Sunday, June 27, 2021

Tokyo, Mt Fuji Travel Day 7 & 8 Ikebukuro, Kawagoe, Sugamo, Koishikawa Korakuen, Bunkyo Civic Centre

On our last two days of this Japan trip, we explored places that are not so crowded - Kawagoe 川越, Sugamo 巣鴨, Koishikawa Korakuen 小石川後楽園, and Bunkyo Civic Centre.

Bunkyo Civic Centre is just a few minutes away from our hotel, and we managed to find time to go to level 25 on the second last day of our trip. There is a 180 degrees observatory. Most importantly, it is free admission!

Looking at the beautiful autumn foliage, we decided that we shall visit Koishikawa Korakuen 小石川後楽園 on the next day.

Harajuku in Tokyo is well-known as the fashionable shopping district for the youngsters and the young at heart. Do you know that there is also "Grandma's Harajuku" in Tokyo? Indeed, upon arriving at Sugamo , we saw many local elderly!

Well, the reason for visiting Sugamo is to purchase Japanese tea from a tea store 山年園 located at Sugamo Jizodori Shopping Street 巣鴨地蔵通り商店街. The friendly shop owners chatted with us and let us try different tea. Do you see the gold dust on the green tea?

Along the street, we saw a queue for Japanese traditional snack shio daifuku. Unlike the typical daifuku, shio daifuku has a slightly salty taste. It is well-balanced with the red bean filling that is not overly sweet.

We then visited Kawagoe , which is known as "Little Edo". Located at Saitama Prefecture, Kawagoe is an ideal place for a day trip from Tokyo because the train ride is only around 30 minutes from Ikebukuro or Shinjuku.

To get from Tokyo to Kawagoe, you can either take Tobu Tojo Line from Ikebukuro, or you can take Seibu Shinjuku Line or JR Saikyo Line from Shinjuku. We chose to take Tobu Tojo Line from Ikebukuro because Tobu Railway offers Kawagoe Discount Pass Premium (adult 970 yen, child 490 yen) which includes round-trip train tickets between Ikebukuro and Kawagoe or Kawagoe-shi stations, and unlimited train and bus rides in designated area.

We had our lunch at Mitsuyado Seimen 三ツ矢堂製麺 near Kawagoe station. It was the first time that I tried out tsukemen with cheese! The dipping sauce is also different from the typical one, there is a tinge of yuzu taste in it.

From Kawagoe station, we took bus W1-1 at East Bus Stop No.1. As the bus travelled along Kurazukuri Street 蔵造りの町並み, we felt that we were brought back in time to the olden Japan!

We alighted at bus stop W8 Fuda no Tsuji 札の辻, where we walked down the nostalgic Kashiya Yokocho Alley 菓子屋横丁. As the name implies, the whole street is lined up with Japanese sweets and snacks.

This fu snack made from Okinawa black sugar is 95 cm long!

The area is famous for snacks made from sweet potato. We tried imokoi いも恋 from Kasho Umon 菓匠右門, the outer layer is mochi-like, and the filling includes sweet potato and red bean. Other than imokoi, we also tried the warabi mochi.

We saw many visitors carrying a plastic cup with sweet potato chips, so we followed the direction and found the shop Koedo Osatsu-an 小江戸おさつ庵. At 500 yen, the chips come with a sauce, we chose salt butter sauce.

The iconic place at Kawagoe is Toki-no-Kane 時の鐘, which was built 400 years ago!

Along the street, we saw Starbucks that blended well with the historical area. The unique feature of this Starbucks is the small Japanese garden at the back.

Another interesting things that we spotted at Kawagoe were the animal statues.

What a pity that Kawagoe Matsuri Kaikan 川越まつり会館 was closed on the day that we were at Kawagoe! It is closed on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. I would like to know more about the Kawagoe Festival!

If you are travelling to Kawagoe, you can also consider exploring Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine 氷川神社 which is well-known for relationships and matchmaking.

We went back to Ikebukuro, and headed towards Pokemon Centre Mega Tokyo at Sunshine City. It was super crowded!

Since it was the second last day of the trip, we had a sushi treat for ourselves at Katsumidori Sushi 活美登利 at Seibu Ikebukuro. I heard that the queue was crazy, but we were thankful that we were there early at 5+ p.m., so we waited for a short while only. After dinner, we saw the snaking long queue outside the restaurant!

The sushi there is not really very cheap, but the ingredients are fresh and delicious. Look at the otoro (tuna belly), sea urchin, and Yonezawa beef sushi!

Finally, it was the last day of our Japan trip. As our flight was departing in the evening, we still had half a day to explore the area near our hotel. As mentioned earlier, we decided to visit Koishikawa Korakuen to view the autumn foliage.

We were blessed with sunny and warm weather! While I was taking photos of the autumn foliage, a kind local elderly shared with me some great photography tips!

The last meal of this trip is bento from supermarket! Well, after visiting Japan a few times, I figure out that supermarket is my favourite shopping place!

