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A hungry mouse's (very sweaty) adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun

A hungry mouse's (very sweaty) adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun

Jul 16th, 2017, 10:40 AM
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Interesting thoughts on koi.

You could consider Arima Onsen. I haven't been there. One way to get there is from Kobe. You take a cable-car up to Mt Rokko and then a ropeway down. There is also train and bus access.


As part of that visit you might also try the Shin-Kobe ropeway. It is shown on the map at the link above. I did this and got a nice view of Kobe. I was not there in season when the herb garden and walk down might have been better. One thing is that it is right next to the JR station.

The map at the link also shows a cable-car and ropeway to Mt Maya, between the Rokko and the herb garden.

Kinosaki Onsen is wonderful. I was there in April. Not only is it an onsen town, it also has a ropeway (though you have to climb many steps to get to it).

Nyuto Onsen in Tohoku, not a town but a rural onsen area, is nice. Also visit the town of Kakunodate.

Noboribetsu Onsen in Hokkaido is another place that I can recommend.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Jul 16th, 2017, 10:48 AM
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Also, much closer to Tokyo than the others that I mentioned is Atami Onsen. I stopped at nice ryokan there for a soak one time, but don't remember the name.


You might also like going further down the Izu peninsula from Atami to Shimoda.

Also Nikko and Kinugawa Onsen, not far from Tokyo.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Jul 16th, 2017, 02:24 PM
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Thank you for the suggestions!

Thursdaysd- Hakone is very touristy but not necessarily the bad kind. It reminded me of the Oregon coast or the Columbia gorge. A lot of your experience depends on what town/resort you stay in, and the major hassle would be the traffic. The main drag and route are super touristy but there are 17 towns, I think, plenty to do off the part that everyone hits. It struck me as the kind of place that gets a lot of the same families vacationing there annually. I would not do the route again because it was pretty much text book tourist trap, but the views were great. (And the egg thing was hilarious. Gotta wonder who came up with that. It's like they asked themselves "what is the most ridiculous thing that would separate the tourists from their money?") I am so looking forward to the Takayam museum!
marvelousmouse is offline  
Jul 18th, 2017, 08:48 PM
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Fantastic! Enjoyed your travel report very much.

jonathanmerage is offline  
Jul 20th, 2017, 07:26 AM
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Hakone touristy? Well if you mean that it has a wonderful transportation infrastructure in place alongside spectacular natural scenic beauty....yes.

BTW if you research the black egg thing as you call it you would find it is a very local thing. Not many countries can boil eggs in a volcano.

If you mean that there are a plethora of ryokan and hotels to stay in nestled in 17 or so cozy mountain villages all catering to their businesses I guess you can call it a little touristy.

All this said after 17 trips to Japan I still consider myself a tourist in that country along with all the other countries I visit.

As much as you try to be a local and try to do the things locals do you will always be a tourist. I guess it makes some of us think themselves better of feel better to travel as a local would travel when a local is being a tourist

Nothing wrong at all being a tourist. I am proud to be one.

hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Jul 20th, 2017, 08:52 PM
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Preaching to the choir, Hawaiiantraveller. I did say I thought that it was a beautiful area with plenty to offer. I just think the thing that a lot of tourists go for- the cable car-ropeway- pirate ship loop- is overrated.

I'm not one of those travelers that tries to live like a local- whatever that means- and I like touristy things- but I don't enjoy the cattle drive feel much. I realize that the black egg thing is local, but they've turned it into a cash cow of comical proportions.
marvelousmouse is offline  
Jul 20th, 2017, 11:25 PM
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Marvelousmouse, I'm with you on this. I have NO problem with being a tourist, I'm proud to be one too, but I found Hakone overrated too, neither the cable car nor the lake / pirate boat were particularly appealing to me and it was one of my least favourite places of our visits to Japan thus far.
Kavey is offline  
Jul 21st, 2017, 05:41 AM
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Yes. I think it's one of those beautiful nature spots that people are naturally drawn too but then it becomes so developed, it loses some of its original appeal. Other than the onsen, I could have been home in any of the overpriced mountain or beach towns. I got a kick out of the pirate ship and black eggs, but I'm one of those blasphemous souls who gets a kick out of Fisherman's Wharf in SF. I'm a foodie and a museum nerd with very specific interests, but I love to people watch. There's no better place to do that than a tourist promenade!

