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Trip Report Temples and cherry blossoms in April 2012

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This is a very an overdue trip report, but in my defense I haven’t still sorted out the trip photos either.
It was a fantastic trip thanks to the fantastic advise received on this forum. “Thank you so much to everyone whol replied to me enless questions!!”

A bit of background, We are in our mid thirties and was travelling with our 2 girls aged 4 and half and 2 and half, and have travelled a bit in asia as we are based in Hong kong. This was our first trip to Japan. We took one stroller with us where the younger one sometimes napped in the afternoons and the older one hopped on during long walking days.
We didn’t buy the Rail pass as it was more economical to buy individual tickets for our itinerary as we drove part of it as well.

Hotels – as the dates were confirmed late, we didn’t book our hotels uptil just one week before our departure date and thus settled for whatever was available, mainly looked at convenience of location rather than luxury and picked a few hotel/ryokens rec by Kim Japan.
Hotel tip – get twin rooms which are more spacious! recommend all below hotels except Washington Shinjuku.

Tokyo – Sunroute plaza shinjuku – 3 min walk to Shinjuku station , direct airport bus, extremely convenient location, easy walk to Shinjuku Geon - room was clean and very spacious.
Washington shinjuku, as the other was not available, recommended by booking .com, was a disaster – terrible small toilet, stained carpet, about 8-10 walk from Shinjuku station, but had a direct bus to airport.

Takayama- Sumiyoshi ryoken – great location, got the room with garden view as the room with att toilet was already booked. large space, separated for sleeping and dining – two 12 mat rooms. The lady was very welcoming and friendly and good with the kids. The meals were fantastic, served in the our room in the section with the large low table. some of the best meals we had in japan.!

Shirakawago – Magoemon – The room was again very spacious although not as big as sumiyoshi, the meals were in a common room – and as good or better than the ones served in Sumiyoshi. Location was again good, easy walk around the village, closer to the river (and bus stop I think, although as we drove there, not 100% sure)

Kanazawa – Tokyu excel – great location, easy walk to Kenrouken gdn and the samurai district. Bus stop just near the hotel for other sights. Rooms were great and again spacious.

Kyoto –
New Hankyu (was offered this hotel by Asiatravel.com when trying to find Kyoto hotels as all were fully booked). Right opposite the main Kyoto train/ bus station, 2 mins walk, great to get the buses/train to sights. Rooms were clean and spacious. Had Disney TV and so the kids loved it! Lots of dining options in the station.
Westin Miyako– Great location to do the philosophers walk and may be even south hirashiyama temples. But no central bus stop close by and not on the main bus route. Nice spacious room. Always took a taxi to sites/nikimichi mkt, and to station to catch the bus to golden temple. no Disney tv .

Tokyo –
29th march – Go the airport bus directly to the hotel, sunroute Shinjuku. explored the new southern terrace area of Shinjuku across the hotel and dinner at takashiyama- not the greatest meal..kids had sakura ‘krispy crème’ donuts

30th – Kamakura – easily took the train which we booked the night before. Arrived around 10.30 in kamakura. Took the bus to the great Daibatsu. walked to the Hasadera temple. Beautiful temple.then walked to the great Buddha . Bus back to station and walk to the street near by street for lunch – there was a good conveyer belt Sushi restaurant in the street which was better sushi than what you get in HK for sure) bus to Hachimangu Shrine and then decided to walk to the Kencho Ji which was an uphill battle with the kids and the stroller. It was nice. We were tired by then and didn’t feel like doing the museum. Took the bus back to the Hachimangu temple and decided to walk back to the station. Tried out a few street food on the way which was great. It was a great day and was back in Tokyo by 6.30pm.

31st – tsujiki fish market –got there around 8 which was too late to go in to the market, so queued up at sushi Dai for BF, it was the best sushi we have had  . after 9am , we were allowed in to the market but all the big fish was already gone, but still a bit to see. Walk to the garden nearby, then took a ferry to arashiyama .It had started pouring by then. We had a look at the temple in the pouring rain and when it finally stopped raining walked back through a market street and headed back to our hotel.

01st April – Matsumoto – We walked to the station with our luggage and took the early morning train to Matsumoto. It was about a 2 ½ hr. the Matsumoto castle was our only stop and well worth the trip. We kept our bags at the Toyota rental office and did an easy walk to the castle. Our older girl enjoyed climbing all the way to the top but as the little one slept we took turn going into the castle. We grabbed a quick lunch and picked up our Toyota rental a friend had arranged for us. We picked up a few snacks for the girls for the drive.and left Matsumoto around 4pm, the drive to Takayama was beautiful with some areas with snow capped mountains. Unfortunately is had got a bit dark but we still enjoyed the drive.
Takayama – arrived in takayama late evening and checked in to Sumiyoshi ryoken. It was a lovely quaint place.