We took Keisei Main Line Rapid Limited Express to Narita Airport. After checking-in our luggage, we spent the remaining amount stored in Welcome Suica card at convenience shop! As usual, we did our last minute shopping of snacks at tax free shop at the transit area. We know very well what to buy as we find that the tax free shops at almost all Japan airports sell the same things! Calbee, Pocky, LeTao, Shiroikoibito, Tokyo Cheese Factory and so on, so basically you don't need to find them outside the airport!

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Tokyo, Mt Fuji Travel Day 5 & 6 Kawaguchiko, Saiko

A decade ago, DaDi and I visited Kawaguchiko 河口湖 to see Mount Fuji, and we went up to Mount Fuji 5th Station (by bus, not by climbing of course). I was pregnant with Hao Hao that time, and we joked that Hao Hao had been to Mount Fuji when he was inside my tummy. A decade later, he got to see Mount Fuji outside my tummy! And of course, together with Pei Pei! 

photo taken a decade ago

How to get from Tokyo to Kawaguchiko? 

To get from Tokyo to Kawaguchiko, there are a few ways
  • Take bus from Shinjuku or Shibuya or Akihabara (2000 yen for adult, duration 1 hour 45 minutes provided no traffic jam)
  • Take JR train from Shinjuku to Otsuki 大月, then transfer to Fujikyu train (about 2500 - 3500 yen for adult, more expensive if taking limited express, duration about 2 hours)
  • Take Fuji Excursion Limited Express from Shinjuku (4130 yen for adult, duration 1 hour 52 minutes)
From Kawaguchiko station, you may need to take bus or hotel shuttle to your hotel, which would take another 10 - 30 minutes.

For us, as we would be staying at Tokoyo Inn Fuji Kawaguchiko Ohashi which provides free shuttle bus from Otsuki station, we took Keio Line from Shinjuku to Takao, followed by JR Chuo Line to Otsuki station. Well, we saved quite a fair bit by having a few transfers, each adult only spent 961 yen from Shinjuku to the hotel - half of the fare that I mentioned above, and total duration was about 2.5 hours to reach the hotel.

How to get around Kawaguchiko, Saiko and other lakes around Mount Fuji?

To get around Mount Fuji area, there are a few sightseeing buses - Kawaguchiko Sightseeing Bus (Red line), Saiko Sightseeing Bus (Green line), and Narusawa / Shojiko / Motosuko Sightseeing Bus (Blue-Line).

It is worthwhile to purchase 2-day Unlimited Ride Pass (adult 1500 yen, child 750 yen) if you are going a few places in the area within 2 days. You can get this pass from the bus driver or at Kawaguchiko station.

The bus stops are not very obvious like those in Singapore, so you have to look out for the signs!

Our Travelogue at Kawaguchiko and Saiko

Upon arriving at the hotel, I checked Mount Fuji live camera website, but to my disappointment, Mount Fuji was behind the thick layer of clouds! Instead of going to the northern coast of Kawaguchiko to view Mount Fuji, I quickly changed the itinerary - go to Saiko Iyashi no Sato Neban 西湖いやしの里根場 and Fugaku Wind Cave 富岳風穴 which were initially planned for the next day.

From the bus stop near our hotel, we took Saiko Sightseeing Bus (Green line) to Saiko Iyashi no Sato Nenba 西湖いやしの里根場. The bus ride took 36 minutes, and when we reached Saiko Iyashi no Sato Nenba, Mount Fuji appeared!

Saiko Iyashi no Sato Nenba is a Japanese ancient village with traditional thatched roofed houses, which are restaurants, shops, museums or galleries. Visitors can learn about traditional crafts and culture through the exhibits and the workshops (at a fee). Admission fee is 350 yen for adult and 150 yen for child, and we enjoyed a discount by showing the discount coupon.

As we were stunned by the view of Mount Fuji, we spent much time taking photos of Mount Fuji!

We had our lunch at one of the houses, and tried out the specialty at Yamanashi Prefecture - houtou noodles, which is hearty hot pot with vegetables.

As the frequency of Saiko Sightseeing Bus (Green line) is only once every 30 minutes, we did not really explore the museums and galleries as we had to go to our next destination - Fugaku Wind Cave 富岳風穴.

It was just a short bus ride from Saiko Iyashi no Sato Nenba to Fugaku Wind Cave. Upon alighting at the bus stop, we had a two-minute walk through a path in the forest called Aokigahara to the entrance of Fugaku Wind Cave. I heard that the forest had a special reputation, so we walked quickly and quietly...

Fugaku Wind Cave is a gently sloping lateral cave which is designated as a Japanese natural monument. As there are parts of the cave with low ceiling, do remember to wear the helmet that is available at the ticket booth, and it is free of charge. Admission is 350 yen for adult and 200 yen for child, and we enjoyed a discount of 50 yen each by showing our 2-day Unlimited Ride Pass.

We saw the ice pillars that do not melt even in summer. There are also lava shelf and rope-like lava.

At the end of the cave, there are seeds and cocoons, as the cave used to serve as the storage place.

We actually took less than 15 minutes to walk into and out of the cave, and managed to catch the next bus back to our hotel.