Continuing on to Kyoto...

I arrived the night of the 16th and luckily (or unluckily) my hostel is right on the edge of the main Gion roadway. I stayed at Khaosan Kyoto hostel. Great location, and nice common area, but I'd say it's just adequate. The beds are those thin foam mattresses that I saw so much in Europe and I really don't care for those. But the A/C is fine, the shower is decent, they're friendly.

Gion during festival- Mobs of people. I won't claim to have fully experienced Gion Matsuri. I should have arrived the 15th, and I was so tired the 17th, that I had to choose between getting up for the parade or making my Context tour.

So it was a mixed few days. On one hand, I missed some of the big draw. On the other hand, I missed some of the worst crowds. I won't lie- I was fairly down on Kyoto the first few days. "What do my fellow fodorites see in this place?" I asked myself. My roommate agreed with me. Maybe it was us, we speculated. We're illiterate and we're hot. Maybe temples are more interesting when it is cooler or maybe we are just ignorant rubes who are not fully appreciating the nuances of Buddhism.

But then the 3rd day rolled around the crowds reduced to a quarter of their size, I found an excellent chocolate shop (always good), a gallery with some beautiful kimono glass art (gorgeous) and I realized that it was Venice syndrome all over again. San Marco square is (seriously) my idea of dante's inferno. But once you leave the crowds behind and you relax, and focus less on the must see's and more on what you just stumble across, it's heavenly. Kyoto during festival season is like that. Go, because the festival is truly interesting. Don't make it your once in lifetime trip to Kyoto though. If you want photographs without tons of tourists in them, head out early and stay out late.

I would say that if you like food, and don't speak the language, it would certainly help to stay at a hotel with an excellent concierge. The biggest frustration I would say that I've had is that the kind of places that advertise an English menu are generally not the kind of places I actually want to eat. This is a budget trip for me, so it hasn't bothered me too much. But it's a little hard to find food off the beaten path here. English is widely spoken, but often folks only possess the basics. And Kyoto tends to have cheap low end food and very expensive high end food. There isn't much of a middle range, at least in Gion. The high end meal I chose was specifically because I knew from reviews that they were associated with a ryokan, and specifically had English speaking staff.

Other than two places that I found on my own, I mostly ate my way through the hostel recommendation board...and much as I expected, it was merely ok. I did eat at a good ramen place called Ippuden, and it's definitely one of those places that has a line for a reason. The ramen is good, gyoza exceptional. Line is very slow. Small counter place- they let people finish, then they clear it out and let more people in. So if you're behind a few large groups, I would say you have at least a half hour, and it's one of the rare incidences where it does not help you to be solo. They only seat people in order of the line. So there could be three empty seats inside but if there are four people in a group ahead of you, you won't be seated until they have space to seat the four . Anyway- well worth the wait, but just a heads up.

My food highlights were:

Ao onigiri: a bit of a bus ride, but fantastic onigiri and very much a neighborhood place. The cook spoke excellent English and apparently it started as a mobile onigiri cart, but now it's in this little narrow store front. Interesting, with children's drawings on the wall. I've eaten a lot of onigiri, and this really was the best I've had, especially the salmon and roe combo. One of my cheapest and certainly one of the best meals so far.

Soft serve ice cream. It's weirdly the equivalent of gelato. It's everywhere. The best is the matcha at the expensive tea place, or something called "cremia" at a few select stands, one of which is the excelsior coffee chain. It has a high milk fat content and the cone is actually lotus cookie. Really tasty.

My kaiseki meal (sp?)-traditional multiple course cuisine. The restaurant is called ishibekoji kamikura. Beautiful dining- the presentation is art. Fabulous, personal service. Very small place, and reservations are a must, which I think is fairly typical of Kyoto. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a teacher from the Bay Area who travels for animals (and food) and it was just all around a wonderful experience. Quite expensive though, certainly more of a couples/foodie meal than family dining. I think my dinner was 21,000 yen. And then my sake was another 5,000. I don't normally like sake but this was delicious sparkling sake. It went down very easily and so I ended up ordering multiple glasses- one of those very rare occasions that I would have been better off just ordering a bottle. That good! The restaurant was a bit hard to find- it's in a very narrow historic district street, and you really would have no reason to go there unless you stayed or ate in the area. No pictures allowed but a wonderful place to see at twilight if architecture is of interest. If I had unlimited funds or it was a special trip I would certainly try to stay at a ryokan in that district. Just very pleasant and quiet.

