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Trip Report Kyushu & Honshu Fall 2011

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We are just back from another wonderful fall trip to Japan." We" are Peter and Linda aka hawaiiantraveler and Mrs HT. A fifty something couple full of life and short of cash :)

This was our 10th trip to Japan and this time we visited, Yokohama, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kurokawa Onsen, Takachiho, Fukuoka, then on back to Kyoto for a few days followed by an American Thanksgiving in Hakone and finally a few days of koyo sightseeing in Tokyo. This year's trip was already planned and for the most part reserved when the afternoon of March 11th's terrible earthquake and tsunami hit Japan and changed lives forever.
We felt that it would be better not to abandon our trip but also realized that our original plan would be useless as it had us in Sendai , Matsushima and visiting Yamadera which are very close to ground zero.
I then took another plan we had for 2012 in revisiting the southern island Kyushu and put that plan forward along with a side trip to China(Shanghai). Well long story short we had to curtail two weeks of this planned 5+ week trip and shorten to 3 weeks. Thus the itinerary above.
We had 19 nights on land in various locations....most 5-star others 2 to 3 star. 10 of the 19 nights were free on points and some were as little as $89.00 US per night for 2 people.
We traveled on ground utilizing a 14-day JR Green Pass. I know there are some who don't think it's worth it but I on the other hand wouldn't do it any other way......in Japan that is. We rented a car in Kyushu and biked our way in parts of Tokyo.
I have done this thing backwards and put the pictures here first.

http://hawaiiantraveler.smugmug.com/Travel/Fall-2011-in-Japan-Kyushu-and/20359156_zJzmBp#1613490744_8NCmtNq

Follow the link and the password is:

Fall 2011

Capital F and a space between the words.

I am back at work and just putting together the actual report and will post in sections over the next several days when I can until then please enjoy the pictures...... ;)

Aloha!

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    Great pictures, ht! すごい. Thanks for sharing - you seemed to get your koyo timing quite well!

    And traveling in Japan is not that expensive - at least not compared to European cities - maybe Asian places like Vietnam, Thailand, etc. are inexpensive but to a New Yorker like me, Japan is not that bad.....

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    Beautiful pictures Peter. What a contrast to our Indian ones, (yes they are coming in the future). In yours every thing is neat , orderly and clean. Ours shows the chaos of India. Loved the colors...we missed fall this year.

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    "Back at work and just putting together the actual report ..."

    Not sure if that means that he was back working at work or that he spent the past week posting the photos at work.

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    We left HNL November 9th at 10:50 am five minutes early via an ANA flight and arrived in NRT 25 minutes early at about 2:40 pm November 10th. We had seats 23 H & J so we were by ourselves window/aisle seats and nearer the front of the cabin. We are offered and served a chicken or fish meal, I the chic and L the fish both served with leafy salads and choice of buns and dessert. Meals served are better than we are used to on United Economy but not gourmet in any sense. We are served a cold sandwich w/yogurt and fruit before arrival. Great friendly service by this crew and the bathrooms are cleaned at least once an hour. Alcohol drinks are served liberally for free and we constantly hear the call bells going off and the stewardesses gratefully answering and serving their customers with smiles and a thank you. To us in the US this is a very uncommon occurrence. French and California wines are also served free in Economy with of course soft drinks and bottled water.
    When we land at NRT and deplane I notice that most of the passengers head over to the Japanese National entrance lines and only a handful of us are actual foreign tourists……oh well. Since no one is in front of us it takes less than 5 minutes to clear customs then downstairs to collect luggage as it is rolling down the chute as we walk up to the luggage carousel and clear immigrations then out the door in 15 minutes……couldn’t believe it as it never happens this fast.
    Linda exchanges some US$ for yen and we are off to buy the NEX/ Suica package for our transfer to Yokohama station and the Sheraton there our base for the first two nights. With bags on two luggage carts we head downstairs via the elevator to the train platform area. I buy two first class tickets on the next NEX to the JR Yokohama Station. The cost for the ticket and pass is 5,000 yen per person. You can purchase a second class ticket with Suica card for 3,500 yen p/p. The Suica card is loaded with 2000 yen (incl 500 yen deposit) which you can use in Tokyo on the Metro and actually now all throughout Japan on the JR lines and various combi and other stores.
    I have pictures of the train in the link above. The ride is smooth and efficient making only a few stops at key stations along the way. 89 minutes later and we are arriving at the JR Yokohama station on time as usual. It is said you can set your watch by the Japanese train systems especially the shinkansen. Well I have to admit we have rarely been late on trains at most a minute or two maybe three on some local lines but not on the shinkansen, at least not till later in this report……

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    I posted the photos from home as they are on my home computer.

    I am posting this trip report from work as Bob suggested ;)

    kmkrnm, can't wait to see your India pictures, the contrast should be amazing.

    Aloha!

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    As we exit the ticket gates and head for an exit I realize that I have never been outside of this station before nor do I remember where the front entrance is which will take us towards our Sheraton across the street. So I stop dead cold and the chain reaction behind me starts. “Gomen nasai, gomen, gomen, gomen nasai” I say as we scurry to the side into the ebb and out of the flow.
    Oh the flow………those of you who have not been to a crowded city train station in Japan should be told about the flow. Well there are millions of people living in Japan’s larger cities and in each of these larger cities are very crowded train stations. At rush hour in the morning or afternoons there is a flow of people in and out of these stations. They flow like a black (main color of their suits) tide in and out of the platforms and the stations. Yokohama with a population of over 3 million people is Japan’s second largest city behind Tokyo so the flows of people at those times can be huge. Either you go with the flow or become a blocking rock in the river with people flowing all over you.
    So off to the side I look for the signs of the central-west exit and check our bearings on my iphone compass. Then after a deep breath we take a positive step forward with new direction as we enter back into the flow and get out the exit we want with bags in tow. As we exit I notice that the street intersection is huge and we have to either go up one level and across a sky bridge to the hotel or cross four intersections to get to the front door. We go for the up one level and across the sky bridge route.
    It was about here rolling those bags that I realize that I really like the limosine bus with their door to door service. They do service the Yokohama Sheraton from NRT in 100 minutes and also have their version of the Suica deal but with a Metro Pass. With the limo bus if your hotel is on the route the last time you touch your luggage is when you hand to them to the handlers who load the bus. They and your bell boys at your destination handle the rest. Anyways that’s what I was thinking while walking with our luggage.
    Check in to the Sheraton was swift and they relieved me of my luggage as soon as they saw us dragging it into the lobby from the 2nd floor elevators. We would spend two nights here on 10,000 Starwood Points per night so price was right. Nice lux looks to the hotel with good restaurants and with all the shopping, train station (more eating) and eateries in the direct vicinity this place deserves attention. The hotel is also connected to a luxurious indoor mall adjacent to the station. The rooms are large for Japanese rooms. Bathrooms are also large with great lighting with a separate shower stall and a deep tub used as furo I’m sure by Japanese.
    We get settled then head out to find something to eat. We had checked out the hotel menu listings in the room’s books but decide we want Japanese food and where better to go when in Japan than to a train station! We wander back and forth till we see what we want. The ubiquitous Japanese restaurant that serves about everything from noodles to sushi. The name on the front of restaurant was only in Japanese characters. Lots of plastic food on the outside but we don’t need them today. We know what we want. We are greeted in Japanese and no English is spoken as we are seated. Japanese menus are given to us. In curiosity I ask in Japanese if they have English menus. Iye/no English menus. On our first trips to Japan we would have been intimidated and not have walked in to a restaurant with no English menu but now we know what to expect and what to order in Japanese if we are starving,lol. I order the Gyu don with side of karaage and Linda orders a shoyu ramen and tempura platter which we share. There were shrimp, sweet potato, okra, string beans, eggplant, carrots and a couple of other veggies on that tempura platter that were outstanding. We don’t drink beer which was also on offer here so just waters. Our simple dinner cost 2200 yen. Really hit the spot and we thought we were stuffed as we walked back to the hotel when we past the inevitable ice cream machine. One chocolate and one macha (green tea) ice cream cone and off to bed early as the jet lag had really started to set in on our first day back in Japan.

    Aloha!

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    ありがとうございます Mara!!

    Sorry for the no paragraphs. It was well paragraphed on my Word program, I guess I'll have to paragraph after I paste in sections while uploading.

    Aloha!

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    Day 2

    I woke early this morning and did some computer work, newspaper reading and trip planning until Linda got up. Today’s forecast was for 100% rain and rain it did. We didn’t have much scheduled today as I always try to do nothing on the first full day to acclimate and ease into the country. All we had planned was to activate our JR passes, make a few train reservations then explore the largest Chinatown in Japan to shop and eat for the rest of the day, sounds like a plan I can handle.

    To activate a JR voucher into a JR Pass you must take your voucher to one of authorized JR station offices of service centers along with your passport. Don’t forget you passport. The nearest office was right across the street at the JR Yokohama station but that office didn’t open until 11:00. But the one at the Shin-Yokohama station opens at 7:00 and it was already 7:10 so we got ready and out the door we went without breakfast knowing that we would find something to eat at the station.

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    The crowds were starting to gather as we marched into the station this time with all the confidence of a Yokohama local. Right to the head of the pack she flew and Linda was first through the gate to the train platform with her Suica card and then it was my turn. I confidently followed and swiped my card on the reader and walked right into the still closed gate as the reader still was red and closed…..thud. The flow started to back up behind me. I swiped again in vain as now the flow started to get into other lanes as it was obvious this gaijin was a rookie. What the heck, I swiped desperately and in shame one last time and bingo the gates opened and let me through. I confidently strolled past the waiting Mrs HT with all the bravado of a samurai lord. She rolled her eyes and I think I caught the expression “gaijin” under her breath as I walked by……..no matter, I knew what track we were to take and she didn’t……….ha gaijin indeed.

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    We made our way quickly to the right platform and in a few minutes were at the Shin-Yokohama station. This is the station in Yokohama where you would catch the Shinkansen from. Get it.....Shin-Yokohama….Shin kansen. In fact a lot of major cities that have the Shinkansen train run through it have stations that were made after and around the major station of that city such as Shin-Yokohama, Shin-Aomori, Shin-Kobe etc.

    I found the JR ticket office downstairs from the shinkansen platforms and there were only a couple of people in line in front of me but I saw no voucher claim forms so I asked the girl at the window. Funny thing but I had two clerks available to choose from a young male and young female. I choose the female because they usually are better students than boys I thought and usually have the better English skills. Wrong decision. She had to ask the guy next to her for virtually every step of the transaction and at one point took our passports and all paperwork to the back office to complete the transaction.

    I later figured out she did that to type the information on the voucher rather than write it and the only typewriter was in the back. Her English was as terrible as my Japanese but we made it through with translations many times by the guy I should have gone to in the first place......go figure.

    After the passes were activated I made some train reservations we needed. All was ok except the next morning’s train that we wanted to take to Nagasaki. One of the trains we wanted was sold out. First and second class cars sold out with only smoking cars left. So we made a little later reservation and it was off to Chinatown on the JR Negishi Line to the Ishikawacho Station using our Suica cards. As we left the ticket agent I looked behind to a line of twenty or more people……..just in time I guess.

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    Almost forgot, before we left the station we had breakfast. As others here will tell you the bakeries in some of the Japanese train stations are lethal (in a good way). The croissants and pastries the Japanese make imitating the French pastry chefs are out of this world. We ended up on the second floor in a Japanese bakery famous since 1929(that was the only part of the sign in English). I had an unbelievable breakfast croissant filled with meat, cheeses, onions and other unhealthy for the heart things complete with the side of beef/potato croquettes (a Japanese delicacy loved by school children) and a hot chocolate (425 yen bkfst special) while Linda had the green salad and yogurt combo with green tea(675 yen). Thus our difference in stature,lol.

