Sunday, April 15, 2018

Japan Travelogue Day 2: Kawaguchiko Station - Mount Fuji

I’m finally back to continue on my Japan travelogue! I don’t know whether it’s bad luck or what but weather forecast for the entire week we were in Japan was rainy and one of the highlights of visiting Tokyo is definitely seeing Mount Fuji up close. I would definitely be disappointed if i didn’t get to see it, especially after hearing so many stories of people missing it again and again due to the weather. 

Then again, even if the weather forecast was rain (or even thunderstorm), i think i would still go ahead with my plan and travel all the way to Kawaguchiko, with a glimpse of hope to see Mt. Fuji. I planned the day trip to be on Day 4 of my week in Tokyo (forecast of rain by the way) BUT just before Day 1 ended, i randomly decided to check the weather forecast again and guess what, CLEAR SKY FOR THE NEXT DAY. With a stroke of luck, the weather changed.  
I immediately took out my macbook and spent the next hour making changes to the itinerary. The fastest (but the most expensive) route via public transport to Kawaguchiko station will take about 146 mins (almost 3 hours!) and cost ¥3,310, which is about SGD$40. If you want cheaper fare, then the ride will take longer. For example, 187 mins for ¥2,590 (SGD$31) I cannot imagine myself taking the train for close to 3 hours and not seeing Mt. Fuji :( Did i mention that the above fare is only one way?

Which is why i would totally recommend another option, which is to take the highway bus. WARNING: VERY POPULAR SO BOOK EARLY! A round trip from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko and back will cost ¥3,550 (SGD$42) which is way cheaper than your round trip via public transport and also faster at just 1 hour 45 mins each way! However do book in advance as these buses are very popular. We were lucky to grab the last couple of seats for the next morning before they were sold out. Other than boarding from Shinjuku, there is also an option to depart from Shibuya.  
The seats were comfortable, and after passing by FujiQ highland (the scary looking theme park with roller coasters), we arrived at Kawaguchiko station along with the other tourists. There were several ways to explore the area, like following a tour to the different “stations” but i did some research and decided to go for the “Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway” to get a good view of Mt. Fuji. The place used to be called Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway but i have no idea they changed name until recently.  
It’s about a good 15 to 20 mins walk from Kawaguchiko station. There are no signs pointing you to the direction of the ropeway so it’s best to rely on google maps to bring you there.  
Since it’s early and gonna be quite a walk, it’s best to get breakfast from their 7-eleven and eat along the way. The above is one of my favourite onigiri. It’s this soy sauce based rice ball wrapped with seaweed and it has a full seasoned egg inside. Super delicious and filling. I think it cost about $3?  
Really lucky to have clear good weather that day. 谢天谢地  
Round trip entry ticket on the ropeway cost ¥800 (SGD10) which is pretty cheap for an admission ticket.
The concept is just like a cable car, just much bigger and it brings you all the way up so that you get a panoramic view over Lake Kawaguchi and Mt. Fuji.  
Throughout the different seasons in Japan, your view up the ropeway will be different. Like in autumn, you probably go through the golden colored autumn leaves!  
Hello Mount Fuji! I’m so glad to be able to see you during my first trip to Japan! I heard it’s even prettier towards winter where you can see the snow capped peak! I’ve always seen photos taken from planes where they flew past Mt. Fuji. What a sight to behold.  
Other than admiring the mountain from afar and taking a gazillion photos, there are other things such as like ring the “Tenjo Bell” or Throw the “Kawara” clay cup but i will leave you to explore on your own. What everyone was really interested in was the “Tanuki Jaya” shop where they sell food and souvenirs for tourists. Most people will get the dumplings (shown above) which is like a warm mochi drenched in sauce or soy bean powder.  
During our visit there, they were selling limited grape soft serve which is a must get in my opinion. Very refreshing and delicious, even came with one huge delicious grape on it!  
Another novelty food was this “Mount Fuji” dessert which is something like the raindrop jelly with sauce and soy bean powder (again) It’s pretty lame but when you are a tourist, you just want to get everything to try. HAHAHA  
We spent about 2 hours at the top taking photos and eating before heading down.  
At the bottom of the hill, there was this makeshift fruit stall selling the most visually appetising fruits. Big juicy looking apples at ¥400 each, HUGE grapes costing up to ¥3000 (SGD37) a bunch which is almost the cost of our bus fare to this place! We bought the basic ¥700 bunch and it taste pretty good but i honestly prefer the sweet ones i had in Korea.  
Really nice and relaxing to take a day trip out of busy Tokyo in such a good weather. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the area and admiring the surrounding, munching on our expensive grapes, LOL  
Returned back to Tokyo and headed to one of the JR Tokai Tour office to purchase our advance tickets to Osaka via Platt Kodama Shinkansen. A one way trip from Tokyo to Osaka cost ¥10,500 (SGD128) Sounds expensive but it’s probably the cheapest way to travel via the Shinkansen. I will explain more in one of my later post :)  
Being a huge fan of Tendon, i would definitely want to give it a try in Japan! Did some research and chanced upon TENDON TENYA - 天丼てんや which is a chain restaurant which serves both wallet and tastebud-friendly tempura meals. Not exactly the best but good enough.  
Ordered the standard bowl with a side of onsen egg. There are a lot of choice depending on what you want in your bowl. The “all star Tendon” will cost you just ¥720 with a side of miso soup. Definitely value for money! I don’t know why but i sort of prefer the one i had at Tanjong Pagar, Singapore. Slightly more expensive but the ingredients were a lot more and filling. 

