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Craig and Jeane Visit Japan - 2013 Trip Report

Craig and Jeane Visit Japan - 2013 Trip Report

Nov 10th, 2013, 08:57 AM
Join Date: May 2003
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Great report, Craig! Looking forward to reading more...I am very interested in your time on the Noto Peninsula.
Florida1 is online now  
Nov 10th, 2013, 06:01 PM
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Don't forget your train mishap and the door banging---"let me out"...
kmkrnn is offline  
Nov 10th, 2013, 10:16 PM
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Following along - I'm a big Japan fan, looking forward to hearing your adventures.
crosscheck is offline  
Nov 10th, 2013, 11:27 PM
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Had a few minutes to catch up with you account - enjoying your report.
Kathie is offline  
Nov 10th, 2013, 11:45 PM
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kathie--- a huge new complex is being built on the river, and i mean huge... it is to the right of the peninsula as you look across to the "wrong side".... condos, etc... no name i could see..

lovely lunch with Pook today at a french restaurant in the plaza anthanee complex-- Le Beaulieu. company was pretty nice and the food could not have been better, a la Pook...
rhkkmk is offline  
Nov 11th, 2013, 01:53 AM
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Day 3. I woke up in the middle of the night to a minor tremor which I was certain was an earthquake. My suspicions were confirmed the next morning when when I read mrwunrfl’s comment on my “live” thread that it was a 7.3 quake. Further research revealed that it was far offshore and no threat to Tokyo. The typhoons were hitting with full force so it was pouring when we went to breakfast. My travel umbrella had broken the previous day so I took one from Citadine’s ample supply. The morning looked like it was going to be a wash so we decided to walk to the subway and take it to Shinjuku Station with its massive network of underground shops.

After a couple of hours of wandering around, we decided we needed a change of pace. With the help of Google Maps and my iPhone compass, we made our way to the Seiji Togo Museum of Art, which was a few blocks west of the station. Togo was a 20th century painter and art collector. Many of his works were on display at the museum along with such classics as Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”. The most memorable part of our visit though was the view of Shinjuku (even on a rainy day) from the 42nd floor where we entered the museum.

As we exited the Togo Museum, we noticed that the rain had let up. We had really wanted to visit the Meiji Shrine that day and decided to give it a shot. I went online to hyperdia.com and found that it was easily accessible by subway from Shinjuku station. So we walked back to the station and found the subway line we needed to take. By the time we arrived at the Shrine complex, it had started to rain again. However, we had committed ourselves to see this very important and popular Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji in 1920. So we started down the wide gravel path that led to the actual temple while trying to imagine what this very peaceful place might be like on a nicer day. It was a Saturday, so when we entered the temple area we saw that a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony was being performed. While most of the goings-on were behind closed doors, we were able to glimpse the bride in her beautiful wedding garb.

Our last planned stop of the day was the Nezu Institute of Fine Arts which housed Japanese “treasures” from the Meiji period. It was one subway stop away with a short walk. We arrived at the museum only to find that it was closed since they were changing exhibitions. We still had some time left in the day so Jeane asked if we could return to Takashimaya. She had seen another scarf and pin there that she now decided she had to have. I checked my map and saw that the Ginza line ran from the subway station we had just come from. We could get there reasonably fast, so I agreed to go.

After our brief shopping expedition, we returned to the hotel and changed clothes for our night out at the Fodor’s GTG. All of the GTG participants were staying at the Citadines, so we met in the hotel lobby at 6:15 for our 7 PM reservation. There were 8 of us in the group: Bob (rhkkmk), Karen (kmkrnn), Peter (hawaiiantraveler), Linda (Mrs. hawaiiantraveler), Melissa (florida1), Doug (Mr. florida1), Jeane (Mrs. Craig) and I. We had decided that it would be easiest to take taxis, rather than to take the subway. Peter flagged two down right outside the hotel and gave them instructions on where we wanted to go. With four of us in each cab, we shortly arrived at our destination: Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu. Peter had reserved a table for us on the upper level of our two-story restaurant. We sat down and everyone ordered drinks. There was a party menu available and most of us decided to order from that. The menu can be found here: http://www.gonpachi.jp/nishiazabu/menu/party/?lang=en After a fabulous meal and stimulating conversation, we returned to the hotel, again by taxi, reveling in what had been a great evening.

Next: Day 4 - on to the Noto Peninsula
Craig is offline  
Nov 11th, 2013, 07:14 PM
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One bad part of the gtg was that karen left her glasses there and the taxi cost $34 to go and fetch them... Otherwise we had a blast, including shouting out a welcome each time new people entered the place...
kmkrnn is offline  
Nov 11th, 2013, 07:15 PM
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Above from bob...using k's ipad
kmkrnn is offline  
Nov 12th, 2013, 10:03 AM
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I forgot about the shouting, LOL.

