Categories
Activities Destinations

Cycling around Lake Kawaguchiko

Rent a bike and cycle around Lake Kawaguchiko, in the shadow of Mt Fuji.

I’m the kind of traveller that plans their trips meticulously. The planning and looking forward to those plans is a part of the enjoyment. I don’t want to waste any time deciding what to do every day. But I have no problems changing my plans and carefully constructed itineraries if it suits me on the day.

Planned itineraries can wear you out if you forget to plan for down time. That’s why one day in my First Cabin hostel in Akasaka I woke up early, feeling a little tired of the city. I checked the weather forecast. It was a clear enough day, so I got up and hurried to the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal to catch an early highway bus to Kawaguchiko.

Take the highway bus

Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (4F) is a 2 minute walk from the New South Exit of JR Shinjuku Station. From there you can catch highway buses to Kawaguchiko. Both Fujikyu and Keio Bus operate buses to Kawaguchiko Station from Shinjuku. You can book tickets online, or buy them from the counter at the terminal.

Kawaguchiko is one of the towns in the Five Lake area at the foot of Mt Fuji. I’d googled for buses in that direction and saw that the very early buses were mostly full. When I got to the station just after 7 AM, I was able to get a ticket for the 8.55 AM bus, but the man at the counter also put me on the waiting list for the one at 7.55 AM. He told me to come back to his desk at a certain time and stand in a certain place. The man had flash cards in various languages, but he spoke no English at all. This was, at the time, the longest and most complicated conversation I’d had in Japanese, but it all worked out. I stood in the place I was told to, at the time I was told to and lo and behold, the man beckoned me over with a smile. Off I went on the 7.55 AM bus.

Great views along the way. Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi.

Great views of Mount Fuji

The bus ride to Kawaguchiko is about an hour and forty-five minutes long. On a bright day, you get a good and long view of Mount Fuji the minute you drive out of Shinjuku to the West. You’ll barely lose sight of it until you arrive at your destination. The bus picks up passengers from only a couple of bus stops along the way and eventually passes through Fuji Q, the entertainment park, before arriving at Kawaguchiko station. There, the mountain looms impressively behind the station building. Trust me, at some point during your day here, you’ll start to feel like you can’t escape the damn thing!

Renting a bicycle

Right across from the station you’ll find an outdoor shop with a side business in bicycle rental, Soranoshita Kawaguchiko. They also carry an impressive line in cool T-shirts. I was able to rent a bike from them very quickly. You fill in a rental form and make your payment, including a deposit that you’ll get back once you return the bike. There’s a choice of regular or electric. I went for regular after consulting the staff member who said the ride around the lake wasn’t going to be too strenuous. She was right, it wasn’t.

Tip: I find that Japanese bikes tend to have their saddles a lot lower than I’m used to in my country. Instead of sitting up straight, you end up more slouchy and this makes it 1. hard on your knees and 2. more difficult to navigate. Make sure shop staff prepare the bike for you the way you are used to.

Cycling around the lake

Once they’d adjusted my bike, I set off for the 20km ride, counter clockwise around the lake. 20km is nothing and can be done in an hour, but it took me about five as I felt compelled to stop every few 100 meters to take in the spectacular views, and to take pictures.

It was too early in the year for the cherry blossoms, but right out of the gate, so to speak, I found a small strip of green with a couple of ume (plum) trees in bloom. So pretty.

The weather was amazing. Bright and sunny, with a cool breeze. I got sunburnt like I hadn’t been in a while. Bring sunscreen or cover yourself. Bring sunglasses too.

Take a break in Oishi Park

My first real break was at Oishi Park on the North shore of the lake. It has a wonderful view of the mountain and it is a popular rest area. I parked my bike, got some food and a glass of iced coffee and – as they say – smelled the flowers.

Oishi Park hot dog and mountain

On the South shore of the lake, I took a break at Yagizaki Park. Closer to the town of Kawaguchiko, this park was being used for school year pictures when I got there. You can see them gathering on top of the hill on the right side of the picture below.