With that said, this is the end of my Day 2 Japan travelogue! Hopefully this post provided some insights for those planning a day trip to Mount Fuji! If you intend to stay over Lake Kawaguchi area for a couple of days, you can also checkout Gotemba Premium Outlets, Japan's most popular outlet mall, located in Gotemba City at the base of Mount Fuji, not far from Hakone. 

If not, do stay at one of the traditional Ryokan (traditional japanese inn/ guest house) or hotels with an onsen which gives you a magnificient view of Mount Fuji. I just have to say this again, really really lucky to have clear blue sky for one of the days during our one week in Tokyo. As expected, the rest of the week were rainy. Even at Disneyland and DisneySea which i will cover in the next 2 posts! 

Till the next post!                      

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Japan Travelogue Day 1: AirBnB, Hedgehog Cafe and Tokyo Tower!

I’m finally back after 1 month to continue on my Japan travelogue. If i go at this rate at 1 post a month, i will probably take the entire year to complete this travelogue, LOL Just joking. Before i go on, i would like to thank some of you guys who reached out via social media/ email to comment on the previous post, really appreciate it! I will definitely finish this travelogue, just a matter of when :)

As mentioned in my previous post, i took a midnight flight and arrived at 8am the next day. Really good timing since we get to spend the full day in Japan. With that said, we didn’t plan too many activities on the first day since we had to settle administrative stuff like collection of tickets and settling into our AirBnB etc. 

One common question most people will have in their mind when getting their air tickets would be whether to land in Narita Airport or Haneda Airport. Well, Haneda is definitely nearer to downtown Tokyo (14km) compared to Narita (60km) but it also depends on which airline you are taking and also the difference in fare you are paying between the 2 airports. My advice is, just take the cheaper one.  
There are several ways to get to downtown Tokyo from the airport like bus or train or taxi and i chose to take the Keisei Skyliner which takes about 40 mins. The train travels the speed of 160 km/ hour which is just slightly slower than their bullet train. It’s a direct train to either Nippori or Ueno station, and from there you can switch to the local train to get to your destination. Fare for adults is at 2200 yen (S$27) Affordable and comfortable. After which, you can just get your SUICA card which allows you to travel on public transport.

Like i mentioned in my previous post, getting an accommodation around the popular areas such as Shinjuku or Shibuya can get really pricey so in order to save money, it’s better to get somewhere nearby, maybe 1 or 2 stations away and best if the tourist areas are accessible by foot or a couple of stops away.

It took me awhile to decide which AirBnB to go for, narrowed down to a few choices and i finally decided on the one above. Average out to be SGD100 a night (Do note that AirBnB charge cleaning fee and service fee on top of your room charge) The reason why i chose this place is because the location is good enough. The nearest station to my AirBnB is Minami-Shinjuku Station (2 mins walk) and Yoyogi Station (5 mins walk), in fact, i even tried walking back from Shinjuku (15-20 mins) and it’s still manageable! 

The room has everything you probably need, a double bed, sofa, basic amenities, kitchen etc. They also provide pocket wifi for you to bring around if you don’t have one! Once you confirm your booking, you will be sent a “manual” on how to check in and operate the different remote controls such as the air con and washer. The convenience store is just nearby beside the station. 

The only downside is probably there is no elevator so you have to carry your luggage when you check in or out. They mentioned that the room is suitable for 4 but i think it’s just nice for 2.  
There is also like a mini balcony with a not bad view but it was really cold and raining during the period.
After checking into the AirBnB, we unpacked some of our stuff and decided to head out to explore. But first, lunch. We didn’t know what to have for our first meal and decided to have a quick one at Yoshinoya. I’m personally not a huge fan of beef but everyone keep telling me i must at least try their beef bowl once because it’s so different from the ones in Singapore so my first meal in Tokyo was their signature beef bowl! 

It was so good. 

I totally did not expect it. I’m not sure what causes it to be so good (maybe the sauce?) but everything goes so well together. The pearl rice and thinly sliced beef combined, it’s so value for money. No wonder it’s so popular amongst the working adults. They just come in, order a bowl of beef rice, gulped it down within 10 mins and leave. Not like us, we spent at least 15 mins looking through the menu before deciding what to get when we know we were obviously there for the beef bowl, LOL 

Explored Shinjuku area for the rest of the afternoon before heading to Ropponggi to visit...