On to the Noto Peninsula...

For our flight to Noto, Peter had given us a card from a taxi company that could take us to Haneda airport for 6900 yen, including tolls. It was written in Japanese so I gave it to one of the front desk people to make the reservation. Our driver was waiting for us when we came down to the lobby at 6:35 AM. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our 9:35 flight. Security on domestic flights allows for liquids in any quantity, so packing for the trip was easy. We were also traveling light as we had Citadines arrange for a delivery service to send our two largest bags ahead to Kanazawa. The flight to Wajima lasted one hour.

On arrival, I was one of the first to get in line to retrieve my car rental reservation. The folks behind me waited patiently as the non-English speaking agent tried her best to communicate with me. Eventually we finished and we were escorted to our small rental car. Guided by the vehicle’s GPS, we headed to the Wajima Museum of Lacquer Art in Wajima City. When we arrived the place was empty and we were not sure if it was even open. We were able to walk in however and a pleasant receptionist took our money and handed us brochures in English. It was a modern, well laid-out museum that anyone with an interest in the local lacquerware would appreciate.

From there, we intended to follow the northern coastal road to our hotel, checking out the sites along the way. The GPS wasn’t really cooperating however, and we really didn’t know why it wouldn’t allow us to enter our destination. So we just followed the coastal road. Along the way, we saw the Senmaida Rice Fields (where an ancient method of rice farming is still used), the Tokikuni Residence (early 19th century home), the salt farms and some very stunning coastal scenery. The weather was fabulous, by the way - sunny, mid 60’s and just what we needed for this leg of the trip.

Flatt’s, our minshuku (or Japanese bed & breakfast) was difficult to find. The auto GPS was working again but it homed in on their old location - an abandoned store front on the main road. We knew that wasn’t it, so I tried Google Maps, which would have worked great, had we not driven right past the place. Our third try finally worked - we spotted Flatt’s and pulled into the parking area. It was about 4:30 and starting to get dark. Our hostess Chikako came out to greet us, help us with our bags and escort us to our room. She asked if we wanted a bath prior to dinner. They are very proud of their outdoor bath which was known for its great views of the Sea of Japan. Since it was starting to get dark and chilly, we really didn’t want to do a bath just then. We also wanted to settle in a bit. We asked if we could do our bath after dinner. Chikako said she would draw a bath for us in the indoor bath beneath the dining area. Perfect - no need to go outside and get cold walking to the bath.

Our room was done in the traditional Japanese style with tatami mats and a low table. There were separate rooms for a toilet and a sink, but no shower. The housekeeper (Chikako’s daughter) would put down futons for sleeping while we were at dinner.

Dinner was an eight-course affair and every morsel was fabulous: lots of fresh, local seafood, lovingly presented. Chikako chatted with us throughout the meal. She was so charming. We had come to dinner in sweats, not quite ready to do the robe thing. But afterwards, we donned our robes and went down to the bath. After going through the prescribed routine of washing ourselves first, we settled in for a nice soak followed by a sound sleep.

Day 5 - Noto to Kanazawa

We awoke a little after dawn to another sunny day. Through our room’s sliding doors, there was a gorgeous view of the Sea of Japan. We had slept well even though this was our first time in Japan sleeping on futons. Chikako had told us we could use the shower by the downstairs bath. I took advantage as I have trouble getting going without a shower in the morning. We now felt comfortable going to breakfast wearing our robes. The ever-charming Chikako brought seven dishes to our table, a breakfast feast: fish, veggies, homegrown tea and miso soup - very nicely presented and tasty. Chikako’s Australian husband Ben was our chef for both breakfast and dinner. He came out to greet us and we enjoyed some pleasant conversation.

After breakfast, we packed our things and got ready to go. We had a 2-hour drive to Kanazawa and we wanted to sightsee along the way. I had had some beers the night before so I settled the tab with Chikako. Ben joined us as well and gave me a detailed Noto Peninsula map. We must have chatted for half an hour before we posed for photos together and finally got going. Chikako and Ben were wonderful hosts and we really had a fabulous stay with them.

I was able to set the GPS in the car that morning, so I punched in the phone number of the car rental agency in Kanazawa. Ben had given me instructions on how to get to the main road and on to the south coast. The drive was not quite as scenic as the one on the previous day but pretty, none-the-less. The sun was out and we took in the views as we meandered along the coast. We broke up the trip with stops at the Myojoji Temple and the Keta Taisha Shrine, both worthwhile and interesting. Just before we were to enter the toll road to Kanazawa, I saw a sign for the Chirihama Beach Drive, which was on a long, flat, hard-sand beach. Jeane and I agreed that it would be worth a detour. We entered what was the southern end of the drive and drove a few hundred yards on the sand. Jeane wanted to get out and put her foot in the water, just to say she did it, so I stopped the car. While she was wading, I took some photos of the vehicles on the beach.