Yagizaki Park

Lake Kawaguchi Mt. Tenjō Ropeway

After my bike ride, I took the Lake Kawaguchi Mt. Tenjō Ropeway up Mount Tenjō (900 yen for a round trip). At the top, the observatory has a view of the lake as well as the infamous Aokigahara forest and Mount Fuji. By then, the clouds were coming in and Fuji-san became less and less visible. I’ve read mornings are always the best time for clear skies, so I suggest an early start is advisable if you too would like to cycle around Lake Kawaguchiko.

Buying a ticket back to Tokyo was relatively easy from the counter at Kawaguchiko station. I got back to the city around 7pm. On the bus all the Japanese passengers were fast asleep. I had an ear to ear grin on my face. Completely refreshed and ready to face the city again.

Lake Kawaguchiko panorama
Categories
Activities Destinations

A boat trip to Gunkanjima, the James Bond island

(23 september 2019) It is currently not possible to land on Gunkanjima until further notice due to typhoon related damage to the port.

Back in 2015, on one of my first trips to Japan, I tried to go to Gunkanjima, the “James Bond” island off the coast of Nagasaki. I was staying in Fukuoka and had booked the trip via the Gunkanjima Concierge website, one of several operators of sightseeing tours to the island. I was aware that weather conditions would decide whether the boat would be able to land on the island or indeed actually depart or not, but I forgot to check the weather the morning of my departure. When I got there after a long train ride, all trips had been cancelled for the day.

Gunkan” battleship roll, an oval ship-shaped maki sushi.

Hashima Island (端島) better known as Gunkanjima (軍艦島; meaning Battleship Island), is an abandoned artificial island about 19 kilometers off the coast of the city of Nagasaki, in southern Japan. One of Nagasaki Prefecture’s 505 uninhabited islands, it’s best known for the abandoned concrete buildings used as the backdrop for some notable scenes in the James Bond movie Skyfall, although the scenes involving the actors were not actually filmed on the island, but in Macau.

Coal mines

Around 5000 people used to work in undersea coal mines on Gunkanjima. They lived in multi-story apartments that covered the island, giving it its battleship shape. The coal was mainly for the Yawata Steel Works, managed by the Mitsubishi Mining Company since 1890. Controversially, from the 1930s until the end of the Second World War, conscripted Korean civilians and Chinese prisoners of war were forced to work at the Gunkanjima Mitsubishi facility under Japanese wartime mobilisation policies in very dangerous conditions.

It does look like a battleship.

Eventually, the coal ran out and the mine was closed in 1974. All of Gunkanjima’s inhabitants left and the island was abandoned for 30 years. The buildings crumbled and tumbled under the harsh weather conditions. But the ruins stirred up interest with urban explorers and eventually and access was re-opened in April 2009. Gunkanjima became an unlikely tourist attraction even though more than 95% of the island is still off-limits during the organised tours. Japanese tourists flocked to the island first, and after the Bond movie, foreign visitors started to join the daily tours, operated by various companies from Nagasaki harbour.

Unesco World Heritage

In 2015, the island was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site as part of “Industrial Heritages for Modernization in Kyushu and Yamaguchi”, but not without opposition from both China and South Korea. Japan had never acknowledged the existence of forced labour on the island before and during WWII. Japan eventually said they would take measures “to allow an understanding that there were a large number of Koreans and others who were brought there against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions” and the island was then approved for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Until today, there is no mention of this dark history on the island and tour guides apparently do not refer to or appreciate being asked about it at all.

In 2018 I was on day trip to Nagasaki from Fukuoka, with no planned intention to visit Gukanjima. I wanted to see more of the city and its Chinatown than I did last time I went. Beautifully situated on the coast, surrounded by mountains, Nagasaki has almost a European flavour. The city has street names (“Holland Street”) and you’ll find signs and plaques everywhere telling you about its history. I walked up “Dutch slope” and had a coffee at a very colonial looking mansion. I went to Dejima, the former Dutch settlement that has been lovingly restored. Marvelled at the Dutch language videos in the rooms. The city has recently restored the bridge to the original entrance of the settlement. They even want to make it an island again by digging canals on its two, now landlocked, sides.