02nd – The breakfast at sumiyoshi was delicious!! we walked thought the morning market which was just across the road from Sumyoshi to the old town popping in to the shops and trying out local snacks etc.
After lunch we drove to the Hida village. the weather was lovely. The girls got a chance to dress up in traditional costumes and had a lot of fun walking around and feeding ducks and fish etc.We had to be back at sumiyoshi for early dinner, anyway the old town had all closed up by around 5pm. Dinner again was a real treat!!

03rd – Takayama- Shirawakago – next morning, after another great breakfast, we did another quick walk in the old town area , tasted some sake, did a bit of souvenir shopping. It was cold and raining, a typhoon was passing through Japan and bad weather was expected for the next couple of days. we were suppose to leave in the morning to shirakawago but due to the rain we postponed.We started off to Shirakawago around mid day in pouring rain. The drive was though lots of tunnels and we didn’t get to see much of the scenery as it was raining so hard. We reached Shirakawago quite easily. Driving in Japan was fine as there were roadsigns in English every where, but after getting to Shirakawago , we took a while to get to the heritage village as our GPS couldn’t pinpoint the location.
It had stopped raining by then and we drove to the information office and picked up a walking map and then drove to Magoeman Minshuku where we were staying one night. It was a lovely place, more modern that Sumiyoshi. A lovely spacious room with a large low table. The tatami mats had been put in while we had dinner in the common room. I ran out to get a few photos before dinner as it was expected to rain the next day as well. There was old snow on the ground. And the village was picturesque with all the traditional houses with the thatched roofs. Dinner was at in a common room with the traditional fireplace with the kettle. It was again one of the best meals we had in Japan. It was nice to meet with others and chat about everyone’s experiences and compare notes.

04th – Shirakawago – we woke up next day and peeped out of the door to see how the weather was and stunned to see the whole place covered in SNOW. It was a magical sight and it was still snowing. Some of the other travelers were grumbling about it, but we were thrilled!! This was our first experience with snow!! And the whole village had been transformed. It was really beautiful. This was a definite highlight of the trip. Hubby had to clear at least -6 inches of snow off the car. After a sumptuous breakfast the snowing had thinned out a bit, so we decided to take umbrellas and boots supplied by the minshuku and explore the village. the kids played in the snow for a while and then we went for some hot chocolate.
Mid day it stopped snowing, we explored the Village till about 1.30 enjoying the scenery and the snow capped mountains around us., visiting some of the houses etc. Lunch was had late at Irori recommended by Kim Japan. Very nice. (Thanx Kim). After lunch we decided to leave to Kanazawa. We drove to the view point at Shiragawago which gave us the a beautiful view of the snow covered village and the surrounding mountains. The road to Gokayama was closed , so we drove directly to Kanazawa.
We checked into our hotel in Kanazawa, Tokyu Excel and then drove to the Car rental office to return the car.

05th – Kanazawa – We decided to take the bus from just near the hotel to the Higashi Chaya area. We saw one Meiko hurrying along the street and also met a couple taking there wedding photos in one of the houses. We visited the one geisha house, strolled around the area and then it started to drizzle. The weather was definitely not on our side. So we went into the museum of traditional crafts and one of the girls there helped to call and book a session of painting paper dolls (this was advertised on the Kanazawa walking guide picked up from the tourist office)which I thought would be nice for the girls as the weather was terrible. We had the hotel umbrellas with us, so walked to the shop and the girls enjoyed painting 2 dolls which was a nice souvenir as well. The tourist office craft sessions were not available during weekdays but there were plenty of classes during the weekend but we were to leave to Kyoto before that. Across the shop was Omichi Market, so we walked thought that and then back to the hotel. The girls were tired and we grabbed some dinner at a restaurant in daimaru dept store just opposite the hotel

06th– Kanazawa – turned out to be a beautiful day and we went to visit the Kenrouken Garden a short walk from the hotel. The grden was beautiful but the cherry blossomes were still not out. Also the Samurai district to see the Samurai house just behind the hotel.
In the evening we took a taxi to the train station for our train to Kyoto.
Arriving late evening, We checked into the New Hankyu hotel right across the road from the Kyoto station. It was a definite step down from tokyu excel but was still very spacious and clean. Hopped across the to the station for a nice dinner. lots of options available for dinner at the station. Went into the tourist office to collect walking maps and to get an update on the cherry blossoms. But they were still not not in bloom, so we decided to go to Nara the following day.