I made one trip to fushimi Inari and one trip to the bamboo forest. Fushimi Inari is great but I've found that I generally enjoy the smaller, less visited shrines or subscribes within larger complexes like FI. My favorite shrine so far has been the one near the bamboo forest; daughters of the emperor were sent there to undergo a purification process, and it's a really interesting place. Also in that neighborhood is a museum that specializes in Hina dolls- This is a japanese craft where mothers and grandmothers make little hanging figures out of old kimono scraps. They are associated with a particular town and they are hung in the home as a wish for a good match for the young daughters. Displayed in early spring and interestingly burned shortly after- traditionally, if you leave them hanging too long, it means marriage will come late. I say Museum because that's what they call themselves but really it's just an exceptionally extensive gift shop.

That tram station also has a foot onsen, which I really enjoyed. Ticket for 200 yen included a towel. I don't know if the temple nearby was really worth the price of admission, but the garden is scenic (I enjoy the shrines, but get easily tired of the temples, so don't take my word for it).
The bamboo forest is a fairly short walk, and I would say worth it only if you are easily entertained. But it really was overall a nice way to spend an afternoon.

I took a context tour at the beginning of the trip and one at the end. The first was one about spiritualism and how Buddhism and Shinto have interacted throughout history. We basically went through the most significant shrine and temple in the city, and he explained the significance of both sights. The docent was a crusty American academic who is a Buddhist monk these days. Incredibly nice man, but one of those professors you like to talk to and avoid signing up for classes with. Far left leaning ivory tower more or less with a religious bent. This is the first context tour I have not loved, but I think that is partially because I'm only mildly interested in theology. Also, killer heat. It was extremely useful, though, in terms of understanding significance and proper behavior at the shrines and temples and I do feel like it really helped me appreciate those sights more.

One really interesting tidbit I picked up is that zen gardens are something that came out of tourism, not Buddhism. An early travel writer saw the dry gardens and assigned a meaning that doesn't really exist. Temples saw dollar signs. (The raking symbolizes water- essentially dry gardens were the poor man's pond.)

The second context tour was fantastic though. The guide was a French tea master who has lived in Japan for several years and he's worn many hats. Really an interesting guide and I thoroughly enjoyed the tour. This one was the Gion and Geishas at twilight tour- he pointed out houses where Geishas live, their vocational schools, and we were lucky enough to see one geisha in a taxi on her way to work. It was really interesting from both a cultural and historical perspective, and it was also great because we could ask him questions about changes he's seen in the culture while he's been here. I surprised to find out that the neighborhood has gentrified a bit, but it has a history of both high end culture and low end prostitution. The tour was also nice because it was an evening tour- it started at 5, which is about the time that the heat breaks. My tour guide said that he had the same initial response to Kyoto, and after years of being told by his tea mentor that he belonged there, he finally gave it a try and found that he truly did enjoy the city- just not so much in July! He said October is his favorite month. So if you have a lot of flexibility, go then.

I spent one afternoon grazing my way through Nishiki Market for lunch. I think for people who are not adventurous eaters (like my roommate) it may not impress. But if you really like seafood, and unusual items, YES. My favorite were these baby octopi in some kind of marinade- hard boi

That was my last evening. That day, I had headed out to ao onigiri and the modern art museum- except I got on the right bus, headed the wrong direction. It worked out well though- I ended up at the bus stop where the neighborhood Gion Matsuri float "tour" starts. You can see all the floats, buy souvenirs associated with each float, and on the big floats, you are allowed (for a fee) to climb up and see the interior). Feels very much like a local neighbor hood event in a way that the parades and other stuff does not. Loved it, never made it to my museum.