Nagasaki’s famous dish, Champon

After exploring the city, I picked Shikairou, the oldest Chinese restaurant in town (1899), for lunch. I’d seen the historic spot where it used to be in Chinatown, but it has since moved to a 5-story, ugly modern building near the waterfront. I ordered the dish that Shikairou’s owner invented: Champon. A noodle soup in sea food broth. It had no flavour that I could detect, and neither did the small piece of slow cooked pork I ordered as a side, another local specialty.

A disappointing lunch, but Shikairou is very close to Tokiwa Pier, the spot where four years earlier I’d found out my trip to Gunkanjima had been cancelled due to weather conditions. This time, the weather was outstanding, so I walked over to the tour operator’s office. By chance I got there exactly at the right time, the boat was due to leave within the hour. A small queue had already formed. I was handed a waiting list ticket and ended up nr 6 in line after all the pre-booked people. Eventually, I got on the tour without a problem. They made me sign a landing certificate and a ‘safety contract’ and the ticket for the tour cost 4000 yen, plus 300 yen island landing rights.

Nothing better than an unplanned boat ride. I’d read about the sea around the island being rough and to get ready for sea sickness, but there was none of that. The trip takes about 50 minutes and the island comes in view about 30 minutes after departure. The boat circles the island slowly before landing, so everybody can get a good look. From a certain angle, the island and its buildings really does look like a battleship. The captain of the boat has to decided whether conditions are safe enough for the boat to land. If not, the boat will keep circumnavigating the island for the duration of the tour. Landing on Gunkanjima is said to be possible only on about 100 days per year and is most difficult between November and March.

Fortunately, conditions were deemed good enough. After the boat landed, everyone on the tour had to walk along the designated paths as a group. You get to spend about an hour on the island and are only allowed to walk within a fenced off strip about 1/4 of the island’s circumference. The rest of the island is deemed too dangerous to explore. You are not allowed to stray from the group. Commentary on the tour that I was on was in Japanese only. Like a lot of Japanese bus and boat tours, the whole thing was highly organised, with continuous and inescapable Japanese commentary both on the boat (pre-recorded) and on the island. Some tour operators provide English language ear pieces. The guides will talk about the history of the island, its role in the modernisation of Japan and the stories of the people who risked their lives in the mines.

The best parts for me were the eerie ruins, their shapes and colours, a contrast to the blue sky and sea around us. Sailing back after the trip and getting a good look at Nagasaki’s coast line was another treat. While some boat trips in Japan have been disappointing (there’s one in Hakodate that’s particularly lame), this visit to Gunkanjima island was an excellent way to spend the afternoon.

 How To Get There

You can only get to Gunkanjima by joining an organised tour. Private landing is strictly prohibited. Ferry tours from Nagasaki range from ¥3,600 to ¥4,200 for adults. In addition to ferry fees, visitors must also pay a ¥300 landing fee (¥150 for children). This fee is charged by Nagasaki City and goes towards assisting in Gunkanjima’s preservation.

Tour operators

There are several tour operators who all leave from various piers in Nagasaki Port. You can reach Nagasaki Port by taking tram #1 heading for Syokakujishita and get off at Tsukimachi station. Transfer to tram #5 heading to Ishibashi. Get off at Ourakaigandori Street station. From there it’s a one minute walk to the harbour and Gunkanjima Concierge Co, the tour operator that arranged the tour I was on.

Gunkanjima Concierge Co.
Fee: Adults ¥4,000 / Students (Junior and Senior High School) ¥3,300 / Children ¥2000
Departure Area: Tokiwa Pier, Nagasaki Port; Ioujima Pier, Ioujima Port
https://www.gunkanjima-concierge.com/en/

Gunkanjima Cruise Co., Ltd.
Fee: Adults ¥3,600 / Children (~12) ¥1,800
Departure Area: Motohuna Pier, Nagasaki Port
http://www.gunkanjima-cruise.jp/?lang=en

Yamasa Shipping Co., Ltd.
Fee: Adults ¥4,200 / Children ¥2,100
Departure Area: Ohato Pier #2, Nagasaki Port
http://www.yamasa-kaiun.net/en/

Categories
Activities

Robot Restaurant, typically Tokyo?

