Kanazawa – Takayama, Japan 2017 – Day 7

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Woke up and took the train back to Kanazawa station to reserve our bullet train tickets for the next 2 days.

Morning reservations for the express trains were completely full so we had to take the local train which was an hour longer ride with 1 more transfer point than the express. We ended up roaming the mall beside the station for a bit before our train was departing. The ride was pretty smooth but broken up into 1 hour, 1 hour 1.5 hours. We purchased ekibens – I got this square one with 9 little samplers for 1000y but decided not to eat it right off the spot but regretted it because only our first train was a bullet train and had a tray to eat on but the other 2 local trains were just seats like a normal train but we were rebels and ate on it. The train went through the mountain side.

The Takayama station is absolutely stunning. Takayama is known for their furniture (high quality of timber), hida beef and sake as well as their well known mascot Sarubobo – Monkey Baby. The mothers and grandmothers would make these dolls for their child out of scrap materials and made them faceless. They are amulets bringing protection and happiness and in the future luck in marriage, fertility and childbirth.

The weather was significantly warmer than our pervious day in Kanazawa so we decided a 30 minute walk to our Hotel would be no problem. We didn’t realize our hotel – Takayama Kankou aka Hagi  (Japan, 〒506-0852 Gifu Prefecture, Takayama, 八幡町280) is actually on the side of a mountain/hillside. The windy angular roads led to the perfect lookout point over the city. We took the route google maps had provided which was actually the longer way up that hugged the corner of the mountain. We got checked in and we had booked a 5 person room. Our entrance has a sliding wooden gate then you open the door and find yourself stepping on these tiles with pebbles between then leading you into the room. Its a tatami covered floor room with a little seating area and sliding doors everywhere to configure the room to what is necessary for the time.

The best part of this room – the view. Mind you, there are trees in the way for a clean view, the city behind it with its sun setting is absolutely stunning. The hotel provides a turn down service around 6PM where they come in and transform one of the rooms into a sleeping area with the futons and also provide you with yukatas to wear indoors, to the onsen, to dinner or wherever else you would like to go. BUT remember, the slippers and your shoes are not to touch the tatami mats.

We were waiting for Glenn & John to arrived but in the meantime we had to figure out dinner plans. There is an option for room service however they were sold out by the time we called and because we had reserved the room so long ago and thought nothing of it that we didn’t know we needed to make reservations for the dining hall and had to fend for ourselves. The man at front desk recommended this one cafe just down the street from us but it was closed so we had to venture down the hill to the main part of town to find food. Apparently stores and restaurants for the main part close incredibly early leaving those hungry needing to look for the flashing lights outside the stores to beckon them in their direction. It got extremely cold as temperatures dropped once the sun went down. Cold enough to see our breathes.

We made it back to Takayama station as there were a few stores open there. We have also been told that we need to try pasta at least once while we are here so that settled things. We arrived at Salute (サルーテ) for Italian and it was a nice change of pace from ramen. We ordered a hida cow pizza, a margarita and tomato crab pasta. Manwai kept eyeing the giant half wheel of cheese that was sitting under its own heat lamp ready to be scraped off onto the next order or broccoli, fries or pasta.

Back up the hillside we went to await Glenn and John. We tried to wait it out but they missed one of their connecting trains and we had to wait longer. We went to front desk to see if we could leave our key with them but the 2 men there didn’t speak english but with the help of our phones and translator, we were able to communicate. The onsen was nice but after visiting Oedo Onsen in Tokyo, this was just ok. The rooftop onsen is only available for the women in the afternoon to night while the morning is reserved for the males. We went to the rooftop one but it is just 1 giant tub. I think if we had gone earlier when we could’ve seen the scenery outside, it would’ve made it more worthwhile. We ended up transferring down to the main onsen but because it was so late at night, Manwai and myself had it all to ourselves. One giant tub inside with a nice rocky open air one outside.

Tokyo, Japan 2017 – Day 4

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I woke up extremely early and decided to finally go for a morning walk – it was quiet but cold however I wanted to chase that morning light. Once everyone was awake and fully packed, we split up once again with Mike, Manwai & myself dropping off our bags at Tokyo station – East Maouranchi Line. We wanted to go back to Chidori-ga-fuchi however, it was a late start (we left around 830-9AM) we wouldn’t have enough time to go back and also make it out to Mitaka for our Ghibli Museum reservation for noon.

We had to take 2 JR rails to get out to Mitaka, which took around an hour. We decided to walk from the station and it was such a nice walk over. We lined up once we got there and were let in earlier than our 12 reservation. Purchasing the ticket a month prior was one of the most stressful things to do as every 10th at 10am (Japan time) the tickets for the following month are released and they sell out like hotcakes for 1000y (if you use tour agencies – it costs a lot more but guarantees tickets). Our actual ticket was a 3 piece film strip of different clips from different movies under the Studio Ghibli banner – mine was from Howl’s moving Castle. You are however, NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE PHOTOS INSIDE THE MUSEUM. They have a permanent collection which is filled in a room showing the different techniques they had done with the drawing and filming or movies as well as claymation. It was absolutely my favourite room of the museum especially the spinning cylinder with the robot and the birds.