General tips:

Transit- mostly bus, use it in summer. I walked from Kyoto station to Gion my first night and that wiped me out. It's an easy walk (at least what I consider easy) but brutally hot this time of year. You pay upon getting off. I just used my suica card- I have found that most convenient. Nothing says suica in the stations- look for charge card or Ic.

Go visit shrines at night, especially if you like photography- it's very atmospheric. Nothing open but it's lit up with few people.

If you are a shopper or traveling with one, just build extra time into Kyoto. Seriously a good shopping town. I am reasonably sure that if my sisters and mother were here, we could do a week of nothing but shopping.

Mosquitos and no see ums are vile there. Last time I was eaten this badly is was in the boonies in Massachusetts. If you taste delicious, bring bandaids and repellent.

I've no idea if it's kosher or not, but one roommate had a pretty cool idea for cheap souvenir. She was collecting the wish boards in shrines because they're all different. (Definitely not kosher to write your wish and then take it, she left them blank for that reason.) I didn't do it- I saw a lot of crappy tourist behavior at the shrines, so wasn't comfortable doing anything that might be seen as impolite. Tourists in Europe's churches were so very frustrating, and even though I'm not devout, can't shake that catholic school upbringing. Shrines are free but like churches cost a lot of money to keep going, so do put money in the offering boxes.

I have to admit, y'all are right. Kyoto is pretty amazing. I am seriously tempted to cancel my last week in Tokyo and just spend more time touring the shrines (and shops) of Kyoto! Shall have to see...
marvelousmouse is offline  
Jul 21st, 2017, 05:49 AM
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Oh, forgot to finish the market portion. Octopus with its head stuffed with a hard boiled pheasant egg. And the highlight was the sea urchin. Yum. I passed on the barbecued sparrows though, and I couldn't force myself to try horse meat.

And I have to (somewhat) eat crow over what I said about the hostel recs for food. Ate at torikizoku tonight and it was delicious. Mostly yakitori- chicken skewers. The grilled chicken hearts were fantastic!
marvelousmouse is offline  
Jul 21st, 2017, 05:53 AM
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Yet another side note. Most places are smoke free, but a lot of the more local places still allow smoking. So be aware of that in Japan if that bothers you. The yakitori place is an example- luckily it wasn't bad, but I didn't come at busy time. My roommate came earlier, and said the food was worth the hour wait. She's right, but I didn't wait at all!
marvelousmouse is offline  
Jul 21st, 2017, 04:29 PM
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Your report is making miss Japan so much. Yes, Kyoto does make you fall in love with her.
jdc26 is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2017, 07:46 PM
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2 nights at Oak Hostel in Nara.

Oak Hostel is a few minutes walk from Kintetsu station. I had a private room, so can't tell you much about it as a hostel. It feels more like a decent budget hotel, but I think a lot of that is due to what Nara is- not the sort of place that attracts the party animals. One thing that I've enjoyed about Japanese hotels so far is that they give you a lot of in room amenities for the price. Everywhere has shampoo, conditioner, body wash. This place had combs, razors, qtips, cotton pads, yukata. If you don't have sensitive skin, you could probably only pack toothpaste and cosmetics.

Anyway, the room and bathroom were pretty standard budget Japanese. But did come with a minifridge, and the A/C was great in the room.

I think Nara may be my favorite place yet. Maybe even more than Kyoto. Nara park is just wonderful. Old growth forest, and the shrine and temple are the kind of holy places that you feel a presence. no matter what religion you ascribe to. If I was here in the fall, I could spend a week just here. I'm very happy I didn't do it as a day trip!

Unfortuntately, the temple is currently under renovation, and the treasure museum is closed. But what's on view is more than worth the trip.

There was a special exhibit of calligraphy at the Nara museum. 2 artists featured. Calligraphy is not high on my list of art I enjoy, but if you get a chance to see an exhibit featuring the work of Ms.Sisyu, go. She plays with 3 dimensional art and her 3-D calligraphy is evocative. Her use of color in painting is also great.

