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Capturing the Koyo of Autumn in Japan 2009

Capturing the Koyo of Autumn in Japan 2009

Old Dec 12th, 2009, 07:33 AM
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Looking forward to hearing about Hakone. We were there at Hakone Ginyu Ryokan a couple weeks ago and it was the highlight of our trip!
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Old Dec 13th, 2009, 07:50 PM
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Thanks Statia, have some on Hakone but am in San Francisco area this week on business/pleasure but will finish this report when I get back home.

Looking forward to your report when you get it all done!


Aloha!
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Old Dec 27th, 2009, 07:57 AM
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finally continuing

Oct 19-23
Hakone and Nasu

As we entered Odawara’s JR station on the Hikari shinkansen I felt at ease not only because we have been here before and knew what to expect but I really like the Hyatt Regency in Gora as a place to just cool out for a couple of days.

We quickly located the Odakyu service desk in the station and purchase our 3-day Hakone Free Pass for 4,400 yen each. The person at the service desk spoke some English. We stopped for a quick lunch in the little baguette store in the station ground level (one of our faves for a quick brekkie or lunch) then off to make our way up train system to Gora and the Hyatt Regency. I have given the details on the transport systems in Hakone and on to the Hyatt in our report last year so I won’t repeat it here.

We were staying at the Hyatt on points and because of my Platinum status with Hyatt I asked for an upgrade at check in. The desk clerk left to ask her manager about the upgrade and returned with a smile and a regency suite upgrade for us. We love to stay at the Hyatt Hakone.

We used our two days in Gora to unwind and adjust. We did a few tourist things like visiting the Hakone Open Air Museum (discount with Hakone Freepass) and taking the Hakone Ropeway back and forth one morning to snap a zillion shots it seemed of Fujisan as she basked in the sunrise of a clear October morning. The weather on that day was clear but windy as a front was expected later in the afternoon making the ride on the Ropeway very exciting as we swayed back and forth in the wind....

The Hyatt still does offer a three hour happy hour to all their guests from 16:00 to 19:00 where they serve free pour wine, champagne, beer and soft drinks in the fireplace lobby which is quite an atmospheric place in itself.

The town of Gora is such a great getaway destination as we call it in the States. Gora is so close to all the big cities (90 minutes from Tokyo) but a totally authentic and beautiful Japanese little town complete with and abundance of unique places to rest your head for the evening. We love this area of the Hakone environs that we have experienced so far to be the best of the rest. Next time in the area I think we would try to go further to the base of Mt Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes (Fuji go-ko) region.
Checkout was a breeze at the Hyatt and the commute to Odawara station took 75 minutes waiting time included. We hit the train schedules down the mountain perfectly (of course). We were in plenty of time (1 hour) before our scheduled shinkansen to Tokyo so we had a light breakfast at the bakery in the station and then I hurried up to the shinkansen platform to do one of my favorite things I do when in Japan….watch a shinkansen roar through the station without stopping. It is such a rush to me. Odawara’s JR station is a very busy one and a great venue for this type of experience as it is on the main artery that leads into Tokyo from the east and all the Shinkansen pass through Odawara station with the only odd Hikari and the Kodamas only making stops. You can witness all of the Nozomi and Hikari trains roaring through the station and high speeds with all the wind and sound the experience is one not to be missed. The best time to do this is during the weekday morning and afternoon rush hours as that is when the most trains are scheduled.

Our destination that day was Omaru Onsen Ryokan in on the slopes of Mt Nasu in the town of Nasu that is a little northeast of Nikko. We changed Shinkansen in Tokyo. We had only a four minute gap in time between our trains but luckily I knew more or less where to go so we made it to our train just as the whistle was blowing for the train to depart, phew.

When we arrived at Nasu shiobara train station we were supposed to take the public transport to the Ryokan. This would have entailed taking a bus from the station up to the Ryokan and back but I was hesitant because we needed to be back at the station at 10:00 am and the buses took and hour and started too late to get to the station when I wanted. The only other options were to take a later train, take a taxi to the station that would cost about 180 dollars US or rent a car for two days at 55.00 UUS per day++. We ended up renting a car that turned out to be the best thing as we got to see a lot of the countryside in doing so.

You don’t have to worry too much about knowing the Japanese language when dealing (doing business) with them I have learned. There are maybe five or six different car rentals located in the Nasu JR station and area right outside of the station. There was a Toyota, Mazda a Nissan and the JR rental attached to the station. I chose the JR one because I knew it would be the best place to have someone that spoke English. Well I was wrong, no one spoke any English but we got a car complete with a Japanese GPS (no English ones available here) and a 10% discount for having a JR Pass (you have to ask).