    From the station it is a five minute walk to the Chinatown gates. Yokohama’s Chinatown is about the biggest I have ever seen outside of China. Bigger than the ones we’ve seen in New York, Honolulu, Vancouver and LA. I think only San Francisco’s seems a little larger or maybe it’s just all those hills.

    Many…..easily hundreds of restaurants all with plastic food menus and lots with English menus. The area is filled with hundreds of shops selling all sorts of foodstuffs, trinkets, souvenirs and the like. At one point we came across a shop with a long line in front selling take away dumplings that we had eaten in a Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong. There were 4 different types of dumplings filled with meat or pork or shrimp and one with chives and veggies and all were filled with a gravy or sauce that burst in your mouth as you bit into it. Very, very good! No English name on the store front just look for the long line. 4 pieces for 450 yen 10 pieces for 900 yen.

    After a few hours of wandering and shopping we started to look for somewhere to have a late lunch and found one just as the rain really started to get heavy. We had 7 plates of dim sum(too much food) tea and a diet coke for 3000 yen and chilled out for an hour or so before heading back to our room to rest and separate our bags to send via takuhaibin in the morning.

    We travel heavily with two 26” bags and two 22” bags. The two larger bags are pretty empty and sent along ahead of us with extra clothes and things we don’t need but will need later. We then travel with one small carryon bag each and meet up with the larger bags every other stop or so to trade clothes and fill the bags with the things we buy. This system works out well. Shipping two large bags from Yokohama to Fukuoaka cost 3100 yen. Well worth it imho. Your bags are waiting for you in your room when you arrive at the hotel of your choice.

    Dinner this evening was room service…….I know but they had a ramen/shrimp tempura combo which Linda wanted and Spaghetti Bolognese complete seto meal for me. Complete or set(seto) meals in Japan usually come with a salad/soup, the meal and a dessert and drink. Our most expensive meal so far at 4200 yen but what do you expect from a large International hotel's room service menu? And it was very good to boot so no complaints. The restaurant we ate at in the station the night before had a similar spaghetti combo for 1650 yen and Linda's ramen combo for 950 yen so we could have saved a few bucks but hey, we were on vacation......

    Early to bed again as we catch the Shinkansen to Nagasaki the next morning and we want to get early start. That always on time Shinkansen……..we’ll see about that.

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    Day 3

    Our Day on the Shinkansen

    Up early again this morning and called the bell desk to have someone come up to send two of our bags to the Grand Hyatt in Fukuoka. The lady bell person shows up and speaks English very well. So well in fact it was hard to discern any Japanese accent at all. I asked where she learned to speak the language so fluently and she then blushes while she tells us of her 4 years at North Carolina State U where she has just gotten her degree. Now back home and working on her MA and needs to work to survive. Int’l hotels love workers with another language skill and she needs the work at least until she can finish school.

    So I give her the address of the Hyatt and she asks when we will be there. I tell her in about a week so she makes note of the date and says they will call the Hyatt and arrange storage. Then she says we don’t have to make cash payment and just look for charge on your bill when you check out. Most places will make you pay in cash or the transfer company is sometimes on site. Japan is largely a cash society but I find that the cc is of course widely accepted in the larger hotels and restaurants and stores but now more and more everywhere as it is in the US. Small mom and pops stores are the exception although I found they take cc’s in a little store on the foothills of Mt Aso but that story will wait till later.

    So we get our things together and go down to check out. Our bill includes last night’s room service and 3100 yen for the two bags sent via takuhaibin and that’s it……yeah.

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    You can take the train and use your pass to get to Shin-Yokohama from where we were but we took the taxi out the front door of the hotel. Shin-Yokohama eki kudasai I tell the driver as he chuckled back “JR”?
    “Hai JR” I answer and off we went.

    The drop of the flag is 710 yen in a Yokohama taxi same as in Tokyo and good for the first two kilometers and increase by roughly 100 yen for every additional 500 meters traveled. The cost also increases when the taxi is not moving for a prolonged time. Late in the evening, rates are raised by 20-30 percent. He dropped us off right at the shinkansen entrance gates about 12 minutes later. We then had a few minutes before departure so we foraged the bakeries and food stores for our bento lunch and snacks we would need on our 7 hour train travel day. The Japanese combi or food stores like a seven eleven have sandwich like foods that are let’s just say unique and very inventive. And some of them like the peanut butter jelly one and the strawberry and cream are favorites of ours.

    We are at our platform area ten minutes before our train arrives and get to watch two trains leave from out gate before it’s our turn. All shinkansen arrivals and departures are clearly marked above on the digital monitors in Japanese and English and when one is coming into the station it is always a thrill. Our train stops exactly where it’s supposed to and the door opens up and we enter. We find our seat and start to get settled in and the train is already leaving the station exactly on time as I check the clock on the overhead digital board.

    In the first class cars the car attendant will bow and come out to greet the new passengers of the car with a sanitized package towel and menus of what is available for pay on their carts then ask you if they can get you anything or if you do want something to let them know. All future stops are announced in all cars periodically in Japanese and English and all stops are announced two minutes before you arrive in the station so you can be ready to depart when the train arrives in the station. When the train arrives at your stop you better be in line by the door and ready to get off. I have seen tourists take their time and wait for the train to stop before getting their bags together and then miss getting off as the train will leave on time with or without you.

    So we are on the first shinkansen for about two and three quarter hours until Shin-Osaka where all trains from the JR East terminate and you transfer and catch a JR West Sakura Shinkansen to Hakata(Fukuoka) another three hours where you finally transfer to a LTD Express train to Nagasaki…….7 hours and change……easy.

    The times between the transfer in Shin-Osaka is 13 minutes which is enough time to make the next gate and the transfer time in Hakata is eight minutes, still plenty of time but you gotta be on your toes as you leave the train. The final transfer time is 23 minutes which is a lifetime in Japan train transfer time so no problem.

    When you are leaving Yokohama station you want to be on the right side of the train to enhance your chances of catching a glimpse of Mt. Fuji just past the JR Odawara train station or about 40 minutes out of Yoko station. I like to be on the left side of the train out of Hakata to Nagasaki as you seen the sights coming out of the mountains and down to the ocean through into Nagasaki.

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    Well now for the delay. We arrived into Shin-Osaka on time and walked down and over to our departure gate in time. It’s there that I saw a sign on the track that I had never seen before. Sakura Shinkansen delayed. Departure time unknown. I looked around and everyone looked a little stunned. The train did finally arrive 16 minutes late and it got worse from there. I didn’t know or realize that if your shinkansen is late it has to fit in BEHIND all the other trains around it and your delayed train will become more and more delayed as it goes down the line starting and stopping outside of cities while the on time trains wiz by. Or waiting outside a city till the on time trains clear the station so you can enter or travel through. We ended up being 1 hour and 25 minutes late for our next train but had 1 minute when we arrived to catch the following train an hour later. We ran through the exit and into the train as the door buzzers where going off. I held the door open for Linda and the door was trying to close on my case but to no avail. The conductor said in broken English “delayed shinkansen?” I said yes and he took our JR Passes and looked on his hand held computer then with after a couple of entries into the handheld he showed us to our newly reserved green car seats with a smile, bow and thank you. Only in Japan.

    We arrived at the JR Nagasaki station which is the end of the line and terminus. Jr Nagasaki is a nice size station with the shopping mall and dozens of restaurants attached out the central exit. We walk to the taxi stand in front and jump into the taxi and ask the driver: “ Hoteru Dormy Inn Kudasai” which should say Hotel Dormy Inn please. He gruggly answers “ Hai Dormy Inn domo” which translates “Yes Dormy Inn, thanks” and we were off. The first drop on a Nagasaki taxi is 500 yen……big difference from Tokyo. We make it to the hotel for 650 yen.

    Hotel Dormy Inn Nagasaki at the entrance to Nagasaki’s Chinatown gate is a great place to stay with an onsen for their guests. Dormy Inns are a chain of Japanese business hotels with smaller rooms, washers and dryers, breakfast (usually pay extra) and the big plus are the onsens. We got a rate of $135.00 per night for a twin (we always choose a twin rather than a double in a business hotel in Japan. The rate is similar but the twin room will be bigger) at Kayak.com We pre-paid Kayak online and when we checked in had no problems as the front desk had all the necessary paperwork in their files so it worked out fine.

    The onsens in the hotel are gender separated. As I explained the male onsen to Linda it seemed they were mirrors of each other except for the toiletries in the female side were better. We each had a large bathing area and two large onsen baths one at 38 degrees C and the other set at 40 with lemons floating in the water. There is also a small cold plunge pool located near the large sauna complete with a large screen tv monitor inside. All toothbrush/toothpastes, brushes, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, razors and shaving creams, hair tonics and skin lotions are provided. All Pola(Japanese cosmetic company) products actually. So we enjoyed a long soak every day after our walks and tours through Nagasaki and in the mornings before we set out. I really could get used to living next to or having an onsen in our house at home…..

    Dinner our first night was at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown about a 5 minute walk from our hotel. We both had the Nagasaki special noodles called Champon. It has big noodles with seafood, meat, fish cakes & vegetables in a delicious soup that reminds me of the tonkotso soup base of Kyushu. Linda did not like this dish much. Dinner like this for two with condiments was 2100 yen.

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    Day 4

    Long onsen soak in the morning and then the buffet breakfast which is the best we have ever had in a business hotel of Japan. Of course they do charge you an extra 1000 yen p/p for breakfast but so worth it imho. While prepaying on Kayak I had noticed that they were also offering the breakfast at a special rate but did not take advantage thinking I wanted to see it first before I pay. There are American ham, eggs, sausages and cereal with waffles and omelets. The Japanese choices are endless with all the condiments and soups and salads, fish and seafood you would expect at any Japanese breakfast. Chinese dim sum and noodles are also present at this buffet.

    So it was out the door to use and learn about the main transportation in Nagasaki, the tram system. The city of Nagasaki is served by four tram lines. These tram lines provide easy access to most of the city's main attractions and run approximately every 5-8 minutes from 6:00 to 23:00
    Enter the tram through the rear door and exit through the front door as you do in any Japan city bus. Pay the driver when exiting. One ride costs 120 yen regardless of how far you travel so no need for a ticket. A 1-day pass for unlimited use of the trams for one calendar day are available for 500 yen that you can by onboard from the driver. The tram network is designed in a way in which it is possible to reach almost any tram stop from any other tram stop without the need of a transfer.

    We noticed that at all tram stops we stopped at or used had announcements in Japanese and English over a loud speaker and the signs atop the trams were also in Japanese and English so you know which tram to take and where they were headed.
    Only at the Tsukimachi tram stop, it is sometimes necessary to transfer between lines 1 and 5. We did this when going from Glover Gardens to the Peace Park. Therefore, transferring passengers can ask for a transfer ticket when exiting a tram at Tsukimachi in order to avoid paying twice. The ticket is called a noritsugi in Japanese. Just tell the driver “noritsugi” as you leave the bus and he or she will hand you a transfer ticket. Hand the transfer ticket to the driver of the second tram when exiting.

    The Tsukimachi stop is a 5 minute walk from our Dormy Inn so we go there and take a short tram ride on the green line and get off at the Ouratenshudo-shita tram stop for our short trek up to Glover Garden.