Robot Restaurant is listed in most “Top 10 things to do in Tokyo” articles and videos you can find. It is a very popular attraction and often described as a kind of “only in Japan” experience. Typically Japanese. Is it really though?

Well, brace yourselves, because here’s what I think: Robot Restaurant sucks. It is, to me, one of the least Japanese things I’ve experienced in Tokyo. Is it entertaining? It might be. Only in Japan? I doubt it. Is it worth the 60 euro entrance fee? I don’t think so. Typically Japanese? When I went, the audience was 90% tourists. The only Japanese people there were entertaining foreign business partners.

But robots!

Robots? Robots are cool! Yeah. Here’s what a Robot Restaurant show is like: In a small and really rather dingy venue, extravagantly clad men and women parade from one end to the other between two rows of spectators, occasionally riding fantasy animals and monsters. What you see is a cross between a Caribbean carnival and the Amsterdam Pride boat parade if both were staged in Las Vegas. What you definitely don’t get? Robots.

That’s right. There are no robots in Robot Restaurant. Animatronics, maybe. Fire spewing snakes. Giant ponies. A shark. A Ninja turtle? It’s pretty random. You know what else sucks? Every five minutes there is a break to sell the audience as much food, drink and merchandising as possible. It got old fast. The whole thing was a bit of a let down and quite obviously not my thang.

Still interested despite my experience?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Categories
Activities Sports and games

How to go to a baseball game in Japan

Going to a baseball game in Japan had been at the top of my bucket list for a while. Baseball is Japan’s most popular sport. Not sumo, not judo, but baseball. They’ve been playing it since 1872. The professional branch in Japan is called “Nippon Professional Baseball”. There are two leagues, with six teams each. Many Japanese players join the Major League in America, so the sport is played at a high level.

I wrote about Yokohama and its baseball stadium before. I’d walked past the stadium a few times, and sometimes there was a game on. I’d gone to a tourist information centre in Tokyo to try and buy a ticket for a game. “Sold out”, they said, but I got the impression they thought it would be too complicated to help me since none of the staff spoke English and my Japanese wasn’t good enough to change their minds. I’d also tried to buy tickets from the somewhat old fashioned looking japanballtickets.com website. I thought their handling fees were a bit steep and their navigation and site design a little complicated.

Looking for tickets to a baseball game in Japan

Just before my departure in April 2018 I saw that the Asia-specialised booking platform Voyagin were selling  Japanese baseball tickets starting from the reasonable price of about 30 euros (ticket + handling fees) to about 100 euros. I had succesfully used their platform before to make a reservation at a sushi restaurant, so I felt confident they would be able to arrange baseball tickets as well. 

The baseball season in Japan is 8 months long, starting in April. A game lasts about three hours. Do not postpone buying tickets for too long, popular games sell out quickly. 

Booking tickets to a baseball game 

Booking baseball game tickets was easy. After I’d put in my request I was contacted by Voyagin staff. The supporters stand of the home playing Yokohama BayStars was sold out, was I willing to switch to the general admission stand?  No problem. I very quickly received confirmation and instructions on how to pick up my ticket. And I got some money back, since the general admission stand was cheaper than my first choice. With my booking code I was able to go to any 7-11  ‘konbini’ store, where my ticket was printed for me. By the way, it turns out you can buy your baseball and other event tickets from 7-eleven without pre-booking. 

Yokohama Baystars Banner

The baseball game in Yokohama

In 2018, on my birthday, at long last I was at a game between the Yokohama DeNa BayStars vs Yomiuri Giants. My seat was on the right side of the pitch, parallel to the pitcher’s plate. It was fantastic. Long before the match started, it was lively around the stadium. Outside the stadium there were many stands selling food and merchandising.  

Yokohama Baystars Dreamgate

Fans were queuing up at the ‘Dream Gate’, a special gate where they were going to meet the players after their warm up. All Japanese teams have their own mascotte. The Baystars character is a chipmunk-like animal called DB Starman. You can buy him in all shapes and sizes, before, during and after the matches. There’s a shop in the stadium as well, it’s open even when there’s no game on. Inside the stadium there was a lot more food. Things you expect at a baseball game, like popcorn and hamburgers. But Japanese food as well. Once seated, there’s a lot of entertainment on and off the pitch. Cheerleaders and a life size DB Starman. Between innings there was plenty of entertainment too.

