerous! City dwellers may find it tough having to trot thru the forest tracks especially on days after rainfall. The forest path can be steep and slippery. Descending is more dangerous than climbing. A proper treking pole is advisable. What's more? The Sun sets at 4pm! We had to give up halfway else we would be stuck in the dark forest in less than 2 hours. Check out my photos and you'll decide if Jimbasan is your cuppa.
Having said all that... Will I climb it again? Hell YES! I dun like giving up!
To get there, take JR Chuo Line and alight at Takao Station. Take the bus bound for "Jimba Kogenshita" (It was Number 33 but they may change the number). Use the pic I posted with the 540yen bus fare as a guide). Oh and you only pay the fare when you ALIGHT.
Steam operations started in 1988 as a weekend tourist attraction with C58-363 (2-4-2, 58.9 tons), ex-JNR general-purpose steam engine, which was formally used on local lines throughout the country. The train has been dubbed with an unusual name, the "Paleo Express," after a legendary creature in the Chichibu district. The steam train is currently operated between Kumagaya and Mitsumineguchi, a distance of 56.8km, on most Sundays except in winter.
Link to my photo album of this train
From Shinjuku Station, take the odakyu line to fuji-kawaguchiko station. By taking a retro bus, to the lake kawaguchi area, there is a ropeway station up Mount Tenjo. Once reaching the summit of Mount Tenjo, the whole of Mount Fuji is displayed right in front of you. The truly majestic view of the mountain. Descend Mount Tenjo to the surroundings areas and enjoy the peaceful and beautiful scenery. End the trip by taking the retro bus back to the station to Shinjuku.
Go to the Shinjuku Station and purchase train tickets on the Odakyu line to Hakone.
There's a special limited express train called the Odakyu Romance which allows you to book seats on that will take about 2.5 to 3 hrs to get you from Shinjuku to Hakone. The train departs very early in the morning about 7plus, so it's best to be at the station really early or pre-book your tickets and go there early to collect them.
Also, there's a small kiosk selling food and drinks, so purchase a rice triangle or some other things to munch on before you board the train. Don't remember a food cart on this one but there's a trolley service where a stewardess rolls down the aisle and sells food and drinks.
It's a very comfortable ride and when you reach Hakone station, alight, and walk down to the front of the building where you'd find the ticketing office on the ground level -- here's where you purchase your Hakone Day Trip pass.
This pass allows you to hop on and hop off a number of buses that ply the area and which will take you to a variety of places in Hakone -- notably the Hakone Lake and up to the sulfur mountains and finally, it take you back to the station for a ride back into Shinjuku.
Be prepared with about at least 15000 yen for the day trip, excluding meals.
I enjoyed this day trip the best, next to the trip to the Onsen.
It was also on this trip that i chanced upon The Little Prince museum in Hakone. Pity that most of the exhibits didn't have English captions but it was a charming place nonetheless... :)
Just follow your way to the Hakone-Yumoto station and follow the recommended loop of travel. On the way, is a bus trip to the Lake Ashino. From Lake Ashino take the boat across the lake and enjoy specticular views of Mount Fuji. Next take the Tozan Ropeway and at Owakudani, have a nice 'black' egg at the mountain area. So conclude the day trip with a very relaxing cablecar ride to Gora station.
Katsuura, on the coast, in Chiba prefecture, is a little town which we like. Nothing special, but close enough to Tokyo that you can go there on a day trip, to the beach and to walk around the surrounding mountains.
There's an open air market that is 400 years old where local farmers and fishermen come to sell their produce. Bent old women sitting on the ground sell a few carrots or radishes, fish people selling their own dried fish, people with bamboo wares, traditional straw slippers and a variety of other things. It's a small market -- but it's quaint, friendly and surprising in modern day Japan.
It's from 6 to 11 am, closed on Wednesdays. There are two locations, depending on the day but close enough since the town itself is only a few blocks.
According to the website of the city government (only in Japanese), it's one of 3 open air markets in Japan. The beaches don't compare to Thai or Vietnamese beaches of course. There are some good local restaurants but which are difficult to find.
To get there: JR express train from Tokyo station to Katsuura station, about an hour. About 3500 yen for the ticket and the express train charge. A cheaper but longer way is to take a regular train that goes through Chiba. It only costs the train fare without the extra express charge, but takes about 3 hours (maybe less?).
There is an old Ryokan in the town center near where the market is but I forgot the name, There are a bunch of newer hotels and ryokans, all with Onsen. There is also a horrible kitsch skyscraper type hotel right by the beach, but where they have onsen, swimming pool game center....it's called the Mikazuki hotel and it's pretty awful, but people go there with kids.
The town before Katsuura on the JR line, Onjuku, is a well known surfing spot (I don't surf, so that's all I know).
The photos I have included are those from the city government website, but I'm sure they won't mind.