    Glover Garden is an open air museum which exhibits mansions of former Western residents of late 1800’s and early 1900’s Nagasaki. It is located on a hill above Nagasaki Harbor where Western merchants settled down after the end of Japan's era of seclusion in the second half of the 19th century.
    The exhibited buildings include the mansions of British merchants Frederick Ringer and William Alt and the former residence of Thomas Glover, a Scottish merchant. A beautiful panorama of the city can be enjoyed from the gardens. Some pictures are included in our photos linked to above.
    Along the walk up to the Garden you will pass by many little shops typical of the shopping doris leading up or to a tourist attraction in Japan. Also along the way is the Oura Catholic Church. We did not take pictures in the church as they were having a Sunday Mass when we passed by and I didn’t want to be that tourist with no respect for others. Oura Catholic Church (Oura Tenshudo) was constructed in the last years of the Edo period in 1864 for the growing community of foreign merchants, who took up residence in Nagasaki after the end of Japan's era of seclusion.

    Oura Catholic Church is considered the oldest standing Christian church in Japan, and is the only Western building to be designated as a national treasure. Lots of stained glass used in the church and surrounding buildings I am guessing from the Portuguese influence of the times.

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    The Glover Garden opens everyday from 8:30 to 18:00 with longer hours during the summer and peak seasons. Charge is 600 yen p/p for admission. This museum is worth the price of admission and good for at least a two hour stay. All signs in the various houses and buildings of this particular museum are in Japanese and English which is a rarity in our Japan museum travels throughout the country. Lots of nice scenery and vista views with some very good photo ops. We really liked this venue for its offerings and views and recommend it highly to future Fodor’s travelers.

    After a couple of hours it was back down the hill to the tram stop and with a quick transfer at the Tsukumachi stop it was off to the Nagasaki Peace Park a short walk from the Matsuyamamachi tram stop on the blue line. The Nagasaki Peace Park commemorates the atomic bombing of Nagasaki of August 9, 1945, which destroyed wide parts of the city and killed ten thousands of its inhabitants.

    In the park stand the Peace Statue as well as various other memorials. A monument around a black pillar marks the atomic explosion's epicenter in the nearby Hypocenter Park and stores the name list of bomb victims.
    Above the park stands the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum across the park and up the hill (steps). In the Museum they ask that no pictures be taken but I constantly saw tourists (99% Japanese Nationals) snapping away with their phone cameras.

    The history explained is all from the local Japanese perspective as it should be and all signs in this museum are in Japanese and English which I love. It is a very sobering experience into the Atomic weaponry age and its effects. All types of history from pictures to bomb and crystallized artifacts of that day that bring it all into focus. A must see if visiting Nagasaki imho and worth the 200 yen price of admission. The hours on the door listed 8:30 – 16:30 daily and closed 12-29 through 12/31. Pictures with comments on both the above venues are included in the photo link above.

    We were pretty tired out of walking as there were lots of stairs and walkways done today so I voted the heck with the tram and took the first taxi we saw as we exited the museum. I neglected to mention that not only is the first drop cheaper in a Nagasaki taxi than the Tokyo ones at 500 yen but it only jumps 50 yen every 500 meters as opposed to the 100 yen of Tokyo. The fare from the Peace Museum all the way across town to the Dormy Inn was 850 yen and a ten minute or so drive. Just in time for a nice long soak in the onsen then get ready for a twilight view from Mt. Inasa…..Inasayama.

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    Thank you

    Inasayama

    If it is a clear day like it was the day we went I wholeheartedly recommend a trip up the ropeway to Insayama. Mt. Inasa (Inasayama) is a 333 meter high mountain in close distance to Nagasaki’s city center.

    The summit can be reached by ropeway, bus or car and offers great views over the city. In fact, the night views from Mount Inasa are ranked among Japan's three best night views besides the views from Mt Hakodate and Mt Rokko above Kobe. We have now done all three views and consider Insayama the best followed by Hakodate and really close behind Rokkoyama.

    Several television and radio antennas and an observation deck with restaurant (which was closed when we went) are located at the summit. Lots of vending machines located on the first floor of the 5 story observation center with an open air deck on the top level which can be quite chilly in the evening so be sure to be prepared depending on the season.

    We opted to take the tram from our hotel to the Takaramachi stop and walk to the rope way entrance which the guide books say is a short ten minute walk from the station. Well, try a nice twenty five minute walk before we finally arrived at the ropeway entrance. We took the shortest route and anyone who can walk that in ten minutes is my hero. It was a very nice walk though as we saw a part of town we never would have taking the bus, crossing over a river on the way.

    The ropeway ride takes five minutes, is lackluster and costs 700 yen (one way) or 1200 yen (round trip). You can catch the bus down or I guess you could walk but that would take a while as the road winds its way around to the top. A few locals were there with their cars in the parking lot (free parking). There is a bus from the main JR station that operates every half hour I think and is cheap and takes you all the way to the top. Operating hours for the gondolas are from 9:00 to 22:00 (closed for maintenance in early December). Gondolas depart every 15-20 minutes.

    As I mentioned earlier we had a very clear day and evening with virtually no clouds in the sky except maybe on the horizons. We sat inside (warming up) and outside as the sun set and the dazzling lights of Nagasaki began to come on. It was a special sight to see and we are glad we had the good fortune to witness it.

    Then it was on down back to Chinatown this time hailing a taxi as we were walking back from the Ropeway. 700 yen had us back in Chinatown in 10 minutes where we found a cocktail bar in the first floor level of the JAL Hotel that also served as the hotel restaurant. We had our first cocktails in Japan here and dinner. I had the steak special and Linda had the clams with linguini sauce and we both had several cocktails. Surprisingly the bill came out to “only” 6800 yen which is amazing in Japan especially for what we ate and what we drank. Beers, wines, sakes, souchu and the likes are reasonably priced in Japan but when you want to drink hard liquor such as Vodka, Scotch, Gin or Tequila expect to pay dearly for a drink. A Belvedere Martini will cost you 1600 yen and up in a bar on the Ginza or a classy bar in an International Hotel chain in Japan. Caveat is if you must drink a lot you can buy a bottle of whatever name alcohol you require at the local liquor outlet for about the same price as in the US and drink in your room but where’s the atmosphere in that? Lol

    When we got back to the Dormy Inn the kitchen mama was serving free hot somen noodles with veggies and dumplings in them. The Dormy Inn does this every night from 21:00-23:00. You just walk into their dining room and order through the window and she calls your name to pick up in a few minutes. The warm soup really hit the spot and we slept like babies that night…..at least I did.

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    Day 5

    We got an early start this day with long onsen soak and breakfast done by 8:30 so it was a five minute walk to our first destination Dejima.

    The Japanese are restoring the island of Dejima which was a man-made island in the port of Nagasaki constructed in 1636 to segregate Portuguese residents from the Japanese population and control their missionary activities.

    A few years later, the Portuguese were expelled from Japan, and a Dutch trading factory, formerly located in Hirado, was moved to Dejima. The Dutch workers, the only remaining Westerners allowed in the country, were restricted to Dejima during Japan’s 200 year isolation period.

    Today, Dejima is not an island anymore, as the surrounding area has been reclaimed during the 20th century. However, a number of Dejima's historical structures remain, have been or are being reconstructed in the area, including various residences, warehouses, walls and gates. Work was started in 1996 to restore the island and is ongoing today as we witnessed in our visit.

    The size of the island surprised me at first as the whole area does not seem big enough to hold a settlement of foreign traders as it reminded me more of a smaller scale model. Then as we started self touring the buildings and seeing and reading (English and Japanese signs) exactly how life was on this little island you begin to understand what the Dutch traders went through in order to be the sole traders with the Japanese. There are all types of displays and even a section of the island where they have dressed characters of that day interacting with the guests and students with demonstrations of the weighing systems and fielding and answering questions in Japanese only.

    Dejima is open from 8:00 to 16:00 daily, no closures with a 500 yen admission fee. You can get to Dejima using the blue tram line and getting off at the Dejima stop. The entrance is adjacent to the stop. We were at Dejima for a little over two hours. I could have stayed at least another hour reading all the displays and soaking it all in but I noticed that Linda lost interest about an hour in as museums are not her thing but she did let me read and soak it all in patiently.

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    When we were done with the touring and being our last full day in Nagasaki Linda gets to shop for the rest of the day. So it was off on the blue line tram to the JR Nagasaki station stop (Nagasaki eki-mae) where we cross the street and start to walk back towards Chinatown on the main dori.
    We were at well into our walk going in and out of stores, looking here and there but always heading in the direction of our hotel, or so we thought. Then somehow we ended up going towards the dock area when Linda lets out a gasp……..

    ”I found it”.

    “Found what” I thought.

    “The mall” she answered.

    Nagasaki has a beautiful indoor 6 story shopping mall located right on the waterfront complete with cruise ship berth and great views from the plethora of restaurants on the top level dining area and we found it.

    Well now you know where and how spent the next 4 1/2 hours eating a late lunch looking over Nagasaki Harbor on a picture perfect fall afternoon.
    We walked back to our hotel and took a very long soak in the onsen before dinner which was at the same JAL hotel restaurant. This time I had the “meat special” in the waiters limited English which turned out to be fantastic. The dish was a set meal that included a small soup and green salad, parma ham and melon appetizer, a small beef filet (6 oz), a small braise beef short rib (4oz) and the dessert (chocolate cake and ice cream) for 2400 yen. Linda had a green salad and their soft shell crab entrée for 2400 yen and shared my dessert. No noodles when we got back to the hotel but early to bed as we were tired and we had to move on to Kumamoto the next morning on the train.

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    Following along from the West Coast and loving all of your details HT! Having been to Japan 3 times now I appreciate the little details you are letting out that will help first time travelers to Japan and ones like me too. I am thinking about Kyushu as a future destination and this report is in good timing.

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    Days 6 & 7

    Kumamoto
    We awoke rather early this morning I guess because of the excitement of travel,lol. Had a little something from the Family Mart Store on the first floor for breakfast then took a last morning walk around the neighborhood to see what we hadn’t already.

    We returned to the hotel and took a long last Onsen bath and soak (45 minutes) then an easy check out where the staff took our keys and bowed and thanked us for staying. I forgot to mention that the check in lobby is located on the third floor of the building along with their restaurant, Laundromat and Onsen facilities. There is a Family Mart store on the first floor and a Spa/Massage venue on the second floor. Floors 3-12 are the Dormy Inn Hotel’s floors.
    So after a speedy check out it was downstairs to take a taxi to the JR Nagasaki station. We arrived at the station ten minutes later and made a reservation on the next train to Kumamoto.

    My record shows we left at 10:53 am. We had some time to brows the food venues and get a mid day snack to eat on the train less we perish, lol.

    The train was an Ltd Express Kamome 18 and left exactly on time and arrived at our lone transfer point at Shin-Tosu 92 minutes later. We sat on the right side of the first class cabin in order to see the ocean and shore views while climbing out of Nagasaki. As a rule, unless there is a view like this one, we always travel on the left side of a northern bound train in the morning and on the right side of a southern bound train in the morning, so we miss the sun searing shining into your window and cooking you alive. There are blinders you can pull down but I prefer the windows open so I can see what is passing by.

    We had an 8-minute layover in Shin-Tosu then our Shinkansen Sakura 303 arrived and had us in Kumamoto 27 minutes later and would you believe hungry for a little lunch. In the JR Kumamoto Station just outside of the shinkansen gates are a bevy of restaurants and shops selling food and souvenirs so it was off to see if we could find lunch. As you exit the gates we find the first restaurant on the right has the pizza and pasta we were hungry for so we sat down and waited for a waitress. There is no English menu but plastic food displays outside in the window so we show them what we want and Linda specifically orders the seto pasta meal. “Oh, the set lunch” the young waitress says in English. Hmmmmmm, we smile and say “Hai” as we walk back to our seats, me muttering to myself. Lunch was very good.