Incredible atmosphere

The fans are super organised. Many of them were wearing team colours. The stadium was sold out and during the match people were singing, letting go of balloons – all synchronised – and waving banners. Every player has his own song that people would sing when they were up for batting. Eventually, the home team, Yokohama DeNa Baystars won 5-0 and that made for an incredible atmosphere. 

I can whole heartedly recommend going to a baseball game in Japan. Even if you’re not into baseball. Even if you’re not into sports. You’ll get a completely different, fun take on Japanese culture. 

This button leads to the Voyagin.com booking site.

Categories
Activities Tips

Walking in Japan – download walking guides for Tokyo, Kyoto and more

Walking in Japan without Google Maps on your smart phone can be a bit of an adventure. You can’t read the signs, nobody speaks English, your Japanese sucks. With a pocket wifi (or a data sim card), Google Maps will guide your way. Even the public transport suggestions that Google Maps provide are useful and reliable. The last time I was in Kyoto, where public transport isn’t as logical as it is in Tokyo, I was able to cross the city without problems. Jumping on buses and local trains I very easily found my way from one shrine to the other.

Trails and walks

But if you want to get to know an area a little better, Google Maps may not be enough. How do you know the route you choose is the most interesting? What you want is a mapped out hiking trail or city walk. JNTO (Japan National Tourism  Organization) can help you with that.

Walking guides of Japan

The walking guides by JNTO are written in English and have one or more little maps. They explain all the sights you’ll encounter on your way. Some of them have extra information. The Tokyo walking guides have a list of all the antique and flea markets. The Kyoto guide contains the opening hours of all the temples.

What’s in a walking guide

To give you an idea of what you get: the Tokyo walking guide is 10 pages, with 7 walks in 7 different areas.

JNTO Tokyo Walks

Walks in Tokyo 

  • Imperial Palace and Kitanomaru
  • Ueno-Onshi Park and vicinity
  • Asakusa
  • Shiba & Roppongi
  • Shibuya Koen-dori to Meiji Shrine
  • Shinjuku
  • Rinkai-Fukotoshin (Odaiba)

Every neighbourhood has its own map with a route marked on it and a legend that tells you what you will see. It even tells you how long it takes to walk from one point on the route to the next. There’s a description for every sight and some information: its history, opening hours, ticket price, links to websites, etc.

As mentioned earlier, this Tokyo guide also has a list of all the antique and flea markets, and how to get there, as well as a list of all the local tourist information offices.

Download free walking guides

With these walking guides, hiking and walking in Japan is easy and educational. You can download them from the JNTO website. They are free. A4 formatted (pdf) so you can print them yourself. But it’s not easy to find them on the website. So here are two tips on how to find them:

  1. Download de walking guide of your choice:
    Go to the JNTO Practical Travel Guide-archive. In this archive you will find all of there walking and travel guides and brochures. There are voer 60 of them. This is a good option if you don’t know where you want to go for a walk, you may find some inspiration in seeing all the titles. If you already know what you are looking for, use option 2:
  2. Google the place where you want to walk like this:
    [plaatsnaam] walks pdf

    Example: Kyoto walks pdf

    In your results, look for the url  www.jnto.go.jp. It usually is the first result you get.

Have fun walking in Japan!

Categories
Activities Destinations Food Video

Catch your own squid at the market in Hakodate

At the morning market in Hakodate (函館朝市, Hakodate asaichi), Hokkaido you can catch your own squid, have it cleaned and turned into sashimi for your breakfast. In the video above you’ll see how that works.

Hakodate is the third largest city in Hokkaido, the most northern prefecture of Japan. It lies at the foot of Mount Hakodata from where you have a wonderful view of the city and its surroundings. You can drive your car all the way to the top, or take a cable car.

Western influences

Architecture in Hakodata sometimes seems very Western, it reminds you of Greenwich in Engeland. Or Philadelphia. You’ll notice it in the Motomachi area and in the harbour. You’ll see a lot of red brick, which you won’t see in the rest of the country. Cruise ships doc at Hakodate daily. The many tourists who spend a day on shore go to the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse, to shop for all kinds of souvenirs. But what Hakodate is really known for is its market and its fish: tuna, squid, salmon roe, sea urchin and – often gigantic – crab.