Other than Fugaku Wind Cave, there is Narusawa Hyoketsu Ice Cave that is about 2 km away. However it was closed for maintenance during our visit in early December.

Toyoko Inn Fuji Kawaguchiko Ohashi is a new hotel that is opened in April 2019. Though we are no strangers to this business hotel chain, we were pleasantly surprised that the decor of the room is different from the typical branches (read our review of Tokyoko Inn here). Toyoko Inn Fuji Kawaguchiko Ohashi has a public bath (not natural hot spring), but we felt that the water was too hot during our stay. The spread of breakfast here was much better than other branches. Other than the usual rice balls, vegetables, bread and so on, this branch also offers curry rice and houtou noodles.

After checking-in, I wanted to visit the hot spring at Hotel Mifujien, which has the view of Mount Fuji. DaDi and the children were not too keen, so I went there alone! I took Kawaguchiko Sightseeing Bus (Red line) to Azagawa Onsen-gai 浅川温泉街. Unfortunately, by the time I reached Hotel Mifujien, Mount Fuji was hidden behind the clouds again!

This hotel is rather old, but I didn't really mind since I was there for day hot spring only. The fee is 1200 yen for adult and 600 yen for child, bath towel and face towel are provided. Since the hot spring is mainly used by the hotel guests, the key lockers outside the hot spring are quite small. I had one hour of me-time, soaking in the hot spring, imaging that Mount Fuji was right in front of my eyes.

After I went back to our hotel, we went for dinner at the nearby family restaurant Gusto ガスト which DaDi and I visited a decade ago!

On the next morning, my heart sank again as I checked the Mount Fuji live camera website. We came all the way there and Mount Fuji played hide-and-seek with us! Anyway, we still took Kawaguchiko Sightseeing Bus (Red line) to Oishi Park 大石公園.

There were loads of group tourists at Kawaguchiko Natural Living Centre next to Oishi Park. So we walked towards the other end of Oishi Park to stay away from the crowd, and we found Lake Bake Cafe. My plan was to wait until Mount Fuji appeared, so we spent 2800+ yen (~S$36) on beverage and bread at this cafe. Yes, not cheap though, as each person must purchase a drink in order to sit inside.

We were thankful that the clouds finally moved away from Mount Fuji after 2 hours! It was sunny and warm, we came out from the cafe to enjoy the scenery at Oishi Park. The children had fun at the little playground!

Before we left Oishi Park, we saw this structure that is made up of rocks from other mountains in Japan that are coined as Fuji.

We went to Ogino supermarket near our hotel to get our lunch. Mount Fuji kept appearing in front of our eyes!

We took the hotel's free shuttle bus to Otsuki station and took train back to Tokyo. Going to Mount Fuji area is one of the best ways to have a short getaway from the busy Tokyo!

Our Travelogue at Mount Fuji 5th Station a decade ago

Other than Kawaguchiko and Saiko area, you may also consider going up to Mount Fuji 5th Station. That was what we did a decade ago. No worries, you do not need to climb up to Mount Fuji 5th Station. From Kawaguchiko Station, we took Fujikyu Bus to Mount Fuji 5th Station. The bus ride takes about 50 minutes, and the bus fare (return trips) is currently 2300 yen per adult and 1150 yen per child.

It may be worthwhile to visit Mount Fuji 5th Station if you really want to step on Mount Fuji. But to be honest, there is nothing much to see at Mount Fuji 5th Station except for some souvenir shops and a shrine. When we were there a decade ago, we had a few minutes to see the peak of the mountain clearly, after which it became very foggy, and we spent less than an hour before we took the bus back to Kawaguchiko. At least, we have the we-have-been-there experience to step on Mount Fuji without much effort!

Useful Information on Traveling around Mount Fuji

Highway Bus between Tokyo and Kawaguchiko:

Fujikyu Bus - Sightseeing buses around Mount Fuji, Express bus between Tokyo and Kawaguchiko:

Live camera for Mount Fuji:

Saiko Iyashi no Sato Nenba:

Fugaku Wind Cave and Narusawa Hyoketsu Ice Cave:

Hotel Mifujien day hot spring:

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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Gardens by the Bay Sakura Featuring Hello Kitty Floral Display

It has been more than one year since we visited Japan, and we don't know when we would be able to visit Japan again. So when we heard about Sakura featuring Hello Kitty at Gardens by the Bay, we quickly bought our tickets - thanks to SingapoRediscovers Vouchers that we only need to top up a small amount from our pocket. 

We were welcomed by the torii upon entering Flower Dome, and our imagination started to run wild and pretended that we were in Japan!

There are a few types of sakura (cherry blossom) and momo (peach blossom) at Flower Dome. Though the number of sakura and momo is not comparable to what we can see in Japan, it is still better than none.

How many Hello Kitty did we find? We found 5 of them!

Look at those beautiful furoshiki - Japanese art of fabric wrapping!

As the visitors are required to book time slot to enter Flower Dome, it was not too crowded on the weekday afternoon that we went. 

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