After using the GPS on Hokkaido we pretty much knew how to operate the Japanese one and had no problems understanding what they want you to do as the pictures on the GPS will show you exactly where you are heading before you get there and tells you what turns are coming up so it was a breeze. We navigated be plugging in the phone numbers of where we were going to. If you can understand Japanese you can enter the names of the places you are going to and the GPS will find it. You can also enter the specific number for a venue or area but we couldn’t figure that out because of the language barrier. I hope I am not making this sound confusing, as it is not.

We arrived at the Ryokan after a beautiful drive up Mt. Nasu through the outstanding fall colors that were peaking in this mountainous area of Japan.

http://japaneseguesthouses.com/db/nasu/omaru.htm

Omaru Onsen Ryokan is a gem! It is in our top three Ryokan ever.

The rooms here are ordinary. You will find such rooms in most traditional Ryokan. The tatami are all new and the futon are clean and fresh. It’s the baths and the food served here that really make this place special.

The baths here have a combination of mixed bathing and segregated bathing areas both indoors and outdoors. The mixed outdoor baths are located on a hot spring river that runs through the Ryokan through an amazing set of pools at different levels giving you various options on which bath to use.

The food served here and the presentations for every course were the best we have experienced save one. I could not get over the food presentations they do at this Ryokan from a fish that was cut and fried into a work of art to a frozen ice molded serving dish that housed our sashimi and caviar that were simply incredible.

Almost no English is spoken at this Ryokan except for one bright young man named Honma. Honma is an incredibly gentle soul who will explain all the oddities of Japanese living to you or just show you to your room and explain the rule of the house. There are also a couple of other English speakers that will serve dinner and bar tend but none with the skills that Honma has. If you are lucky as we were you may get to experience another of Honma’s amazing talents. Honma is an accomplished jazz guitarist. He plays occasionally on Thursday and Friday evenings in their bar area just before the Karaoke hour,lol. The man is amazing. I knew a soon as I saw his guitar (Gibson ES 165) that he would be good. He played mostly American jazz tunes that had all the Japanese people in the audience singing along (the Japanese love to sing). He also played one Japanese classic for the crowd (10 guests 2 of us non Japanese) in the short 45-minute set. He had five encores before they finally had to start the Karaoke.

Honmasan even helped us with our luggage carrying it up the grade to our parked car on the morning we left. The man is a gem and so is the Omaru Onsen Ryokan. We would love to return there for a visit sometime maybe this time in the spring. We were leaving that morning for our last stop before heading back to Tokyo. We were headed for the Oriase Valley in Northern Tohoku and a stay at the infamous Oriase Keiryu Hotel.
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Old Dec 27th, 2009, 08:10 AM
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Wow I'm saving this report for my future trip!
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Old Dec 27th, 2009, 02:57 PM
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Oct. 24-31 and home

The Oirase Valley is noted for its beautiful koyo in autumn and the prime place to visit in Japan if you can guess the dates for the autumn colors correctly.

Our home for two nights in the valley would be at the Oirase Keiryu Hotel. We picked this place because of location and although it was expensive, the Keiryu does have the prime location on the stream with a view that makes it all worth it. The stream flows along the floor of the Oirase Gorge, winding among trees, which while a lush green in spring and summer, turn brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange from late October through early November. Over a dozen waterfalls cascade down into the stream all along its length from the walls of the gorge. The drive from Yakeyama to Nenokuchi during peak koyo season is one of the most sought after in Northern Japan and our bus ride one weekend morning was spectacular. Although the government restricts the amount of cars on the road during peak koyo periods the road can become very crowded which is why the usage of the bus systems is a smart alternative. A lot of tourists both Japanese and the rare European ones will walk a length of this scenic trail catching the bus between different stops along the route. The bus will take you all the way to Yasumiya on Lake Towada for about 1100 yen per person. Yasumiya serves as the area's transportation hub with both the boat pier and the Towadako bus stop. The rest of Lake Towada is largely undeveloped save the occasional residence, hotel and viewpoint, and a few tourist facilities at Nenokuchi for visitors to Oirase Stream.

We took the free shuttle bus that the Oirase Hotel provided from the JR Hachinohe station to and from the hotel. This bus leaves the JR Hachinohe station once a day at 13:15 so we had to time our train to meet the bus, which was pretty easy to do, as we had to go to the end of the shinkansen line in Hachinohe to catch the bus and we were starting from Nasushiobara. The free bus also takes you back at two different times in the morning. The bus ride is about 100 minutes each way. More on the way over as the bus stops at its sister hotel about 15 miles away for a drop off. If you cannot meet this bus, there are a few JR buses that leave from the station at different times of the day, which will drop you off right next door to the Keiryu hotel at the Yakeyama bus stop. JR buses I believe are free if using your JR Pass.