The only place in the building you are allowed to take photos is when you are going to the rooftop where the giant robot statue is after you walk up the spiral staircase. The museum also features a gift shop which is always packed but filled with tempting items exclusive to the museum visit. I ended up purchasing a postcard with one of my favourite scenes from my favourite movie – Whisper of the Heart, a wooden keychain with a bell inside the bunny, a postcard that pops up to become a 3D card of the actual museum in a mario bros gameboy type of style and a mini toy of the entrance of the museum. There is also a cafe below but the line up was long so we opted to cross the street to Lawson and pick up a few items to bring back to the park behind the museum and have a little picnic – be warned – there are no garbage cans. The weather was rather nice but a little on the chillier side.

We took the Studio Ghibli bus back to the Mitaka station however it feels like its taking the long route.

We proceeded to make our way to Shinagawa and got there a little early and decided to find a little cafe called Zakkat Cafe nearby to warm up before Maricar. I ordered the peach and apricot tea (450y).

Perfect little place to warm up before heading over to the Shinagawa location for Maricar. Our guide was Ike and once we got there, we paid upfront (course A at Shinagawa – 5PM (to get sunlight to sunset to night time driving) 6000y with a trip advisor or Facebook review, showed our international drivers license and then proceeded to choose our costume for the ride. There are Mario bros characters and non-Mario cart characters or you can opt to bring your own. I dressed as Usavich ウサビッチ Usabitchi, from Usagi. Make sure to carry your international and normal drivers license with you as your drive around. There is a little pouch on the cart that can fit these licenses and as well as your cellphone and extra batteries. *NOTE* I suggest you bring extra go pro batteries if you can and also don’t start it up right away. Get use to driving the first 10 minutes and save your precious battery for the better sights along the way like the landmarks – Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing, Roppongi etc considering it is about 2-3 hours of driving around.

Cameras are allowed (strap around your neck) but not allowed to shoot when driving as instructed by the guide. You can have a max of 12 per session with a guide in the back and one in the front as you will be driving with normal Tokyo traffic. Be warned now that you will be inhaling exhaust from all the carts for 2-3 hours so be prepared. They give you a quick lesson on how to operate the go kart and off you go. Turn key on, take step on brake (left foot), release handbrake, put car into Forward, press the yellow ignition lever, apply pressure to gas (right foot) and ready to go. The brake needs a little more pressure to stop more accurately. There are hazard lights for when you pull over and signal lights that you need to press the middle to cancel the signal. There is no throwing bananas allowed nor bumper cars.

The lead guide will signal to you when you will be driving in single file and when we will be driving double side-by-side. Anytime you are stopping at a red light, you will go double lines and there will be a few turns where its double turning in the same lane. The carts are rather safe for not having seatbelt or helmets and can average speeds of 60-70KM/HR. If you are doing night driving remember to dress warm. The experience is completely worth the price.

Once we finished our 2 hour adventure around town, we ordered a Uber and went to our next destination which also doubled as our accommodations for the night – Ooedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba. Once you arrive, you take off your shoes and place them in a shoe locker before going to the front desk and checking in. You receive a wristlet with your locker number and key and it acts as your credit card during your duration at the onsen. Next step, you go over to the yukata rentals and choose what design you want and your colour sash – you need to know how tall you are in CM to get a proper fitting yukata. Once you have your yukata you proceed to the change rooms and change out of your street clothes but leave on your underwear (for women, bras are optional but keep your panties on underneath). The yukata goes on with left folding under right which is shown in the signs around the locker room. Once you have gotten the yukata on, you wrap once the sash around and make a nice bow in the front then turn it around so the bow is facing the back.

Once that is completed, you can then proceed to the main area where it is somewhat themed to look like the olden days with all the dark wood paneling and lanterns everywhere. There are game stalls, arcades and food options everywhere that you pay for with your wristlet. I ordered a cold soba noodle dish.

The onsen has 2 main areas for those who plan on staying overnight to sleep – the relaxation room not he second floor with reclining couches with televisions – similar to first class seats on airplanes – this is a first come, first serve basis. There is a mixed relaxation room but also a women only one. The other sleeping area is located downstairs where they repurpose a room where they would eat into a laying down sleeping area.

Now onto the onsen itself. Once we digested our food after playing a few games, you get separated by gender and go into the spa. Once in the room, you choose a locker, grab a small and big towel and strip down. You take everything off and place it into the locker and take only the small towel with you. You enter the onsen and rinse off. If you prefer, you can do a full rinse off at the shower stalls before entering. Hair if possible should not be in the water. There are multiple baths all different temperatures. In the far left corner once you enter, there is an area with 4 laying down jets, 3-4 soaking tubs then 3 giant soaking areas. There is a mist and a dry sauna and of course a cold bath. There are also 2 big soaking areas outside and 4 are individual tubs.

My favourite part was actually the slightly colder pools as I saw myself falling asleep in them but also the whole going from hot sauna to cold bath was the best. Once we finished, we went into the shower stalls (2 westernized standing showers near the main door or the sitting stalls with mirrors) shampoo, conditioner and body wash are provided for you. Once you are clean, head back into the main onsen change room and dry off and get dressed. There are also face lotions, hairbands, shower caps, toothbrushes with toothpaste already on them.