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!
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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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.
On the drive from Narita airport to Tokyo, I was pleasantly surprised by all the greenery. The trees were in lovely shades of green and had unusual roundish shapes that were almost bonsai-like. Coming from the equatorial region of Malaysia, it was so pleasingly different.
You will also encounter quite a lot of parklands in Tokyo itself, especially around the Imperial Palace and Yoyogi park areas.
On my drive back from Hakone to Tokyo city, I came across this ricefield and I couldn't resist but to take a picture of it (from the moving coach!).
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.
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
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!!
Kamakura is approximately a 1 hr ride south of Tokyo, if you take the JR train from Shinjuku station. Watch the scenery as you pass by. As you get closer to Kamakura, there is a beautiful goddess statue on the left side of the train.
There are many other Buddhist temples and shrines around Kamakura. We went to a Shinto shrine called the Hase Temple , only about a five minute walk from Daibutsu. This shrine has a cave called Bentenkutsu housing many statues of the Benten, the goddess of female beauty and wealth. There are also many other minor gods inside. One thing to advise, the cave is not large, so you will be crouching at one point, tall or not. But worth seeing, just for the ancient sculptures and wood carvings. On the top is the main shrine. Unfortunately, you cannot take pictures of the statues inside, but it houses the Kannon Goddess and is made out of pure gold. Beside that is the "Fate wheel" which you are supposed to puch around. On the side there is a rest area and a cliff over looking the city and the Pacific Ocean. On the way to the temple (going up the hill) there are stores selling statues and Japanese dolls. Very beautiful, and a worthwhile side stop on the way up or back from the temple.
Behind the shrines is another pathway higher up. On the bottom are Jizo statues. These are statues representing dead infants. Their guardian Jizo, watches over their souls. The clothes are given by those who have lost infants (either through abortion or childbirth).
There are many other shrines here, but we didn't have time to go to them all. Definetly worth a visit to see some beautiful shrines and temples!
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.
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.
The dusty town of Narita.
I took a 2 day stop over once on my way to L.A and really enjoyed the less noisy part of Japan. Everything was pretty laid back with small streets (like the picture) and lots of old folks. The center of Narita was slightly bigger, with a Jusco shopping mall, restaurants and tons of Pachinko outlets. Move in deeper into the town and you will come across lovely temples,houses and lots of greenary.
As I walked deep into one of the lanes, I came across this Japanese gentleman beheading some eels...actually a huge bucket of live eels when I looked closely.
His technique was pretty simple, pull an eel from the bucket, pin it on the head, slit it in the abdomen and clear it's contents, remove the pin and finally into another bucket. Now, the yucky part is that during this entire 30 second process, the eel is still slithering around in the new bucket....
A sight to be seen, well worth it.
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.
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... :)
O.k., so Kamakura isn't so off the beaten path, but it's a lovely little city outside Tokyo that's only about a 45 minute (690 yen) train ride. If you get off at the stop before the main Kamakura stop and walk through the city, there is a nice shrine and masoluem (I've masacred that spelling) right off to the left when you walk in the direction the train goes. When we were there, this old guy invited us to watch a group of people practicing some form of archery (I've no idea what it's called, but it was amazing)/meditation. I didn't spend the whole day there, but you could, easily. If you go check out the Great Buddha, walk back where the store is and get a bag of chips or something animal friendly. If you open them under the trees, a dozen or so squirrels will come down and eat out of your hand. The area is very tourist friendly with several maps in English and Japanese with pictures, and there are many signs on the street pointing you in the right direction. The area is definately nice if you aren't exactly the big city kind of person, but you end up in Tokyo anyway. (Sorry the picture is crap, but I'm very low tech and am taking pictures of photos with my web cam. I'm so lame. Anyway, that's this guy Doug feeding the squirrels.)