Hakodate morning market

At a one minute walk from the station of Hakodate (JR Hakodate, not the bigger Shinkansen station at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto!) you’ll find the morning market which is open from 5am until 2pm. There are some 300 stands with food and a lot of fresh fish in particular. Look for the stand where you can fish for your own breakfast, you can’t miss the large acquarium full of squid.

Catch your own squid

Buy a ticket and you are given a rod and then you can do your thing. Some catch one within seconds, but if you are unlucky, it can take a while. Once you catch your squid, staff will offer a bucket to drop your squid in. She will take it to the table where a professional is filleting your catch. It’s a fascinating and somewhat gruesome process because the squid keeps moving even though its head has been chopped off. The tentacles may wander off by themselves. Within a minute your squid is handed back to you on a plate as slippery, rubbery sashimi. You can sit down at one of the tables to eat it. There are chopsticks, soy sauce and ginger on the tables. Even on your plate, parts of the dead animal keep moving, the  soy sauce triggers convulsions. These are automatic reactions to the salt in the sauce. The cells in the muscles that react to electric impulses are still working despite being disconnected from the brain. It’s a little creepy. What does the super fresh raw squid taste like? Primarily like the sea.

Donburi

Eating a plate of shivering limbs is nice, but the real party starts with the bowls of donburi that you can order from the many restaurants at Donburi Yokocho Ichiba, the food hall part of the market. Donburi is warm rice topped with another ingredient. Can be anyhing. Chicken or beef, tempura, and so on. But this is Hakodate and we’re at the fish market, so we’re talking kaisendon here. Kaisondon is rice with sea food: gorgeous salmon roe, creamy uni (the stuff that comes from sea urchins), plump sweet shrimp and crab meat, rounded off with s shiso leaf and a squeeze of wasabi. Yum.

Donburi - rijst met zeevruchten in Hakodate

Uni is an acquired taste. It can be bitter if its kept too long. No such thing in Hakodate. Straight from the sea in my bowl, it tasted salty, briny and a little sweet.

Lucky Pierrot

So you don’t like fish? Try Lucky Pierrot (ラッキーピエロ), Hakodate’s over the top answer to McDonalds. Their hamburgers are tasty and the restaurants have their own peculiar look.

Categories
Activities Food

Tasting sake in the sake and rice museum in Niigata

Tasting sake in the sake and rice museum inside the Echigo-Yuzawa station in Niigata prefecture is a fun thing to do if you are passing through.

This isn’t a tea ceremony type of thing, but self-service: there are more than 100 sake machines available for you to operate by yourself. For 500 yen you can buy 5 coins and the loan of a sake cup. There are 117 different kinds of sake to taste, 95 of which from Niigata itself. This and the funny way its presented, makes a visit to this sake- and rice museum (which is really just a way to pull in customers to the liquor store…) worth while. Kanpai!

Bathing in sake

I first heard of this sake attraction via Only in Japan, a YouTube channel. Niigata prefecture is known for its sake. The tasting storeroom is part of the station’s Ponshukan, a souvenir shop, restaurant, sake- and rice museum and onsen in one. Onsen? Yes, drinking sake isn’t enough for you, you can bathe in it for an extra 800 yen. The sake is added to natural onsen water (41 degrees Celcius) for you to simmer in.

I’m not that keen on onsen, but I like to have drink. Niigata wasn’t really on my route, but because you can go to Niigata in just over 3 hours, I made a day trip out of it from Tokyo in 2016. Ticked another Shinkansen line off the list: the Jōetsu Shinkansen.

Take note: the sake and rice museum is NOT in Niigata and not even in a suburb of it. Echigo-Yuzawa is 140 kilometers away from Niigata and thus closer to Tokyo.