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    We then took a taxi from the stand out front to our next hotel, the Comfort Hotel Kumamoto Shinshigai. The first drop on the taximeter is 500 yen in Kumamoto. Total cost was 650 yen to the hotel. The Comfort Hotels and Inns in Japan are the same company as the ones in Wthe US that are owned and operated by Choice Hotels…. you know…. Econo Lodge, Sleep Inns, Cambria, Rodeway Inns, etc.

    The Comfort Inns and Hotels throughout Japan are business hotels with the regular free perks; free breakfast and Internet, coffee and refreshments are on hand free from check in to 10:00 pm. Free use of yukatas to sleep in, free tooth brush, tooth paste, razor and cream in a small squeeze ketchup style wrap, free hair brush and this month only a free welcome gift (key chains).

    There is a laundry room on premises and the rooms are spotless and clean, modern yet larger than the ones in a say Toyoko Inn (which was right across the street btw) or a Washington Hotel. The cost was $139.00 per night for a twin room which I booked online on the Choice hotel site. I think I mentioned this before but we always book a twin rather than a double while staying in a business hotel in Japan. The twin room has two beds and is usually bigger than the double rooms and the double beds only have one small double bed, no kings or queens. I used my Choice privileges number when booking which evidently got us a larger corner room at check in but no points, as I knew they do not participate in the points program in Japan having stayed in a Choice Hotel before. I also took advantage of their AAA rate but did not have to show the card at check-in. We were early arriving there about 1:30 so we checked in and left our bags with the front desk and went our to explore Kumamoto.

    As luck would have it the Shinshigai is a large shopping dori area of Kumamoto about 1-½ kilometers long with streets emanating off every intersection so you can imagine how big this shopping/eating area is. We give it a couple of hours walking and sticking our noses into shops and restaurants. Linda has a fashion thing going on as she notices what the local Japanese women are wearing this season and looks for the good deals while I just look, walk and nod yes every once in a while, works for me. Past by a Cabbages and Condoms Thai restaurant that reminded us of our times in Bangkok so decide to have dinner there tonight. Went back to hotel to settle in and do a load of laundry before dinner…..how exciting….. Dinner at Cabbages and Condoms was good and spicy liked we asked for and at 3400 yen not that bad.

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    The next morning we were up late(for us)about 8:00. Then it was downstairs to the buffet breakfast. Breakfasts in a Japanese business hotel will consist of coffee, teas, milk and juice dispensers. Different types of onigiri (rice balls), cereals, usually a green salad with oriental dressing,sausages, sometimes eggs(this place had soft scrambled, miso soup, fruits and Danish pastries, rolls and bread, butter and jelly, the basics. We then walked over to our main sight of the day Kumamoto Castle (Kumamoto-jo) maybe a ten minute walk from the hotel.

    Kumamoto Castle is one of the most impressive castles we have seen in all of our Japan travels. With large castle grounds and a variety of buildings, Kumamoto Castle is one of the most complete castle experiences we have had in Japan. Only a few of the original structures have survived the centuries since the castle's construction in 1607 intact. The castle keep and most other buildings are modern reconstructions, but the reconstructions are of a high quality and new buildings are continually being added to as was the case during our visit.

    The construction of Kumamoto Castle in the early 1600s took seven years, and was designed by the feudal lord (daimyo) who ruled the area, Kato Kiyomasa. Kato was an experienced samurai warrior, and he used his knowledge to build fortifications that were highly regarded for their strategic effectiveness. The steep walls of this fortress are a sight to see and must have seemed impenetrable to the invading forces of the time. Less than 50 years after its construction, the castle and surrounding area were taken from the Kato clan and given to the Hosokawa clan which ruled the area from Kumamoto Castle for the next two centuries. Kato’s son did something to disgrace the shogun and was made to forfeit his fortune and later his life, yikes!

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    The castle keep has two towers, a main tower with six stories and a small tower with four stories. Only the bottom two stories of the small tower are accessible, but you can go to the very top of the main tower by stairway only, for fantastic views of the castle grounds and the Kumamoto city.
    Besides the castle keep and palace building, Kumamoto Castle features as I mentioned earlier impressive stone walls and also moats, as well as several turrets and storehouses, many of which can be entered. The Uto Turret is one of the few structures that survived the siege of 1877, and dates back to the period of the castle's construction. There is a large tree adjacent to this turret that is in one of our pictures in the above link. Anyway this tree is over 800 years old and as I took a picture of this mammoth I couldn’t help but think, “if only this tree could talk what a tale it would have”.
    There is also a unique underground passage that leads to the palace building and a former residence of the Hosokawa clan about 500 meters northwest of the main castle grounds which is in the brochure (which I copied some of this verbiage from) but we did not go as I was getting tired of walking and climbing up and down all those stairs.
    Hours were 8:30 to 17:00 when we were there but closes at 18:00 from April-October. Admission was 500 yen for an adult ticket and we were there a little over four hours. You can spend more time there exploring their gardens and the above-mentioned Hosokawa residence but four hours was enough for us.

    I will add more to this report over this week and try to finish soon. Sorry for the delays.

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    We walked around again before going back to our hotel to rest and recoup before setting out for the evening. There are washers and dryers on the 6th floor of this hotel so we did a load of wash while relaxing and watching the Fukuoka Grand sumo tournament on the TV. We hoped to see a real sumo match live while in Fukuoka a few days later. The charge on the washers is 100 yen for the cycle and the dryers are 100 yen for 30 minutes. Soap vending machines are there in the room too with soap at 50 yen/box.

    Recharged we set out for a cocktail and dinner, in that order, and just a few steps around the corner of the hotel we stumbled upon the Bar Vespa Kumamoto. This bar is one of a chain of 4 in Japan. The other locations are on the Ginza in Tokyo, in the Gion of Kyoto and in Hakata in the city of Fukuoka. As luck would have it one of the owners of the bars, Tatsuki Kobiyama happened to be bartending and training a new worker there that night. These bars are one of the expensive bars I talked about earlier in Japan where a Belvedere martini was going for 2000 yen ($26.00 US) and the women’s rate (cheaper thank god) at 1500 yen.

    Kobiyamasan had an interesting story, which he started to tell us in perfect English. He had learned his craft from a Philippine bartender in Hawaii at the “Top of Waikiki” restaurant. He worked there for 13 years learning and saving all his money to finally come back to Japan and open his own business. Well of course when we heard he had lived in Hawaii we told him where we were from and the conversations turned very friendly as he recalled his life in the islands and his past loves there.

    He is also a collector of fine art and while we were there he received a FEDEX box with just one sake cup exquisitely wrapped inside. The picture and explanation of the cup are in the pictures shown at the beginning of this report. The cup is made with special clay and in the old traditional ways somewhere in Japan but I forget where he said, where the cup ahs a quality that actually enhances the flavor of the sake.

    Really, I asked?

    He then poured his best dai ginjo into a regular sake cup then also filled the new cup and offered both to me. The sake really did taste better in the cup he just received. He then told me the cup had cost him $750.00 US. I put the empty cup down very gently and exclaiming its virtues. He then refilled it gladly to my delight. It really had worked.

    After a couple of hours there with lively conversation, a lot of laughs and a few more martinis I asked Kobiyamasan for his recommendation for a good Italian meal in Kumamoto. Tutti is the English name of the place but I have little else for you as information. He called a taxi for us and when we arrived we were greeted at the door and led into a very modern and busy restaurant.

    The chef is Kobiyamasan’s friend and came out to meet and greet us in Japanese, as he spoke no English. In fact there was only one young girl working that night who spoke any English and very little of it but enough to explain the all-Japanese menu. They served prix fix meals here so we ended up with the chef’s reco and it was all very good. I had the Ossco Buco and Linda the giant shrimp and fish. There were also pasta appetizer dishes and desserts included with the meal. We had one glass of wine each with our meals…….maybe I had two. The price was very expensive at 9100 yen.

    Days 8 & 9

    Kurokawa Onsen

    Check out and a short taxi ride to the Nissan car rental located across the street from the JR Kumamoto station. We had reserved the car online beforehand on the Toocoo car rental site.

    http://www2.tocoo.jp/?file=rentcar_inbound/main

    Nissan car rentals in Japan are the only company that has English GPS systems in their rental cars throughout Japan except in Okinawa where I think its Orix.

    Renting a car in Japan is relatively painless. You need your valid passport and international drivers license. Have the phone numbers of your destinations, as this is the easiest way to set your destination on these GPS systems. The rental agency will give you a pictured step-by-step instruction paper of how to operate your GPS. Make them show you how to work the GPS before you leave and have them set in your first destination.

    Our destination is the small Onsen town of Kurokawa about a two-hour drive northwest of Kumamoto through the beautiful Aso farmland areas, which are located on the upslope of Mt. Aso the largest and tallest mountain on Kyushu.

    Kurokawa Onsen is one of Japan's most attractive hot spring towns, located in the middle of the southern island of Kyushu about 20 kilometers north of Mt Aso. Well-coordinated efforts by the town to maintain a pleasant, traditional atmosphere have kept Kurokawa free of the massive concrete hotels, neon advertisements and loud colors that are encountered in many of Japan's other resort towns.

    Instead, natural colors and materials, wooden buildings, earthen walls, stone stairs and a river flowing through dominate Kurokawa’s townscape. The town center, located in a forested valley, is compact and easily explored on foot, except for a few ryokan, which are located less centrally, and is where we were staying at the Sanga Ryokan.

    Ryokan, public baths, attractive shops and cafes, a small shrine and bridges that lead over the river directly to Ryokan entrances, lines the town’s lanes. A walk through town is particularly enjoyable for the Japanese locals and some gaigin tourists in yukata and geta sandals provided by your Ryokan.

    As I mentioned it is a very nice drive through the Aso farmlands and on towards Kurokawa. Mt Aso was a wonderful side journey, as we did not want to be at the Ryokan too early as check in was not until 3:00 pm.

    Mount Aso is an active volcano. Its ancient caldera ranks among the world's largest, with a diameter of up to 25 kilometers and a circumference of over 100 kilometers. In the center of the caldera stand the mountain's active volcanic peaks, including Mount Nakadake.

    Not far from the Nakadake crater, Kusasenri-ga-hama is a grass covered plain with grazing cows and a few horses. Horse riding is possible from early March to mid December. On the opposite side of the road stands the Aso Volcano Museum with explanations about the volcano.

    Komezuka is a small, beautifully shaped volcanic cone on the northern slopes of Nakadake. There are pleasant walking trails in the vicinity (but not to the top) of Komezuka, however, easy access by public transportation is not provided. After about three hours of driving the area we set our gps to our Ryokan in Kurokawa the Sanga Ryokan we reserved through our friends at Japanese Guest Houses.

    http://japaneseguesthouses.com/db/kurokawa/sanga.htm

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    ht, thanks for continuing....
    btw, how would you compare Yufuin and Kurokawa - that is, if you've stopped in Yufuin - that's where I plan to stay - of course, I won't have a car and there are supposed to be some shops and little museums as well as the lake - sort of touristy I read, but then again I'm a tourist....
    Also I hate to say this to you but I'm not that much into the idea of onsen.....

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    Mara, We got close to Yufuin but did not go all the way there as time was running short and we were anxious to check in at Sanga Ryokan. Are you planning on coming from Beppu or Nagasaki?

    I had inhibitions about ryokan stay and onsen but our first onsen stay a few years ago at Tsurunoyu Onsen cured us.......literally.

    I often read people ask "Where can I find the real Japan"? One place I always suggest to find it is to stay in an ryokan in an onsen town out in the countryside.....the heart and soul of Japan.