Our room at the hotel had a million dollar view of the river and requisite trees in full color from our large picture window. The room had a kitchenette and was pretty large with a separate dining area. The charge was 500.00 US per night for two people but included breakfast and dinner each day, which was worth the price especially the dinners. Dinners were served Kaiseki style in a separate dining room according to the meal plan you choose. We had chosen a mid level one that had so much food you couldn’t begin to believe unless you’ve been to Japan. I can’t imagine how a country that eats so well can have people for the most part that stay so thin. I guess its what’s in the food they eat…. all the good things for you… The hotel also has indoor hot spring baths and a rotenburo on premises that are gender segregated but very large, clean, fully supplied and relaxing. The hotel also owns another hot springs bath in another part of the lake that they will bus you to for no charge but we never had the time to use the service. We enjoyed our stay at the Keiryu and would not hesitate to return.

We had lunch in Yasumiya, which is a delightful little Japanese village on the shores of Towada Ko at a small 8-seat restaurant. The mama san was the waitress, cook and bottle washer. Our meal was a simple dish of chicken and rice for me with a shoyu ramen with pork for Linda along with tea and a diet coke. The price was 1750 yen. Yasumiya may interest some of you who are looking for that small town with everything you are looking for in Japan. Temples, a lake, shrines, scenery, small town atmosphere and a post office which I withdrew money from easily on a weekend afternoon. I like the feel of this place and would love to return for a week to start peeling the layers if you know what I mean....

The boat cruise from Yasumiya to Nenokuchi is a must at this time of year as the trees on the islands in the lake and along the shoreline were just ablaze in their full autumn colors. The ride lasts about 50 minutes and cost 1100 yen per person. You can then catch the bus back towards Yakeyama from Nenokuchi. We have a bunch of pictures from this trip which I will post one day soon on another site……I think I already mentioned this sometime earlier in this report,lol. All in all I would say that the Oirase Valley lived up to its reputation with me. It is a special spot of the world especially during the fall color time and all the previous hype is spot on. Next is a short fall visit to Akiyamasan in Kakunodate and back to Tokyo where it all started for our homeward flight.
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Old Dec 27th, 2009, 06:52 PM
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We arrived into the JR Kakunodate station just after 15:00 on the Komachi shinkansen green car. One look at the surrounding mountains as we were on the train with all the fall colors in the air beckoned to me to rent a car when we got to Kakunodate. We walked over to the now familiar little Folkloro Hotel and into the small lobby check in stand and were greeted cheerily by the reception lady. She asked our names in Japanese and when I answered she smiled widely and called out to the back for Akiyamasan. Most here know the story of our friendship with this little dynamo so we won’t re mention here. Anyway gifts were given and I was given back my old translator that I had “lost” 19 months earlier and couldn’t figure out where I had left it.

It started to rain furiously right after we checked in so we decided just to lay low and do our laundry in the Folkloro’s washer and drier. The charge is 100 yen for a wash cycle and 100 yen for 30 minutes of drier. They sell boxes of soap (1 wash) for 50 yen at the front desk. Such a deal, who said Japan is expensive?

The weather cleared the next morning so we walked next door to the JR car rental and rented a car for the day. Akiyama san came with us to translate and got us a super deal of $45.00 US for a 24 hour car rental with the all important Japanese GPS NAVI system. Utilizing the car we got to drive to Lake Tazawa and drive around the lake and actually stopped by an Inn for delightful Japanese lunch. We drove all day sightseeing and stopping here and there at our whim to buy a few souvenirs when the opportunities presented themselves. Car rentals are a good idea in the rural areas imho as they make getting around a heck of a lot easier and the rentals are very easy to do. The cars are a great way to see a lot of an area in a limited amount of time. They open up a whole part of Japan previously unseen by us and I will now look to a car rental as a transport option if possible in the more rural areas of Japan into which we will be traveling.

The last four nights of this trip were spent at the Grand Hyatt in Tokyo upgraded to the Regency club using points for the entire stay, gotta love it.

We enjoyed our stay in Roppongi and the Hyatt but will opt to stay in the Shinjuku Hyatt for future visits. Nothing wrong with this Hyatt but definitely prefer the Shinjuku neighborhood and the property.

We thoroughly enjoyed this koyo trip to Japan and would highly recommend it to all of our friends. We would like to see the koyo a little later in the year maybe in the late November to early December time frame with Tokyo and Kyoto being the main targets.

Thanks for reading and hope that some of the information contained in here help someone in planning their travel to Japan.