Nara museum docents don't speak good English though. I think the most frustrating thing about Japan is that I love local museums and regional history- and the museums just don't translate that stuff. They do translate important stuff- the shrine museum has English signs in both their permanent exhibit (festival drums) and their temporary (national treasures- intricate armor.) I was expecting it, as I ran into the same thing in Europe, but it's still fairly disappointing. So if you really enjoy local history, I would read a few books on the places you are really excited over so you'd know what you're looking at!

One of the desk clerks at Oak recommended Little Mermaid bakery to me, and it was so good I ate there both days. If you enjoy photography, there's a small camera accessory store near Oak. They sell cute cases, and some stationary, but their camera strap selection is what drew me in. Highly recommmend!
marvelousmouse is offline  
Jul 24th, 2017, 02:34 AM
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Catching back up on your report. I totally understand your feelings about the Hakone area; oddly so, I felt that "going with the crowds" there was part of the experience. Glad Kyoto won you over in the end; I can appreciate how some cities may take a bit of time to enjoy and especially with one as big as Kyoto.
tripplanner001 is online now  
Jul 24th, 2017, 03:02 AM
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Thanks for following along! I agree with you about the experience, actually. Usually a crowd like that would bug me a lot more, but I really enjoyed it all, especially the ropeway and pirate ship.

Any dislike of kyoto was definitely due to the crowds. The last morning I was there, I wanted to hit a few more places but it was the beginning of the lead up to the second parade and again it was suffocating in terms of crowds. I just either needed to not be there during the festival- or alternatively, I really needed different lodging. Maybe different location but I think mostly I just needed it to not be a dorm. I just changed my last two weeks entirely around last night; I was either ambitious or crazed when I booked it originally. Too much transit time. And although I usually enjoy hostels, I've found in these heat I need a private room more often for my sanity. So added a few more of those.
marvelousmouse is offline  
Jul 24th, 2017, 05:49 AM
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I've been enjoying your report as well.

I saw those two exhibits in Nara also - the calligraphy and Kasuga Taisha's armor.....both excellent.

It's too late now but Nara has a free guide service so probably you could have found someone to take you around to the places you wanted to see and provide more English information....
Mara is offline  
Jul 24th, 2017, 10:47 AM
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Agree with you about visiting a place like Kyoto and having to deal with immense crowds. I wouldn't enjoy the large number of people either, and can count the number of times when interacting with large crowds affected how much I enjoyed a place or not. We visited Kyoto in February and felt we had most of the places to ourselves. The only place where we ran into a concentration of people was at Kiyomizu-dera.
tripplanner001 is online now  
Jul 24th, 2017, 01:27 PM
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Hi Marvellousmouse,
I'm really enjoying your travel report. Thanks very much for sharing your adventures with us.
Completely agree with your difficulty in finding elevators and escalators at train stations.
For cooler weather, Nikko might interest you. Nikko is a few degrees cooler than Tokyo however rain is predicted on some days this week. (In May we had to buy jackets there and everywhere else we were wearing very light clothing, short sleeves. It rained at times but it didn't spoil our trip)
It's a lovely quiet town in the mountains. I believe there are a quite a few hot spring water onsens a short distance away by bus.
sandgroper is offline  
Jul 30th, 2017, 04:53 AM
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Catching up!

1 night @ Koyasan Kokuu Guesthouse

This is a cute purpose built hostel. Their dorm option is the pod. I liked that it had a door you could latch while you were inside, but you have to leave the door open in the summer; it has no a/c. It isn't a deal breaker; Koyasan is not as hot because of its elevation. Kokuu serves a good breakfast and they had curry options for dinner but I didn't try that. It's walkable from the furthest bus stop. I'm glad I didn't spend money on a temple, which is what my original plan had been; the Kokuu staff was very helpful and friendly. It does have a 10 pm curfew, but honestly if you can find anything in Koyasan to do that late, that would be impressive. It's an early to bed, early to rise place. However, the last bus leaves and arrives after 10, so wherever you stay, make sure you know when they close the doors.

I enjoyed Koyasan, but I don't think I'd recommend it to everyone. However, if you are interested in temples, photography, cemeteries, Japanese folklore, or you're a vegetarian, I would say it's a must. I'm really glad I did an overnight trip; there are tour groups there during the day and also it's really time consuming to get to. It would be doable as a day trip from Osaka or even Kyoto but I would not want to do it.