    Aloha!

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    ht, I'm not sure yet about my itinerary - my newest idea is to spend my first night in Kyushu in Usuki in which case I would be coming from there by train via Oita....

    I have no problem with a ryokan - but I'm not a big bath person...I know that's heresy to some here. ;-)

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    We arrived at Sanga Ryokan's parking lot at 3:05 pm. There was a Japanese male attendant in the lot who directed us to a parking stall and welcomed us by name. He unloaded our 2 bags and carried them down the short lane to the front entrance of the Ryokan.

    There were two female attendants at the front entrance to also greet you and help you with your shoes. None of them spoke any English but were fully aware of that first mistake that most foreign tourists make at a Ryokan. Forgetting to take off your shoes before entering the door (in this case the first level step).

    I deftly pass the two “shoe guards” who are smiling and beckoning the Japanese welcome expression “irrashimase” while just waiting for me to step onto the second level with my shoes. I wear slip ons so I quickly,in one step, slip out of my shoes and into the first pair of waiting slippers I see. The guards are impressed as I hear one let out a sigh of relief.

    I walk straight to the check in desk without looking back but can feel their eyes on me. Customarily the women in Japan would handle the check in and check out at all hotels, Ryokan or whatever while the husband sits behind them like the Shogun he is supposed to be and looks, grins and lords over everyone but Mrs. HT won’t give into me about that custom (I wonder why) ;)

    I mentioned earlier that I usually use Japanese Guest Houses to make Ryokan reservations while in Japan. I have also used Japanican dot com, The Ryokan Collection site and Agoda but have found that JGH will always get us, if not the best room in the house, one that is very close.

    We were appointed one of the four rooms in this small 15 room ryokan with hot spring bath ensuite. Our bill for two nights including two bottles of French white wine and all taxes was 76200 yen or $994.00 US at today’s rate. There are pictures of the kaiseki dinners and the traditional breakfasts served us here over the two days in my picture link above.

    The Sanga Ryokan itself is located about ¼ mile out of Kurokawa town right along a river in the forest groves, which makes for an isolated and serene environment. Our room’s view windows opened up right onto the river and the forest across the with the beautiful fall colors…it was a sight to behold.

    Dinners are served kaiseki style or “traditional formal dinner” in your room on the floor on a large table. Your server will serve you course after course usually taking two hours or more to complete the traditional feast. If you want more information about the procedures and customs this site has it all typed out so I don’t have too.

    http://japaneseguesthouses.com/about/ryokan/kaiseki.htm

    Breakfast is also served traditional style in the dining rooms located near the lobby. There are staggered times for dinners and breakfasts and you will be asked what times you want when you check in. This Ryokan also has four private outdoor baths that can also be reserved for an hour at a time, which they will also ask about at check in. No charge for the private baths.

    By traditional style for breakfasts I mean you sit on a low private table on the floor where they serve you the traditional fish, egg, condiments, soup and rice, quite a lot of food actually. Of course tea, coffee, juices and water are available. I even saw an old Japanese man drinking a breakfast beer.

    If you stay two nights you can tour the town after breakfast or if you have a rent a car like us then the world is your oyster…....or till after 1:00pm or so when they’ve cleaned all the rooms and baths so you can have them all to yourself before the check ins start.

    It was raining that day after breakfast and the forecast was for rain all day long, oh well. We entered the lobby and the English-speaking receptionist asked us where we were going to. When I told her to Takachiho she said that it was at least a three-hour drive one-way. I didn’t think so from all my planning but it kind of floored me because it meant we might be back later than I had planned. Well no matter, we were in for the duration.

    In the interim our car appeared at the front door as the attendant had gotten it for us so we wouldn’t get wet walking to the car, how nice. The “shoe guards” got us our shoes out of the closet and tried to help us put them on, funny sight. The doorman handed us both umbrellas as we got into our car and drove off, wow.

    Like I said it was raining but not too heavily and we made it to Takachiho in 1 hour and 45 minutes. I googled a Hotel Takachiho’s phone number and entered it into the GPS. As luck would have it the hotel’s phone number was maybe ½ mile from the actual Takachiho gorge we were heading towards and by the time we hit the village the local signage that is in English and Japanese prominently led
    the way.

    Takachiho is a small town in the Miyazaki Prefecture that is steeped in Japanese mythology. It is the supposed site of legend where Amaterasu, the Shinto Sun Goddess, disturbed by her brother's cruel pranks, hid herself in a cave, prompting the other gods and goddesses to try and lure her out.

    It is also the disputed landing place of the god Ninigi no Mikoto, grandson of Amaterasu, who was sent down from heaven to establish the lineage of Japanese emperors, a distinction which it competes for with Mount Takachiho-no-mine in Kirishima National Park.
    Takachiho is known as a "power spot", a place of profound religious importance and natural beauty, which radiates spiritual energy. Among the best spots for a spiritual experience are Amano Iwato Shrine and Takachiho Gorge on a calm day.

    There is public parking at the gorge site for 300 yen per four hours. Although it was raining quite heavily at times there were still crowds of Japanese local tourists as this was the height of the fall colors seasons and this is one of the sights to see. Well it was a beautiful site even in the rain and crowds and we are glad we got to see the gorge. We spent about 90 minutes climbing up and down the trail until the rain and cold got too uncomfortable and hunger started to creep in. We got back into the car and set the gps for our Ryokan and started to drive back looking for a roadside restaurant of sorts, mainly some hot noodles in soup of some kind. Our problem is we can’t read Japanese or any Kanji characters. We know by our travels and driving around that when you see stores with flags, it usually means food but can also mean a myriad of things. Got to learn how to read,lol. It doesn’t help any that we are in the countryside and not a big city so we start driving down the country highway with nothing but farms and wilderness till we pass what looks like a little diner with flags. I park right in front and hop out and up the stairs and stare inside. Yup it’s a restaurant alright and everyone is eating hot noodles. I scan the place for anything in English to no avail but at this point who cares I get Linda and we walk in the door and are greeted in Japanese by the irrepressible “irrashimase” (sp). Leads us to our tables and drops off two menus.

    I ask for an English menu and am told there is none. So in slaughtered Japanese I ask what do you serve. “Udon” she proudly answers. Kitsune Undon I order then look at Linda who is looking back very sternly if that is the right word. Linda does not care for udon noodles. I ask if they have somen or ramen noodles but no, only udon. We order something she thinks she would like, a tempura udon, then wait for our order.

    The tempura udon is actually very good with shrimp and vegetable tempura in a great soup broth, which Linda eats except for the noodles, which I am given to finish. I do it with great restraint,lol.

    We make it back to the Ryokan about 2:30 in time for a lot of soaking and relaxing before another stellar kaiseki dinner. The dinners both nights included two types of sashimi and basashi (raw horse meat), served with various pickled vegetables and fruits. A whole trout smoked on the ryori along with a salmon cooked in the oven in a wooden wrapping. Miyazaki wagyu beef steak one night sub with beef sukiyaki the next. I am missing some of the entrees and appetizers and all the desserts but you can see pictures on that thread I left in the beginning of this report.

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    Days 10 & 11

    Fukuoka

    We stayed up late the last evening enjoying the Ryokan atmosphere after dinner. They serve coffee and tea in the lobby while some of the guests were karaoke singing. It was really fun to watch.

    We then took in the mixed rotenburo by ourselves in the light rain as no one wanted to be out at night in the rain but what a pleasant time we had all by ourselves…..

    We had breakfast scheduled at 8 the last morning so we could sleep in a little and enjoy a last soak in our ensuite hot bath. It was still raining a bit when we checked out so the attendant brought our car up in front while Linda checked us out at the desk.

    Yes, she let me play shogun with my arms crossed as I stood slightly behind her playing the part. Sanga Ryokan takes VISA and cash only, no MC or AMEX. They just started taking VISA in 2011 I was told, I think by JGH in their confirmation email.

    As we walked towards the door all of the workers in the immediate area lined up at the front door while the “shoe guards” merrily helped us with our shoes and slippers. Our bags had been put in the trunk of the car and all of the employees bowed and waved sayonara to us as we drove off. We would love to revisit Sanga Ryokan and Kurokawa Onsen someday.

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    It was another beautiful drive through the mountain valleys and across the green farmlands as we traveled now down in elevation for the next two hours until we reached the JR Kumamoto train station where we dropped off our rental car and took the shinkansen train for a short 42 minute ride on the Sakura shinkansen to Hakata, the main JR shinkansen train station for the city of Fukuoka.

    A little aside on how you return your rental car. I forgot to mention that when you pick up your rental car in Japan, the rental agency would give you a map of approved gas stations usually within 1 kilometer of the agency. You must fill up at one of these stations before you return your car and give them the gas receipt. Don’t forget the receipt!!!

    We had been to Fukuoka a few years ago and had wanted to explore a few places in and around our current hotel, The Grand Hyatt Fukuoka and to eat Hakata Ramen from a yatai stand on Nakasu Island right in back of Canal City.

    The GH is located in Canal City Hakata, which is a huge shopping complex located smack dab in the middle of the entertainment, eating and shopping venues of Japan’s tenth largest city. The best thing about it was we were staying there for two nights free on points and we were upgraded to a suite upon arrival because of my Hyatt Diamond Membership.

    Our two larger bags we sent from the Sheraton Yokohama last week were waiting for us in our suite as we walked in. Linda quickly unpacked us and repacked again packing the things we had picked up along the way and changing her wardrobe for the larger cities we were going to be in and the colder climate the changing season the further north we traveled.

    Being attached to a mall is like heaven to Linda so we set out to explore the Japanese indoor mall. The fifth floor consists of the "Ramen Stadium", which has eight ramen restaurants with noodle dishes from across Japan, including the local specialty Hakata Ramen. We decide to have a late lunch here eating in the Hokkaido Ramen restaurant since I am saving the Hakata Ramen for the yatai stalls. I have one with shrimp, sweet pork and vegetables in a shoyu base while Linda has the special Hokkaido crab ramen that has crab and different types of seafood in it. Both of our noodles are also served perfectly “al dente” as all noodle dished are served in Japan. We have yet to be served mushy over-cooked noodles in Japan. The price for this simple yet very filling meal was 1850 yen with tea and water included.

    We were supposed to see the live Sumo Tournament happening in Fukuoka this night but opted to stay in the hotel that night relax and have a few free adult cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the Hyatt Regency club, then walked around the neighborhood window shopping and seeing the sights of the Fukuoka Saturday nightlife before retiring late for the evening.

    We even walked by the yatai stalls and looked and poked around several of them but they were all packed to the gills with locals having a good time eating, drinking and carousing the night away. The stall I wanted to eat at serving the Hakata Ramen had a long waiting line so I guess that will be another reason to come back as the yatai’s would be closed on Sunday night, our last night in town.

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    We had breakfast the next morning in the Regency club that was very good. One hot egg entrée and a myriad of vegetables, fruits, cold meats, breads and pastries, along with the Japanese fish, salmon and pickled vegetables with of course the miso soup on the buffet tables.

    This Regency Club, like the one in the Hyatt Shinjuku, goes out of their way to please their elite guests. Can’t say that is the case at the Grand Hyatt Roppongi or the Hyatt Osaka’s Regency clubs where they actually make you feel like they are limiting what you take and how much you take of something that of course makes you overtake to spite them and nobody wins with that type of service imo. You go away feeling like you’ve been taken and they go away looking cheap to their best customers.

    After a leisurely breakfast we wondered out for a long stroll to the Fukuoka Castle ruins and gardens. It took us about 30 minutes to reach them walking from the hotel as we walked slowly taking in all the sights and sounds of a brilliantly sunny Sunday autumn morning in Fukuoka.