07th – Nara – After a so so BF at new Hankyu, we took the morning train to Nara and picked up the walking map from the tourist office. It was an easy walk to the different temples via the Mara park with deer roaming all around us. We tried feeding the deer but they get very aggressive when they see the biscuits but are much nicer when you don’t have them with you. Older girl enjoyed patting some deer but the younger one was frightened after the feeding experience. We visited the Todaji temple, Kafukuji temple, Kasuga taisha and a small temple with a large cherry blossom tree in full bloom and a beautiful garden. It was a nice day with beautiful weather and lovely temples.
To explore Kyoto we decided to follow some of the walks in http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/rtg/pdf/pg-503.pdf

08th -Kyoto– As we were told the Maruyama park blossoms were in bloom we decided to take the bus to Kiyomizu-dera and then walked to kodaji ji, the cherry blossoms had just started to open at the temples, the temples were beautiful. When we got to the Maruyama Park Hanami was in full swing, the whole park was covered with the blue plastics mats and the locals having a good time. The trees were in full bloom and was a beautiful sight. There was a little restaurant near some picnic tables where we opted to have lunch. The shop served the food to the picnic tables in the park and it was a wonderful experience. we had some yummy ice cream to finish of a lovely memorable lunch.
After lunch we went to Chion In, but it was under renovation. ten walked to Gion as we had booked tickets for the Miyako Odori with the traditional tea ceremony (did this in Tokyo through the hotel concierge). The tea ceremony was very nice but brief. Th performances were very enjoyable and the even the girls enjoyed the dances very much We walked a little in the gion area and encountered a few Geishas(mobbed by lots of photographers). We decided to walk a little more in the area to find some dinner and came across street of night cherry blossom viewing all lit up and beautiful . we ended up heading back to the station by bus for dinner.

09th -Kyoto– We moved hotels in the early morning and took a taxi to Westin Miyako. It was an easy walk from the hotel to the Nanzen ji and then along the path of philosophy we walked to honen-in temple. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom and we lucked out and had great weather in the morning. And then by the time we got to ginkaku ji the weather turned gloomy and it started to drizzle. We had a nice lunch at one of the restaurants and then went into the ginkaku ji. The girls were tired from a long days walk and we headed back early to the hotel and had dinner there.

10th –Northern Kyoto/Arashiyama– We took a taxi from the hotel to a central bus station where we could get the bus to Kinkaku Ji/golden temple. The bus ride was about 45 mins and it was different to all the other temples we had been to in Kyoto and a must see. We then took the bus Ryoan Ji which we thoroughly enjoyed even more than the golden temple. The garden was beautiful with a large pond and would definitely recommend this. And from there we took a taxi to Arashiyama.
Arashiyama was again in full bloom and was looking quite busy. However,we were pretty templed out by then. We took our time in Tenryuji Temple and then walked through the bamboo forest(a bit of disappointment, may be as we have seen plenty of bamboo areas before), then took the train back to Kyoto and a taxi to the hotel.

11th – Kyoto – It was raining again. we decided to take a taxi to Nikimichi Market – We walked along the market for a while tasting local snacks and then had lunch. After returning to the hotel for our bags we took the early afternoon train Back to Tokyo.
It was raining in Tokyo, we checked into the Washington Shinjuku, It was a real let down after the other hotels stays.

12th – Tokyo – Disney Land – The train ride to Disney was around 40-50mins from Shinjuku station. The highlight of the trip for the girls, although they are annual pass holders for the HK Disney land . We got there at 9am and was there till 10 or 11 pm. Tried the soy sauce pop corn, but didn’t quite like it. The shows although were all in Japanese were done very well. The girls got to meet lots of character different to the ones in HK. It was a fantastic day. Thanks Kim Japan, your advise re Disney was super – there were no long queues at all on the day we went.

13th - It was late morning after our full day in Disney. We checked out of the hotel around 10 and as the hotel was close to the government offices we took a quick walk there, to go up for a view of Tokyo. Thereafter ,took a short taxi ride to the Shinjuku Gyoen .the gardens were lovely, and the Cherry blossoms were in full bloom and Hanami in full swing. The weather was fantastic. We decided to have lunch at the garden and hubby popped out to pick up some lunch. We had a wonderful finish and had a enjoyable lunch at the gardens under cherry blossom trees. Then returned to the Hotel for the bus back to the airport.

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