I recommend skipping the cemetery night tour in favor of the audio guide during the day and going solo at night; I think the night tour is overpriced. But admittedly I didn't care much for my group. However, the monk who lead the tour was a good storyteller, and he pointed out both a giant frog and fireflies, so it wasn't a complete waste. The mausoleum and lanterns hall is amazing in the dark.

I'm not all that into the temples at this point. I spend most of my time taking photographs in the cemetery. I enjoy cemeteries in general and Koyasan is a fascinating one. Very old and sacred to the Japanese.

I gleaned a new bit of knowledge! The bibs that you occasionally see in small statues were originally put on a specific statue by parents who had lost a child. The being that the statue represented would then watch over the soul of the child. Very neat. The practice has expanded to other statues because it's a very popular one. Haven't come across an explanation for the knotted caps on the statues yet, though.

If you don't stay at a temple, do go to one of the vegetarian places that serves similar food. I like great vegetarian food, and the place that the hostel recommended was terrific. I don't even much care for tofu, but the tofu at Koyasan was worth the trip all by itself. If you have vegetarian family members, I would add Koyasan to your itinerary just for that aspect. I've gathered from my own eating experiences as well as various roommates that I've had on this trip that it isn't all that easy to be a vegetarian in Japan. Meat and especially fish show up in the oddest places.

Wakayama area is pretty high on my list of regions I really want to return to. There was a lot that would have liked to do and see, and it's a beautiful area. So if you're seriously interested in Koyasan, I'd recommend researching the region to see if other places appeal as well.

2 nights- guesthouse u-en, osaka

U-en isn't very central but it's convenient to food and transit, and most importantly, it's one of those hostels that gets things right. Great hang out area, great showers, quirky and cute but also, amazingly, functional. It did have a slightly funky smell, but it's an old building. Noise does travel so you may need to tell folks to keep it down. The lockers are built in boxes in the bunks, and the bunks have curtains.

There's a great coffee place called Mondial nearby. I definitely got my fill of coffee in Osaka!

Sadly, I still don't like octopus balls. Everyone told me they'd be better in Osaka. Nope. It's a texture thing, I think. That and anything that involves red bean paste, with the exception of those sugar dough triangle things in Kyoto. Those are tasty. I really should have bought the blueberry ones. If you see a regional food you like, pick it up where you see it. There's not much crossover between areas. They all have their own specialty.

I really enjoyed Osaka. It's a young, friendly city that stays up late. It reminded me a little of Portland OR in the sense that it's probably a second or third tier sightseeing city but a first tier food and beer city.

The Dotonbori area is probably what most people come for. I wandered around there both nights, ate street food and people watched. If you're a night owl, consider staying that area. I felt vaguely uneasy riding the subway back around 11 pm; there were few people in the subway to my hostel, and even fewer on the street. It probably was perfectly safe, but Osaka feels (to me) a little rougher around the edges than other places I've been in Japan.

I went to Kuromon Market as well but I think Nishiki is the better foodie market.

In the afternoon, I went to the aquarium. It isn't as large as one might assume but it does have a good collection of animals. It gets some fairly bad reviews, and I think a lot of that is due to the fact it feels outdated. It needs renovation, and the original design was not the brightest. There's this pervasive fishy smell throughout it; it turns out that it's basically a spiral path down along really large tanks and the smell is due to the basement level which has an open enclosure of penguins and a petting tank of stingrays and sharks. So not the greatest aquarium I've been to and I am not sure I'd even put it in the top 5, but any place that lets me pet rays gets bonus points.

If you like malls, check out the ones around Umeda station. Osaka has some really large department stores that are tourist attractions in their own right.

3 nights- cuore hostel, kurashiki

The cuore is a about a half mile from the train station but it's in the Bikan historic district, and I loved the location. Try to catch the train station clock tower on the hour- it's a fairytale glockenspiel clock on crack. Only in Japan! I googled it later and it turns out that it's a remnant of a Danish theme park that used to be in that area. It closed in 2008 and is all gone except the clock. Apparently Hans Christian Anderson did not capture the local imagination, or maybe it just was too ridiculous. It was open only a decade and it closed with massive debt. Somewhat relieved there's a sensible explanation for the clock- it would be much, much weirder if some urban designer had just randomly decided that a train station needed that.