    The ruins of Fukuoka Castle are located in the middle of the city in Maizuru Park, named after the castle's alias, Maizuru Castle. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Fukuoka Castle used to be the largest castle on Kyushu, but it was almost completely torn down after the Meiji Restoration as an unwanted symbol of the feudal past. Nowadays only ruined walls and a few turrets remain, and the park attracts visitors with walking trails and a few lookout points. It does command a decent view of the city and I was hoping the fall colors would be happening in the garden when we got there.

    Well we were two weeks too early for the fall colors as it turned out as green was still the predominant color at the garden. We should have been north at Yamadera at this point of our trip but we’ll save that for another time. We stayed maybe ½ hour taking pictures and walking the walls and gardens before walking out to catch the subway to the Meinohama Station and a short walk to the Atago Shrine with its beautiful views over Fukuoka and Hakata Bay.

    We then hopped on the subway back towards Canal City to shop the outside shopping dori located about two blocks away. We were looking for used kimonos and found a shop along this dori that sold them but none that Linda wanted. At the end of this dori we found a Shinto Shrine where Sunday services were being held and the Shichi-Go- San rituals were being held.

    "Shichi Go San" means "Seven Five Three". Girls of age three and seven and boys of age three and five are celebrated on Shichigosan, and it is prayed for their good health and growth. Shichigosan takes place on November 15 of every year and is not a national holiday. On November 15 or the closest weekend, the young people visit a Shinto Shrine dressed up in kimono. This Sunday happened to be that closest weekend.

    Odd numbers are considered lucky numbers. Long candies in bags that are decorated with turtles and cranes are given to the children. The candy, the crane, and the turtle, all symbolize longevity. There are some pictures of the kiddies at that link at the start of this report if you are interested.

    Lunch was late and back at that Ramen Stadium for the Hakata Ramen, which is out of this world. The tonkotso base is a thick pork bone soup base that is very tasty and……unique. It should be given a try by all meat lovers. The evening started out again in the Regency Club with a visit to the Jazz bar for a couple of martinis and listening to a Japanese Jazz band who were actually very good and feature a Canadian lady of color who had a beautiful Ella Fitzgerald type voice. Oh, in case any of you where wondering (and I know kuranosuke is lol) a Vodka Martini was 1800 yen in this lounge…..ouch!

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    Another fabulous HT trip report with heaps of detail and useful tips for newbies and interesting experiences for more frequent visitors to consider.

    I'm with Mara - interested in including Yufuin and/or Kurakawa in an upcoming trip but probably won't have time for both, and in any case. I'm not wild about onsen - a little goes a long way. Maybe partly because I'll traveling solo.

    thanks for al the tips about renting a car. I think that's thte only way I'd be able to get to Takachiho. Do you think it is worth it as a day trip? I'm still hoping to get to see Aso-san in good weather. maybe this time.

    Bad weather has also accompanied me to Fukuoka in the past. And I had a bad expereince with ramen from a yatei in Fukuoka - not fun on the international flights I had next day!

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    eigasuki, thank you.

    Takachiho is worth the day trip. I wish it wasn't raining when we went I would have loved to row a boat in through that gorge. A car really opens up your options especially in that area and really no traffic to speak of so very easy driving.

    Aso-san is worth it and this is from someone who lives on an extinct volcano. Hope the weather is kinder to you on your return visit.

    Guess I was lucky to miss that yatai ramen ;)

    Aloha!

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    Days 12, 13 & 14

    Kyoto

    Leisurely morning as we have breakfast in the clubroom then head out for an hour stroll through the neighborhood. We check out from the clubroom and taxi over to the JR Hakata station. I forgot to mention that we had taken a taxi from the station to the hotel originally and the first drop of the meter is 550 yen in Fukuoka. The fare to the station was 650 yen in heavy traffic.

    We quickly walk over to the JR Reservations office and got reserved seats on the next shinkansen out to Kyoto. Linda bought some bento lunches in the station for our lunch on the train and we headed for the platform to catch our 11:04 shinkansen.

    The train arrived exactly on time and we were just sitting down into our seats when I noticed the train moving and leaving the station exactly on time. We transferred in Shin-Osaka with a 6-minute window then the short 14-minute shinkansen to Kyoto Station. For those who have not been to Kyoto Station before, exit towards the Karasuma or north and main exit of the station in order to see the larger and futuristic area of the station where the shopping and food arcades that make up this huge mecca are the best station in all of Japan imho. The station’s futuristic design and atmosphere are a sight to see especially during the Christmas holiday seasons when all the decorations are out and the huge Christmas tree is on display in the long escalator area.

    We take the long walk through the station and to the Karasuma exit just to see these sights and stretch our legs a little after our 3-hour train journey. There is the main bus station in front of this exit with the largest taxi stand in Japan (looks like it) just to the right of the station. First drop on the meter in Kyoto is 600 yen and the fare to the Hyatt Regency Kyoto is 660 yen. The Hyatt offers a one-way free taxi rides if you exit from the other Hachijo exit using a certain taxi company.

    The check in at the Hyatt front desk is swift. We are staying three nights free on points in one of the busiest times of the year as the koyo (fall colors) season is at its peak in Kyoto as we had hoped it would be. We are pleasantly surprised that although the front desk says they are sold out for rooms through the next two weeks but our room has been upgraded to a deluxe corner king and our luggage we sent from Fukuoka is already waiting for us there in our room. We get ourselves sorted out and walk out the front doors and up the hillside to check out the fall foliage of Kiyomizudera.
    From the pamphlet - Kiyomizudera is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall's pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.

    Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below. The stage affords visitors a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees below that erupt in a sea of color in spring and fall, as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance. The main hall, which together with the stage was built without the use of nails, houses the temple's primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.

    Behind Kiyomizudera's main hall stands Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. In front of the shrine are two stones, placed 18 meters apart. Successfully finding your way from one to the other with your eyes closed is said to bring luck in finding love. You can also have someone guide you from one stone to the other, but that is interpreted to mean that an intermediary will be needed in your love life as well.

    The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera's main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream's water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy…..go figure.
    The colors here are about 80% today and in a few days will be at its peak so the crowds are pretty intense. Also at this time of day lots of people wait for the sunset shots and there is light illumination during the fall evenings at the temple so beware of the crowds. We get some pretty nice shots and then proceed downhill on the busy lanes in the Higashiyama district.

    The many shops and restaurants in the area have been catering to tourists and pilgrims for centuries, and products on sale range from local specialties such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets and pickles to the standard set of souvenirs. We make it back to the Hyatt just in time for happy hour. The Hyatt Kyoto has a happy hour from 5:00 to 7:00pm every evening and serves drinks at 50% off. They only do this at the lovely Touzan Bar downstairs. They make some amazing cocktails there and their ice carvings are very interesting. For example, they chisel out a round ball of ice and put it in a glass with a shot of scotch in it. The ice barely touches the scotch but keeps is just cool enough to not take away from the flavor……you gotta see it,lol. Dinner this night is room service, yah!! Linda has the Japanese dinner that has everything from soup and salad with a salmon entrée and dessert while I get the Spaghetti Bolognese……5100 yen, wow.

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    The next morning and every morning in Kyoto we had the breakfast in The Grill restaurant on the lobby level. As Diamond members we have a choice of the ample buffet or anything off the menu for free. The buffet is very good so we eat it for 2 out of the three mornings and have a custom breakfast on our last day.

    After breakfast this first morning in Kyoto we are off to two sights for hopefully some nice fall color viewing. The two sights are one train stops apart from each other just south of Kyoto station on the local JR Nara line. The first stop was the Tofukuji Temple located on the first stop out of Kyoto station about a two-minute train ride using our JR Pass.

    Tofukuji is a large Zen temple in southeastern Kyoto that is particularly famous for its spectacular autumn colors. The temple was founded in 1236 at the behest of the powerful Fujiwara clan. Its name is a combination of the names of two great temples in Nara that were also associated with the Fujiwara, Todaiji Temple and Kofukuji Temple. Tofukuji has historically been one of the principal Zen temples in Kyoto, and is a head temple of one of the schools of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.

    In autumn, tourists come from all over Japan to see Tofukuji's autumn colors. The most popular view is of the Tsutenkyo Bridge, which spans a valley of lush maple trees. You can see this little valley and more pictures of Tofukuji in my picture thread link above. The view from the bridge is equally spectacular, and the 100 meter long, covered walkway becomes extremely crowded when the colors reach their peak, usually around mid to late November as witnessed by the crowds in our pictures. There is a 400-yen admission to the Tsutenkyo Bridge and Kaisando Hall, and 400 yen to the Hojo and gardens. All the other venues are free and open all year.

    We spent a good two hours here taking pictures and seeing the sights then went back to the train station for another short two minute ride to the very next station down the line at Inari. Here across the street from the JR Inari station is where the Fushimi Inari Shrine is located. We have been here before on a trip through Kyoto several years ago and were reminded of the place by a trip report done earlier in 2011 by fodorites Kristina. There are lots of pictures of the Fushimi Inari Shrine in the link above.

    Fushimi Inari Shrine is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto and one of Southern Kyoto’s most beautiful attractions. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. These shrines are impressive to see and many donors have bought and paid for these shrines.

    Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari's messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital's move to Kyoto in 794.

    While the primary reason most foreign visitors come to Fushimi Inari Shrine is to explore the mountain trails, the shrine buildings themselves are also attractive and worth a visit. At the shrine's entrance stands the Romon Gate, which was donated in 1589 by the famous leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Behind stand the shrine's main building (Honden) and various auxiliary buildings.

    At the very back of the shrine's main grounds is the entrance to the torii gate covered hiking trail, which starts with two dense, parallel rows of gates called Senbon Torii ("thousands of torii gates"). The torii gates along the entire trail are donations by individuals and companies, and you will find the donator's name and the date of the donation inscribed on the back of each gate. The cost starts around 400,000 yen for a small sized gate and increases to over one million yen for a large gate. Linda and I slowly climbed up and up this path past the little lake and up till the lookout. There we rested and I decided (like I did last time) that we did not have enough time or the desire to make it to the top.

    Going downhill was a lot easier and faster and we were in the town of Inari in no time. Inari sushi happens to be one of HT’s favorite sushi and this is the town to eat it in as it is served in different recipes virtually everywhere in town. We picked a little family restaurant in the first floor of a family’s house to eat a simple yet satisfying lunch. I had an oyaku-donburi while Linda had the Shoyu ramen with pork and would both shared a side of gyoza and a plate of ten little inari shushi. This little simple lunch was one of the best I’ve had in Japan and cost us 2280 yen with and expensive diet coke and free hot green tea.

    We walked the little town of Inari for about an hour shopping in the little shops across the train tracks and just sticking our noses around then headed back on the train for the short ride back to Kyoto station. There we picked up a taxi at the front of the station and headed for Sanjo Dori and walked all around revising our favorite stores and finding new ones. We finally made took a taxi from there back to the Hyatt just in time to freshen up for Happy hour and dinner in the hotel at The Trattoria Sette which is a very good but overpriced Italian restaurant on the Hyatt premises.

    Don’t think I mentioned this but at check-in the front desk gave us a 30% off certificate good for any restaurant, bar and room service menus in the Hyatt as a thank you and I guess promotion of some sort that I did not understand but welcomed all the same. We used that coupon on our room service orders, happy hour bar bills and this dinner at the Trattoria Sette. Really came in handy and helped level that “expensive Japan” feeling you can get staying in a hotel like this one in what I consider Japan’s most expensive city.