Aloha!
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Old Dec 27th, 2009, 08:08 PM
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Nice report, Peter. Makes me want to head back right now!
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Old Dec 28th, 2009, 06:12 AM
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ht, i've been reading your report, on and off. seems like you and linda had a great time. we should have gone with you after gonpachi. lol.

renting a car in the rural areas sounds like a good idea. domo.

hi lucy, hope you are getting better.
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Old Dec 28th, 2009, 06:50 AM
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ok, i've now read the last entry so guess i need to start from the beginning...

happy new year btw.,...
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Old Dec 28th, 2009, 07:49 AM
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Thanks for another wonderful detailed report, ht!
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Old Dec 28th, 2009, 09:59 AM
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Thanks everyone!

Yes Bob you need to get you and Karen to Kyoto soon....maybe a sister city to Boston gtg will get you there,lol. Happy Holidays to you too!

Lcuy, hope you feel better soon!

Aloha!
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Old Dec 28th, 2009, 10:26 AM
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Thanks P and K...Going to stop into the office this afternoon. After two weeks, I'm guessing my desk will be buried under paperwork!!

Gotta earn my next trip though...
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Old Dec 28th, 2009, 10:32 AM
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HT, Thank you so much for doing this report. My SO and I always like to follow your advice when in Japan and you gave us a few new ideas for our next visit. Happy New Years to you and Mrs HT!
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Old Jan 19th, 2010, 02:10 PM
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My husband and I are planning a trip to Japan and wanted to go in Sept. However, we are now reading that it is the height of the typhoon season. What do you know about this? Would we be better off going in Oct - or wait until spring? What do you think is the best month?
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Old Jan 19th, 2010, 05:41 PM
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Travelbug, Sept along with August are typically the off months to visit Japan. I would favor April and November. October would be ok especially on Hokkaido or in Northern Tohoku as you know by reading this report which took place during the whole month of October.

See here for the details you seek:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2273.html

Aloha!
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Old Jul 22nd, 2010, 04:12 PM
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Dear HT, we'll be travelling down from Hokkaido through Tohoku for 2 weeks in Sept. next, finishing in Tokyo - a three week visit. We enjoy renting cars too and it's our 4 th time in Japan in as many years.
I'm hoping you could kindly suggest a route that takes in the spots you liked best through Tohoku in a usable route that avoids backtracking. A mix of trains and rental cars worked well for us in the past and I must say the convenience of Toyoko Inns at most places is so convenient as we like to get up and out, so really just need a bed for the night - with a few exceptions where we can afford something special, being budget travellers.
Hope you can help with this - it should be of help to many others too.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2010, 05:07 PM
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If I were to do this I would do it in segments. Starting at the JR Hachinohe station,I would rent a car and drive up into the Towadako area and spend a couple of days there and make my way down to Hirosaki and visit the castle and town area there. From Hirosaki there is a local JR train that putts its way along the rice farms and fields through the mountains and finally down along the Sea of Japan ending up at Akita. Akita is worth a couple of days in itself if you have time but is a big city, or you can catch the shinkansen towards Sendai stopping at Kakunodate or Tazawako for on overnight and 1/2 day car rental in the area.

In the Sendai area I think your plans are already covered but I would also take the shinkansen down to Nasushiobara and rent a car at the JR station there and drive up to here and overnight if you can, you gotta trust me on this one http://japaneseguesthouses.com/db/nasu/omaru.htm
This place is the exception you mentioned and is worth the splurge imho. Honmasan will take care of you and if your there on a night he plays in the karaoke lounge you are in for a special treat. I can't wait to get back there, the view from 3000 meters up over the whole Nasu area is amazing. You can even hike to the summit of Mt Nasutake from here as the gondola is only a few hundred meters from the ryokan.

From Omaru Onsen Ryokan you can drive through the mountains down to the little towns of Shiobara, Yunishigawa Onsen,Yumoto, Kinogawa and down into Nikko before dropping your car and catching the train back into Tokyo.

Make sure your rental has gps. Not critical if not in English just learn how to use it before you leave the place.

If you do something like this you might want to take advantage of the JR east flexi day passes so you can be flexible

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2361_02.html

Just one thought,lol

Aloha!
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Old Aug 13th, 2010, 10:10 PM
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Hi again HT
Three weeks now till we start this Japan trip - our 4th, from Hokkaido to Tokyo overland. Still haven't got the amount of info we've had previously for Shikoku,Kyushu etc. - it's so darned hard to get info on Tohoku especially and many postings on forums have gone unanswered. Makes your info that much more valuable, so thanks. If you remember anything else please let us know....
cheers
Tom
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Old Aug 13th, 2010, 11:14 PM
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Wow, getting close to blast off time,lol.

Try the forum on this site.
http://www.japan-guide.com/forum/que...y.html?aTYPE=1
Some helpful info there

Aloha!
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 11:58 AM
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