Harry's Hedgehog café 
Roppongi, 6 Chome−7−2, 岩堀 ビル 

Before i go on, here are some info that you might want to know. They open from 12pm to 8pm. Last entry is at 7.30pm. Slot reservation can be made online and it’s best to book a slot, especially on Saturday, Sundays and Holidays. Fees are at ¥1400 for a 30 mins session or ¥2800 for 60 mins. For ¥1630, you get a 30 mins session with a cup of hedgehog snack (a cup of mealworms in case you are wondering what snack it is, lol) to feed your hedgehog. There are 2 outlets in Tokyo, one at Ropponggi and the other located at Harajuku.  
As we arrived on a Tuesday, we did a walk in and took the ¥1630 package. Sanitised our hands and was ushered to one of the stations with 2 hedgehogs in the tank. We were then taught how to hold them or use the gloves provided if we are too afraid to hold them. They can get really prickly when agitated! It was not easy trying to get them to stay still in your hand while being soft and cuddly. One of them even bit me and refuse to let go! In the end we decided to don the gloves and grab it fearlessly. #doitforthegram LOL
I have only been to dog and cat cafes in Singapore so when i know that i’m visiting Japan, i immediately went to search on unique things to do and visiting the hedgehog cafe was one of them! (the other is the owl cafe which i will cover in my other posts) These little fellas are so cute, especially when they curl into a ball when they sleep! In case you were wondering if you should spent more time with them and get the 1 hour session, i would say 30 mins would be more than enough with these guys. LOL Hedgehog Cafe, checked!  
Next up, we visited the Tokyo Tower. I was deciding between the Tokyo Tower or the Tokyo Skytree. On KKday, The admission fee to the skytree is at $28 and Tokyo tower is at just $11. Well, i guess the price do play a part when i made my decision, lol. I also felt that the Tokyo Tower is more iconic as it has been there for the longest time and we always see it in posters and advertisements.  

Got my tickets in advance from KKday. Went to the counter, exchanged my voucher for the my tickets. Skipped the main queue and totally fuss free. Definitely the way to go about when going overseas!  
As we visited the place in the night, all we could see were the lights of Tokyo, nothing much. I read that in the day when visibility is good, there is a chance to see the Tokyo Skytree and even Mount Fuji! There is nothing much to see but being a tourist and this is one of the tourist-y thing to do, we just decided to enter the tower since it’s just $11. Honestly, I’m more interested in taking photos of the tower from the outside.  
At the base of the tower is a variety of souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and also the One piece indoor amusement park. I guess if you are a one piece fan, this park is probably one of the must go for you! One of the souvenirs to get is the famed Tokyo Banana. I’ve ate it countless of times, not a fan of it BUT that day i just decided to get a 4 piece box to remind myself how it taste like and i was kinda surprised! I’m not sure why but it tasted so much better than the last time i tried it when someone brought it back to SG! Is it just a psychological thing because i’m there physically in Japan. HAHAHHAHA 

Anyway, we wanted to get a few boxes back as souvenirs for our friends and we did a quick search online that read that these Tokyo bananas are only available in Tokyo (The exact words from the article was, “It’s called Tokyo Banana for a reason.”) so at the end of our Tokyo trip before we transited to Osaka, we bought like 5 big boxes and brought it ALL THE WAY TO OSAKA in our luggage, kept it for another 7 days and guess what? We saw these Tokyo Bananas again at Kansai airport in Osaka. *roll eyes to the max* We only had like 3 days upon arriving back in Singapore to quickly pass to our friends before it expires. 天啊. So don’t make the same mistake as us, these souvenir snacks are readily available at the airports, be it in Tokyo or Osaka. So you can actually leave it to the last minute and get it from the airport. LOL 

Wait. Is that why the Tokyo Bananas i had in Singapore are not that nice because it’s not as fresh?

Hmm…  You know how they say in Japan, you can just go into any random ramen store, have a bowl of ramen and it’s probably gonna be the best one you ever had?

We tested the theory and I’ve got to say that it’s true!!!! 

We were searching for a place to have late dinner and came across this store at a back alley near our place. It was empty and ordering is only via the ticket vending machine which had Japanese words all over it. (In the first place we didn’t even know if the place sells ramen until we asked the owner, haha) With our limited Jap vocab, we managed to get him to point to us which are the ramen buttons and which is the button to add an egg (“Tamago”, i know since i love the sushi. LOL)  Randomly ordered one of their ramens.
It turns out to be one of the best ramen we ever had! The portion was huge, the soup was thick and flavourful, the ramen texture was just nice and the egg was perfect! Throughout the whole meal, we kept commenting on how good the ramen was. Warm and delicious ramen on a cold night. It was the perfect ending to the first day in Tokyo. I would totally recommend this place to you guys but i have no idea where it’s located :| Maybe you guys can try searching Araumi Ramen? 

Alright, that’s the end of my Day 1 in Tokyo. It was forecasted to be raining the entire week when we are in Tokyo BUT we just decided to randomly do a last minute check before sleeping and we realised the next day is clear out of a sudden. We immediately adjusted our itinerary to visit Kawaguchiko for a chance to see Mount Fuji (What’s a trip to Japan without seeing Mt. Fuji right!) and that’s what the Day 2 is gonna be about :) 

Till the next post!