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    We were up early the next morning and after a quick breakfast, off to the JR Kyoto station and a quick ride to Arashiyama. Arashiyama is a cozy little town that lies northwest of Kyoto about 15 minutes by train to the Saga-Arashiyama station on the JR Sagano line. This little town has been a popular cherry blossom and fall color destination for hundreds of years all the way back to the late 8th century. Tourists from all over Japan come to this lazy little town twice a year in droves during the months of April and November.

    The Togetsukyo Bridge is Arashiyama's well-known, central landmark. Many small shops, restaurants and other attractions are found nearby, including Tenryuji Temple, Arashiyama’s famous bamboo groves and pleasure boats that are available for rent on the river.

    We have been here three times before twice during the cherry blossoms and last year during the koyo season so we knew what we wanted to see and where and when to see them. We know that if you get to this little town around 8:30 am in the busy season, you will be ahead of the massive crowds that start arriving in full force about 9:30. You can head straight to the Tenryuji Temple area for sightseeing as it opens at 8:30. Then make your way through the back streets and on to Todetsukyo Bridge and the Hozugawa before the crowds arrive. That way you are assured to beat the crowds and experience most of the sights and sounds of this little town before the crowds arrive and arrive they will rain or shine.

    We headed to the Tenryuji Temple first for it’s fall colors and weren’t disappointed. The season here was just about at its peak and lots of reds and yellows everywhere. You can see pictures in that link in the beginning of this thread. Tenryuji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the main temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism in Kyoto; it's also considered one of Kyoto's Five Great Zen Temples. Tenryu-ji was founded in 1334, but the current buildings all date from the last century: pleasant, but unremarkable. However, there is a lovely garden and pond, designed by the Zen master Musō Soseki, which is worth a look - and well worth taking a leisurely stroll around. There is a 600-yen admission fee to go into the temple but we are not here for that today as we are just interested in the scenery.

    We spend some time here then walk over to the Togetsukyo Bridge and walk the kilometer up the side of the river and enjoy the beautiful fall colors and magnificent scenery. After a long walk we head back towards the main bridge. It is almost 11:00 now and the bridge we see is filled with tourists. The traffic police are now out and directing car and people traffic through the narrow-now crowded streets of this small town. Shops are now swollen with tourists buying, eating, and browsing so we join in the fun for a few minutes before making our way against the flow of new visitors now coming to these main attractions back towards the train station just after 12 noon.

    There are a few people waiting on the platforms headed back to Kyoto but nothing compared to the hundreds that will be there from about 3:30-6:00 pm. Bottom line is to go and leave early to avoid the crowds.

    We were back in Kyoto Station in no time so decided to have lunch in our favorite little pizza place who’s name is escaping me right now. You have to go out into the hall area of the station and up to the top of the long escalators to the tenth floor. Get off of the escalators and turn left and walk into that side of the doors. Turn left again and you will walk past a Tempura Restaurant, Chinese restaurant…..well walk until you see the only Italian Pizza place on the right hand side of the hall. I think the name start with an San….. anyway its been there in Kyoto since the 1970’s. Great handmade pizzas with fresca toppings and good homemade desserts for a very good price.

    At lunchtime you might have to wait outside in line for a bit but worth the wait. They have English menus inside and all the wait help is younger (likely to still remember their mandatory school English lessons). They also have set meals here and daily specials so ask. After lunch it was shopping lots of walking because Linda knew this was her last day in Kyoto so for the next few hours we spent right there at the station mulling through the many floors of the Isetan store and the Porta underground mall with its over 100 stores under the station and parking lot areas.

    Then attached is the Cube Shopping mall so as I said after a couple of hours we catch a taxi back to the Hyatt for a brief rest and refresh before that 5:00 happy hour in the Touzan Bar which was calling me all the way from the shopping mall.

    Later on we took a taxi into the Gion area and walk Shoji street at night down the Pontocho and finally ending up at a Japanese Tempura restaurant with no English menus but lots of pictures in their menu. We ordered the deluxe mix, which included all types of vegetables imaginable deep fried tempura style with these huge shrimps and crab legs tempura style. They only had beer and sake so a nice dai ginjo it was for us along with this meal. Green tea of course was also served. We had chocolate cake and ice cream from Hokkaido that was fantastic. Price for this sumptuous meal was 7800 yen. We got back to the hotel after 11:00 but did not have an early start planned tomorrow. We leave for Hakone in the morning……Thanksgiving morning.

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    Day 15

    Hakone

    We again were up a little early this fine Thanksgiving Thursday morning. Well no Thanksgiving in Japan, just another Thursday, no matter. I had a custom eggs benedict breakfast this morning while Linda enjoyed a full Japanese breakfast that runs for 4900 yen on the menu for free…..gotta love that membership status at large hotel chains. We enjoyed our breakfast a little longer there in the restaurant this morning as the regular waiters and waitresses bid us a fond farewell and pleasant journey. We have made some friends of a few of the wait staff at the Touzan Bar, Trattoria Sette and this Grill Restaurant over the past three years and actually felt sad to be leaving this time.

    When we got back to the room I called the bell desk to send our luggage via the Takuhaibin service to our hotel in Tokyo. We were sending three bags this time and taking only one carry on to our next destination the Hyatt Regency Hakone. Check out was a breeze and we had a small bill with our room service, food and beverage bill + tax. The three nights had been free on points, 54,000 to be exact or 18,000 per night. Very good when you consider this hotel will charge you an average of 62000 yen per night during this time of the year and our upgraded room would near the 80000 yen per night mark. Good use of points imho, lol.

    We did take a taxi (did I mention that Kyoto taxis starting fare drop is 600 yen) to the “shinkansen side” of the JR Kyoto station and after a short wait at the station buying some quick snacks for on the train we are off on a 2 ½ hour bullet train ride to Odawara station and our start of our overnight in Hakone at the Hyatt Hakone in Gora.

    A little about transport around and arriving in Hakone (Odawara) via shinkansen.

    If you are arriving via the shinkansen train from either Tokyo or Kyoto your first stop will be the JR Odawara Station. At the Odawara station you will have the option of either a train, bus, taxi or walk to your hotel or Ryokan in the Hakone Region.
    The area that is Hakone covers a mountainous region with several small towns, among which Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi at the shores of Lake Ashi and the hot spring town of Hakone-Yumoto are the region's main transportation hubs.

    The Odakyu Company runs the main public transport systems in the Hakone region. A reliable network of buses, trains, cable cars, ropeways and sightseeing boats makes Hakone a great place to be explored by public transportation. The best pass to do so is Odakyu's Hakone Free Pass, which gives you unlimited use of all Odakyu affiliated trains, buses, boats, cable cars and ropeways. If you are seeing the whole area for a couple of or more days and don’t have a rent a car then the Hakone Free Pass is the way to go. There are two and three-day passes and if you don’t need the transport to and from Tokyo the cost is 3,900 and 4,400 yen respectively. If you need the transport to and from Shinjuku station in Tokyo the costs are 5,000 and 5,500 yen respectively. The Hakone Free Pass can also be used for discounted admission to museums and other venues along with food discounts at restaurants all throughout the Hakone region. You can buy the pass upon arrival in Odawara or in Tokyo or at any travel agent in Japan.

    All that said we did not need a pass as we were staying only one night and heading straight to Gora and the Hyatt Regency in Gora. If you don’t need a pass you can buy a ticket from a ticket vending machine at the station. Check the fare chart and buy your ticket by paying the fare required to get to your destination. If you later are in a smaller town like Miyanoshita and in the case of an unstaffed station without ticket vending machines, be sure to remember the name of the station where you got on. If you get on at an unstaffed station without ticket vending machines, buy a ticket from the conductor, stating both the name of the station where you got on and your destination. Otherwise, state the name of the station where you got on and pay the fare adjustment at the ticket counter of the station where you get off (or pay the conductor, if you are getting off at an unstaffed station).

    The train ride up to the Hyatt in Gora is beautiful with two switchbacks as this small narrow gauge train chugs up and up and through the mountains till you reach the end of the line at Gora. From Gora you switch to a cable car that takes you up the mountain till the second to the last stop at Kami-Gora, about an eight-minute assent. You walk off the car and walk about a 300 meters downhill (steep) and you will run into the Hyatt Regency Gora on the right. I absolutely love this Hyatt and it may be our favorite in all Japan (and we have been to all the Hyatt properties in Japan). Did I mention they have a huge Onsen in their basement?

    We did have a late lunch at one of the two little Japanese restaurants in Gora. One (the one we always go to) was closed this day, don’t know why, so we walked a few steps around the corner to the line in front of the only other restaurant to eat at near the train station. There are other restaurants in Gora but up and down the hill, which would require a long walk or a taxi.

    Both restaurants look like they don’t have English menus as they are very small but they both do have English menus and serve ramen and udon noodles along with a variety of other Japanese comfort foods such as gyu don, oyako don, eel, tempura, cold somen salads, a fish of the day and the likes. Each dish averages about 650 yen with the gyu don, shrimp, eel and sakana dishes costing a little more. I love to eat in these little hole in the wall places in Japan, always a special treat for us. After this hearty late lunch we head up to the Hyatt to check in and relax and a long soak in the Onsen ahhhhhhhh.

    We are upgraded to a suite because of my Diamond status at check in. The usual cost of this suite is close to $600.00 US but is free on points for our overnight visit at 18,000 points. This is our fourth stay at this Hyatt so we are very familiar with the sights of Hakone and have no need to do the loop or visit any museums or hot springs. We are here to chill out and relax in the mountains with a little luxury; lots of fab scenery, a fire place at night and of course the Onsen.

    This Hyatt features a happy hour in their large fireplace room from 4:00 to 7:00 every evening. Free pour wine, beer and champagne along with all soft drinks are served liberally for all hotel guests. There is a bar menu consisting of everything from soup and sandwiches to steaks, fish and pasta. A Serrano ham is also on display next to the bar for the tasting. There is a French restaurant adjacent to the Japanese fish bar on the same level that we have eaten at twice before. Breakfasts are served in this venue every morning. The food is very good but the prices are very high as you are the “captured audience” here high in the mountains of Gora. There are other places around in the vicinity but a taxi would be required at night and you would be only going to another Ryokan or hotel to eat as all local establishments in this little town close when the sun goes down.

    The suites are huge and very luxurious. Check their website to see the pictures, fabulous. We have always been upgraded at this hotel in our four previous stays, twice as Platinum member and the other two at Diamond so don’t be afraid to ask at check in for an upgrade. At Platinum level I would have to ask for the upgrade at check in while at Diamond level they just inform you that you’ve been upgraded when you are checking in.

    So after a long day and night in this marvelous place we are anxious to take on Tokyo again the next morning and meet up with fellow Fodorites in a Tokyo GTG, this time in Shinjuku at my favorite little restaurant Le Coup Chou. Mara and mrwunrfl will meet up with us at the GTG and we can’t wait.

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    Days 16, 17, 18 & 19

    Tokyo

    We got up late this morning and took a long soak in the Onsen before heading down to breakfast. The Hyatt serves a large buffet breakfast and also have a menu if you want to order Ala Carte. Diamond membership entitles you to free breakfast so after weighing our options we decide to go for the fabulous buffet. Breakfast buffets are usually overkill in Japan serving so many different kinds of food you can never eat or try them all…….well. The more luxurious the hotel is, the more luxurious the buffet is. Well the Hyatt Regency Hakone has a luxurious breakfast buffet and I feel so inadequate right now because I never found out how much it was. I think I remember 3900 yen somewhere but of this I cannot be sure because we got no bill, lol. Eggs and omelets done anyway you want and sideways, fresh green salads with a myriad of greens to choose from. Breakfast meats, ham, sausages, bacon (crispy or half done), salmon, smoked trout and myriad of Japanese pickled vegetables and condiments, French toast made fresh with so many fruits to choose from and of course the miso soup and almost forgot a fresh sushi bar with two sushi chefs taking your orders to later have delivered to your table.