I can't recall who recommended that I stay in Kurashiki, but thanks, whoever you are!! I really enjoyed Kurashiki. It's lovely. The highlights were the toy museum and the folk craft museum. The toy museum has the coolest kite and doll collections and the craft museum had some really interesting textiles. I was less enthused about O'Hara- I didn't find the western art collection to be all that interesting. But A/c is a/c!

I keep meaning to mention- the transit and the cities are generally very accessible if you're handicapped, but I think the main challenge would be the museums and historic sights. I haven't seen elevators or even ramps at many, and the O'Hara appears accessible but then turns out to have steps throughout. A lot of museums I've been to so far have multiple levels, so if there's something you really want to see, it may take some extra research. And most hotels I've stayed at are accessible but the Cuore was definitely not.

I would love to try to visit more places like Kurashiki on my next trip. I don't know how feasible that is without any Japanese though. There were few English speakers at my hostel, and communicating with some of the staff was a bit of a challenge. So as lovely as Kurashiki was, it also felt a bit isolating until I got to chatting with my Taiwanese roommate the second night. But the Cuore is a really cute hostel, and the bunks are cozy and the water pressure is incredible.

But luckily, the universal language is food.I ate at a surprisingly good pizza place one night and a sushi place called Katsu the second night. The sushi nigiri was really, really good. The only English word the staff definitely understood was "beer" but hey, sometimes that's the only word you need! No English menu but they had food models in the window and I know what fish I like, so pointing worked. The Cuore also serves food but it's fake Italian and not great. The seafood appetizer was passable but the pizza was pretty terrible. I ate at a local Italian restaurant the next night without high expectations, but amazingly, they had good pizza. In general, though, it's almost always safer to eat the local food rather than Western food because the Western food may have some interesting additions that you may not like. Always an adventure though! The denim store snack bar serves everything blue. I don't recommend the blueberry lemon soft serve but the blue steam bun was pretty tasty. Also, the local soft serve specialty is Okayama white peach- it's delicious!

I also did a day trip to Himeji Castle. Not all that successful. I got on the wrong train, (stupid of me, I can't believe I forgot to check the train number) so by the time I actually got to Himeji, I was tired and it was hot. Himeji Castle involves a lot of climbing so try to go early when you're fresh. I did really enjoy the parts that explained the restoration, but I haven't generally found the castles to be that interesting, and Himeji isn't an exception to that.

But anyway, Kurashiki was definitely a place I'd gladly return to, and I'd recommend staying 2 nights there just to enjoy the town.
marvelousmouse is offline  
Jul 30th, 2017, 05:22 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,622
Still following, thanks for the info. Interested that you found an alternative to a temple at Koya-san - mine was very disappointing. Not sure I'm up for pods these days, though.

My feeling about Himeji, and indeed several other Japanese castles, was that the outside was much more worth seeing than the inside. Although there were some interesting bits in the outlying buildings at Himeji. And of course, if you stay outside you don't have to cope with those very steep steps, or the crowds, which were bad at Himeji. Maybe do one interior - I remember enjoying Matsumoto - and then just admire the outside. I really enjoyed the gardens at Himeji, too.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jul 30th, 2017, 05:48 AM
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Join Date: Mar 2015
Posts: 3,214
The temples that appealed to me were just more money than I really wanted to spend. The hostel had private rooms too actually that looked nice. It's probably half pods half private family rooms. A very small place. I found that I didn't really enjoy the pod to tell you the truth. I'm not generally claustrophobic and think they were fairly generously sized, but I'm relieved I'm not doing any more capsule type hotels. I much prefer the bunk beds with curtains.

I agree- castles are much more interesting from the outside. Himeji's setting is beautiful. Luckily not too crowded. That would have been bad. I should not have tried to climb but it seemed like a wasted trip to not do so. Have you visited Korakuen in Okayama? I am in Miyajima right now, and I'm trying to decide between sightseeing in Hiroshima, a stopover in Okayama for the garden, or just focus on getting to Takayama early.
marvelousmouse is offline  

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