Monday, 31 December 2012

Japan Dec 2012 Day 13: Yokohama

About half an hour from JR Shimbashi is JR Sakuragicho, a convenient stop if you would like to visit the cup noodle museum (about 20 min walk from the station), Minato Mirai and red brick warehouses. There is also the minato mirai station but it's not JR. The signature semi-circular building representative of Yokohama is Intercontinental Hotel. 

We were torn between the Yokohama ramen museum and the cup noodle museum and found the cup noodle museum but were very glad we went to the latter. It was very fun and interesting because we could make our very own cup noodles for JPY 300 per cup (Entrance fee: JPY 500 per person). This should be very enjoyable for families with children as there are also classes parents and kids can sign up for to make their own noodles. We saw many elementary school children there for an excursion.

From the museum, it’s a short 3 min walk to Akai Renga, the red brick warehouses and from there we walked through 2 rows of sakura trees (of cos there was no sakura) to Landmark Plaza. We can imagine it will be very beautiful in spring =)

Lunch was at La Maison, a western restaurant in Landmark Plaza with lovely tarts!

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Japan Dec 2012 Day 12: Shiga Kogen, Nagano

The ryokan gave us a short ride to the bus-stop where we caught a bus to Haruike where we boarded the bus to Ichinose ski field in Shiga Kogen 志賀高原. I find skiing very difficult and you definitely need an instructor to teach you the basics. It was rather torturous for us haha but it was an interesting experience. I probably have phobia and will not want to try again =P I also recommend staying in a hotel in Shiga Kogen so you have more time to pick up the skills and practice. Hiro san told us that he is also a ski instructor when he saw our video haha we should have got some tips from him!

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Japan Dec 2012 Day 11: Yudanaka, Nagano

After about 2 hours from Tokyo via the JR Asama shinkansen, we arrived at Nagano 長野 to catch the Nagaden panoramic train to Yudanaka 湯田中(about 50 mins, make sure you take the front seat!) where the ryokan shuttle picked us up. 

We stayed at Jinpyokaku, a small exclusive ryokan with only 6 rooms, highly favoured by celebrities and artists such as poets etc. It was very cold and snowing outside so the owner upgraded us to a suite! =D The room was very big with a kotatsu (table with heated blanket) where we spent most of our time. There's something very comforting about wrapping yourself in the warmth of the kotatsu in very cold weather =) When they made our beds, they placed hot stone pillows at the feet under the duvet! What a thoughtful gesture! No more icy cold toes! ^^

About 20 mins walk from the ryokan is the entrance to Jigokudani, home of the snow monkeys. We had lunch at a small restaurant along the way, recommended by our ryokan. From the entrance, it’s another 1.6 km walk/hike. Depending on the weather, the estimated time is about 30 mins. We took almost 45 mins since it was snowing. Unlike the mischievous monkeys in Uluwatu, Bali, that may snatch your belongings, these monkeys are more interested in their onsen soak than you. So it’s shutter-happy for both amateur and professional photographers alike =)

At about 3+, the monkeys unanimously got out of the pool and moved toward a common direction. We followed them and realized what was happening: it's meal-time hahaha! It's so amazing that they know exactly when it's feeding time! Inkie is like that too haha

We walked back to the ryokan because it was starting to snow rather heavily. The ryokan has a beautiful mixed public outdoor hotspring which the owner reserved for our private use (for an hour) at no extra charge =) Female guests are allowed to wear a robe to protect their modesty as there is a hotel just next door that is taller than the ryokan. The yuki mi buro 雪見風呂 which, translated, means “snow-viewing hot spring”, was absolutely fascinating! It was a first for us: soaking in the hot spring while enjoying the falling snow =) The ryokan provides straw hats for this purpose so you don't get your head wet. It's the little thoughtful gestures that makes this place so special.

Dinner was equally impressive, featuring Shinshu 信州 beef shabu shabu as the pièce de résistance. We were told that Shinshu beef is from cows that feed on Nagano apples… wow! We concurred that it was the best meal we had on this trip! Unlike most kaiseki meals 懐石料理 in ryokan where there are bound to be suspicious-looking dishes that take guts to stomach, every dish in this meal was absolutely delicious! ^^

For JPY 18, 900 per person per night (This is for the mid-range room which we booked. The suite which they upgraded us to costs JPY 26, 250 per person per night), the ryokan lives up to its reputation and I will definitely recommend anyone coming to see the snow monkeys to stay one night here. The ryokan is also supposed to have complimentary wi-fi in the room (very rare in a ryokan!) but we couldn’t really get it to work because the NTT Docomo reception was rather erratic in this region (since it's rather remote). In general, we really enjoyed this part of the trip because of this lovely ryokan and the very adorable monkeys =)

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