    Needless to say we waddled out of the restaurant and headed back to the room to gather up everything to check out. Check out was a breeze but we were a little early for the first shuttle van to the train station so had the front desk call us a taxi, first drop flag was 660 yen…..getting close to Tokyo’s prices.

    We made the next train by the hairs of our chiny chin chin and leisurely enjoyed our mountain train ride down the valley now ablaze in fall colors, through the switchbacks and on to Hakone-Yumoto then to Odawara station and our shinkansen ride into Tokyo.

    One of my favorite things to do in Japan is to stand on the waiting shinkansen platform in the JR Odawara station and watch as a Nozomi or Hikari shinkansen roars through this station at top speed. The sound is tremendous and the wind vacuum created by the speeding train draws you into train a bit, an awesome experience. Not all shinkansen stop at Odawara and it is very close to Tokyo thus the heavy shinkansen train traffic especially weekdays mornings and rush hour afternoons, so if you are early for your train one day at Odawara, be sure to check this out.

    We transferred off the shinkansen and on to the JR Yamanote line at Shinagawa station in Tokyo and headed to our final destination Shinjuku, Tokyo. We were on our final day of our 14-day JR Pass so we got to use it to the last travel day as planned. From the Shinjuku station we hopped aboard the free Hyatt Regency shuttle outside of the station and in ten minutes were at the front door of our next hotel for two nights the Hyatt Regency Tokyo……our Tokyo home.

    We have been to this Hyatt many times and I have written about it many times before so I won’t repeat that I like this hotel. We check into the hotel on the 9th floor in the private Regency Club check in. I had wanted a suite and the only way I can get one at a reasonable price is to use one of my Diamond Suite upgrades which requires you to pay for the least expensive room I can find then ask for my upgrade when booking. The cheapest room started at 23,100 yen when I first made the reservation in February of 2011. Checking online daily I was able to get a super savers rate of 13,700 yen per night offered sometime in September and that was the best deal we found which for a suite in Tokyo is a steal. The suite also of course includes the Regency Club access and in this Regency club they have free breakfasts from 7:00 till 10:00am followed by tea and cookies from 10:00 am till 5:00 pm. Free pour open bar with heavy, heavy hors duevres self serve or they will serve you from 5:00 till 8:00 then finally tea and desserts from 8:00 till 10:00 pm. I like this place…..can you tell?

    As we enter our suite we are greeted by a welcome gift from the manager. A large plate of exotic fruits and chocolates with a nice bottle of red wine that we know we will use sometime during our stay. We unpack and unwind then get ready to meet Bill (mrwunrfl) and Mara (Mara) in the Regency Club to start the 2011 Fodor’s Tokyo GTG.

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    We were first in the lounge followed shortly by mrwurfl. We haven't seen Bill since the LA GTG a few years back so we catch up and have a few cocktails then realized that Mara was late. No sooner as I was calling her on the phone that the club door opened and in walked Mara escorted by the hotel staff. We all talk for a while having more adult beverages as Mara is parched after walking throughout Shinjuku looking for the hotel. My fault as I left her instructions for the shuttle too late as she had already left her room, ooops.

    After a little bit we walk down to the restaurant a few blocks away. The restaurant is Le Coup Chou, a little French-Japanese place we have been coming to since our first trip to Japan. It is a busy Friday evening at LCC but we have reservations and are seated promptly by the owner and manager Sugitasan. We exchange pleasantries and then are given the brand new menus which are printed in Japanese and French only. We have been use to the old menu that we knew so well but now the new one......so we all start the deciphering and with Sugitasan's help manage to order a decent meal with desserts. Bill's dessert order got "Lost in Translation" but other than that we all had a really good time. I really love to meet old and new friends while traveling and Fodor's has proven to be a good venue for that and I am grateful.

    Sidenote: I wasn't going to mention this but I can feel Bill sitting up in his chair in LA all the way over in Hawaii lol. Well HT(I'll speak about this in third person) got us lost on the way back to the hotel after from dropping off Mara at the Shinjuku train station. I made a wrong turn (actually thought I was half a block in the other direction or was it all the alcohol I had consumed)on the walk back and turned a 15 minute walk into a 45 minute tour of a very cold Shinjuku Friday evening.......oh well we got a tour of somewhere in Shinjuku I had never been before ;)

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    lol....ht, you guys got lost on your way back and I got lost on my way there.....did so enjoy meeting all of you - ht, Linda and mrwunrfl - and a delicious dinner at Le Coup Chou. This trip was special for me as I met a bunch of people - online friends and ones that had moved back to Japan - which is not my usual m.o. and it made for a really fun Japan visit!

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    Carol, We will be shadowing the movements of a couple from Boston next fall in China and partly in Thailand. The BKK part for us is planned for 10/31-11-10 or so.

    Mara, yes HT got us lost but luckily Mrs HT and Bill still had use of their senses. I told them we should have taken a taxi..... ;)

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    Finishing up finally…..

    The next morning we woke a bit later than usual and had breakfast in the club lounge. Mrwunrfl was there and we talked of what we were going to do that day and our plans for the rest of our trips. After a leisurely breakfast we said our goodbyes as we left the clubroom and Linda and I headed off for the subway and a day of shopping in the Ueno area mostly at Ameyoko for bags of seafood snacks of all varieties on sale here. Everyone but me loves seafood in Hawaii so a lot of gifts are bought here at Ameyoko-cho for our friends and family back home. Bill headed off to find some fresh sushi.

    The final two nights of our trip we decided to switched hotels and stayed at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which is, located right up the street from the Hyatt in Shinjuku. We had never stayed at the PH in all of our previous trips to Japan and decided to try it to see if all the positive hype and reviews about the place as being one of the best places to stay at in Tokyo were true. Well we have now been there and I can tell you from experience that with a resounding YES, they are.

    We arrived at the Park Hyatt’s front entrance just after 3:00 pm after a two-minute taxi ride from the Hyatt Tokyo. A phalanx of door people (both men and women) besieged upon the taxi and all doors and trunks were opened simultaneously and we were welcomed by the head doorman and assistant who would become our personal assistant showing us up to the elevator to our ride up to the check in lobby located on the 41st floor of the 52 story building, one of Tokyo’s tallest. I remember looking up at the top of the building as we drove up and thinking that this would be a terrible time for an earthquake…don’t know what made me think of that right then…..
    At the check in desk you are asked to seat at a private reception table and leisurely checked in then your assistant shows you to your suite. We used 22,000 Hyatt points per night so our stay was free except for taxes and our dinner and drinks we had at the Peak bar and the New York grill.

    We were given an upgraded park view king room at check in due to our diamond status. The normal charge for this room is right around $750.00 US per night. The regular rooms start at about $500.00 per night but you can check their site daily and Hyatt does come out with super saver specials at several times during the year that can save you up to 30% or more at times but usually will call for a pre payment which is not refundable. Our room was a 60-square meter corner room with a beautiful view of Yoyogi and Shinjuku parks with a morning and evening views of Mt. Fuji in the distance. The linens were made of Egyptian cotton, so soft, with marble and granite accents in the bathroom and the unique artwork really made it a nice place to stay.

    Our dinner at the New York bar and grill was pleasant but expensive and in hindsight we should have stayed at the bar downstairs on the 41st floor and had dinner there. The food is outstanding and the views, though not as long as the 52nd floor are essentially the same view as we found out the second evening when we had dinner there.

    Dinner for two at the NY, which for us included two entrees, one a NY steak and the other the lobster and shrimp special, along with three cocktails (me two and L 1) and dessert(2) set us back 29,100 yen or about $380.00 US. The food was fantastic, the service was impeccable and the views were ok but for that price…..well that is what Tokyo is famous for and as I said in hindsight….well you only live once.

    We also enjoyed a full day in Showa Kinen Koen (Park) a short train ride outside of Tokyo. Showa Kinen Koen, a huge city park that was built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Showa. The park is located right across the street from the Nishi- Tachikawa Station (30 minutes out from Shinjuku along the JR Chuo Line). The park is seriously huge and includes several sports fields, barbeque pits, a boating pond, a kiddie pool playground area(which was closed for winter)and several gardens of which the Japanese garden with its iron crossing bridges is another must see. That tea house across the pond in the Japanese garden is a sight to see in the koyo time of year.

    Another one of the highlights of Showa Kinen Koen are the more than 100 ginkgo trees that line the fountain and canals around the Tachikawa entrance gate which was our first destination after we rented our bicycles for 400 yen per person for three hours. As I mentioned before this park is HUGE and since we were here before we knew that the bikes would come in handy and allow you to see so much more of the park. Even with our rental bikes it would take you a good 20 minutes to ride from one end of the park to the other although most of it is level ground…...I said most of it ;)
    We spent a good 5 hours there at the park turning in our bikes after three hours and exploring the area around the bike stand and having a quick snack/lunch of simple noodles, soup and sodas found at a small snack shop in the park.

    Out of all the parks and venues we have been to in Tokyo for koyo and sakura viewing, we find that the Showa Kinen Koen is the best place to see the fall colors and the cherry blossoms(well tied with Ueno Park).

    Well that's about it, thanks for reading and your patience. Our next adventure into Asia should be in the fall of 2012 with Shanghai and environs coupled with a return to Bangkok and one other place that I haven’t nailed down yet but will shortly. We hope to be meeting up with another Fodorite or two along the way again this time.....maybe tag along for a while.....

    Aloha!

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    Just seeing for the first time .... superb report with great details, as usual, hawaiiantraveler. Terrific to read about places that are familiar and places that aren't (but will go on the "find out about" list).

    Not sure if one of your favorite Gora restaurants is the Ton-katsu joint that's midway on a street that connects Gora Park to the town center. Definitely a keeper.

    And who knew that Cabbages & Condoms was an international chain? I've enjoyed meals at the Bangkok one (especially convenient when staying in the Sukhumvit area), but have never been to any others.

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    Hi hawaiiantraveler! Just found your Kyushu trip report. I'm again following your footsteps, this time to Kyushu. You helped me a lot with planning for the Hokkaido trip 2 years ago. I'm starting to plan for a Japan trip that includes Kyushu this March. Will peruse your trip report to get ideas and will ask you further questions. I'm thinking of renting a car and dropping it off in Kumamoto like you did. Thanks in advance.

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    HT (or other Fodorites), do you still have your list of phone #'s for entering in the GPS for places you drove to Kyushu? We're planning to do similar route as yours the last week of March:

    Kumamoto --> Takachiho Gorge (this is a difficult one to get phone # for) --> Mt Aso --> Kurokawa

    Thanks!

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    For Takachiho Gorge, we did a Google Map search, used the street view to make sure we were focused in on the right place, near the car park, then clicked on the various entries in Google Maps until we found one that had a phone number attached, and used that. It seemed to work. Sadly, we didn't do this until we arrived in Japan and I no longer have the piece of paper that has the number attached.

    For most of the places, we just used the phone number of our hotel, which is also what we did for Kurokawa Onsen.

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    No I do not have the phone numbers but I would just ask the hotel or ryokan I was staying at to look them up for me if I did not have them and they did gladly.

    For Takachiho Gorge I had a brochure with the phone number of a hotel in Takachiho which I plugged in which got me to the area and from there followed the English/Japanese signs to the Gorge. For Mt Aso I googled before I left home and took the phone number of the website. In fact I usually do that for all sites I want to see before I leave. The ones I cant find I let the hotel/ryokan find for me. works for me, have fun!

    Aloha!

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