You can skip Niigata itself, unless you are on your way to Sado Island. I thought I’d take a look at the Sea of Japan (next stop Vladivostok), but after walking from the station for an hour it turned out to be less exciting than I thought. There was no beach, just a sad parking lot full of cars with their engines running and their drivers taking a nap. Back on a bus and train, I headed back to Tokyo with a quick stop in Echigo-Yuzawa, just for the sake tasting.

Ski-resort and souvenir shopping

Ponshukan sake proeven Niigata instructies

Echigo-Yuzawa is dead in Summer, but very busy in Winter when its a popular place to ski, with no less than 20 resorts. That’s why the station has an extraordinarily large souvenir shop. The omiyage (souvenirs) consists of regional food, knives, rice and, of course, sake.

You’ll recognise the sake and rice museum, where by the way you can also taste different types of salt if you’re so inclined, by the large sign that explains what you’re supposed to do. If not, you’ll stumble over the life size plastic drunken salary men posed in front of the museum entrance. The sign says: “I drank too much yesterday so now I have hangover. Please take it easy.”

Tasting sake

Inside the museum you are immediately confronted with the sake machines. Take it easy? But there is so much choice! What to do?

Sake automaten, Ponshukan, Niigata

Thankfully the museum – which isn’t really a museum – has a list of the most popular sake. The local Echigo sake is the most popular. Would you believe it? Anyway. I’m not a sake connaisseur and the five cups I tasted all tasted great. I did notice they all had different flavours.

Sake- en rijstmuseum, Niigata

The route

If you want to have a go at this sake tasting, it takes 90 minutes to get to Echigo-Yuzawa from Tokyo. Take the Joetsu Shinkansen in the direction of Niigata. Your JR Pass is valid on this route. A single journey will cost about 6500 yen.

Website

Categories
Activities Sports and games

Samurai films are wrong, a lesson in Aikido

Aikido sensei Ken Kobayashi shows jvloggers Rachel and Jun that samurai in movies don’t sword fight the right way.

If you want to take aikido lessons in this dojo in the Itabashi district in Tokyo, you can book it through Wa-oh! Japan.

Rachel and Jun are a couple who make videos about Japanese culture and their daily life in Nagoya. Follow their YouTube-channels for more funny and informative videos.

Rachel & Jun op YouTube

Categories
Activities

Night Factory Cruise: a trip through the harbours of Yokohama

Before I start writing about known Japanese tourist traps like Kyotos Kinkaku-ji, Tokyo Tower or Mt Fuji, here’s something completely different.

Last year I went on a ‘night factory cruise‘. A night cruise through the harbours of Yokohama and Kawasaki. It was impressive and I recommend it. I like boat trips and visiting harbours. I’ve done in Amsterdam and in Rotterdam. That’s why I wanted to do something similar in Japan. I knew it existed, by bus and by boat. But this type of industrial tourism was a rather new phenomenon in Japan. It had been in the news, including interviews with disapproving employees of factories included in the cruises.

How to book a night factory cruise

At the time that I was looking to book a cruise like this, it was only possible by phone and thus in Japanese. One solution to this problem was to have your hotel concierge make the reservation, or to approach a tourist information office. That’s what I had in mind. A few days before my departure I searched for options once again and hit on Tabione.com, a Japanese tour operator. They had added a few ‘night factory cruises’ to their line up on the English language part of their website.

Literally on my way to the airport I booked one of their cruises. I picked the “Yokohama Night Factory Cruise” on a ship called “Persona” because the time and port of departure were convenient to me. The boat departed from an easily accessible pier in Yokohama, and on return it was easy to get back to Tokyo as well.

The check in desk turned out to be outside the pier building. Shortly before departure, they put down a little table with one guy sorting the tickets. I was still inside the building at that time and ended up at the end of the queue for the boat. So check in advance where to line up for your departure if you want a good spot on the boat.

Date night

When I did walk up to the table the guy addressed me by my name. “Aaah, Caroline-san!”, he said. I was the only non-Japanese on board, that’s why. All the other people in line were young Japanese couples. You’d expect a boat full of photography nerds on a tour like this. But in Japan everything is different and these night cruises are considered perfect for ‘date nights’. 

The tour commentary was completely in Japanese without English translation. So I didn’t really find out which factories I was looking at. But the amazing Blade Runner-esque landscape made up for that.