We headed for the toll road and as we drove along, I noticed that the GPS was no longer set to the car rental agency in Kanazawa. I tried to reset it, but to no avail. As we entered Kanazawa there were signs directing us to the train station. Since the agency was located near the station, it seemed like it would be easy to follow the signs. After a while though, it appeared that we were getting nowhere. So I pulled over and set my Google Maps to the phone number of the agency. It turned out that we were headed in the right direction. When we arrived, I asked the woman at the agency about the GPS. She explained that in order to set it, the parking brake had to be engaged. We still needed gas so she punched in the address of a nearby station. Gas stations are still full-service in Japan, so we just sat in the car while the attendant filled our tank and took my credit card. Meanwhile, I called Mimi at The Art of Travel so she could alert the staff at Kikunoya (the machiya or tea house that we would be renting for the next three nights), that we were on our way.

We dropped off the car at the rental agency and hailed a cab. The driver had to call for directions, but after a ten minute drive, he dropped us off at the end of the narrow lane where Kikunoya was located. Mimi and the Kikunoya staff were waiting for us when we arrived. We saw that our bags from Citadines had been delivered. The Kikunoya staff proceeded to show us around our new living quarters. The machiya was impressive - 2 floors and 7 rooms with tatami mats throughout, a little garden, fully equipped kitchen, a modern bath, and a dining area with low table and chairs. The largest room upstairs had already been set up with a Western table and chairs for our geisha performance. We asked the staff to lay down our futons for sleeping in the first floor tea ceremony room. We also asked where we might go for dinner. They gave us recommendations for a couple of places in the geisha district on the other side of the river.

After settling in for a while, we headed out in search of a place for dinner. It was a Monday, and it seemed that a lot of places were closed. We couldn’t find either of the places that the staff recommended so we just peeked inside places that looked interesting. After bypassing two sashimi restaurants, we came upon a place that served tempura. We were hesitant to go in as it was pretty empty. We decided to look around some more but didn’t have much luck. So we returned to the tempura place and sat down at the counter. There was a small group of people nearby. One of them, an older gentlemen, came over and told us that he spoke English and would help us order. With the help of the young chef behind the counter (his son perhaps?) showing us ingredients, we put together a meal of shrimp and veggies for the two of us that was to die for. The batter was light and delicious, the veggies were crisp and the shrimp was mouthwatering. This was the only place so far in Japan where I was able to get a “big” beer. At the conclusion of the meal, the older gentlemen explained that we were the first Westerners ever to visit his restaurant. We told him how much we enjoyed the meal. There were lots of smiles and laughs amongst the group as we attempted conversation. At the end of the evening, just before we left, we all shook hands and bid each other “sayonara”. After a 5 minute walk back to Kikunoya, we decided to call it a night.

Next: Day 6, Kanazawa
Craig is offline  
Nov 12th, 2013, 11:30 AM
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Fabulous reporting.
Smeagol is offline  
Nov 12th, 2013, 01:36 PM
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Waiting for more!
Marija is offline  
Nov 12th, 2013, 01:47 PM
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Continue to enjoy reading about your journey, Craig. I did not make it into the farther-flung places during my visit to Japan two years ago, but feel like I'm travelling with you through your report. How did Japan compare for you to some of the other places you've visited in Asia?
tripplanner001 is offline  
Nov 12th, 2013, 02:23 PM
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tripplanner - we intend to return to Japan because we have only scratched the surface. It is completely different on many levels from other Asian counties. We rate this trip to Japan near the top but that is much due to the social aspects of the trip, especially the time spent with fellow Fodorites...
Craig is offline  
Nov 12th, 2013, 03:41 PM
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I'm so enjoying your report Craig. I've been following all the planning and on the other traveling thread as well and am very envious of the whole Fodors group this year.

Japan is high on my list but South Korea called me again this year so maybe next year! I am taking notes.
MaryW is offline  
Nov 12th, 2013, 07:22 PM
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You adapted well to changing circumstances.. Anxious to read more..

kmkrnn is offline  
Nov 12th, 2013, 10:53 PM
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So enjoying reading your report so far.

We struggled with the GPS a couple of times before Pete worked out the hand brake thing, which we'd not read about in advance so was so unexpected. Worked OK from there!

I just googled Senmaida Rice Fields to find out more and came across this interesting piece, attracted by the photo! http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...ed-fields.html
Kavey is offline  
Nov 13th, 2013, 11:09 AM
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Cool photos, Kavey - I shared your link with Jeane.

Day 6, Kanazawa and a GTG with KimJapan

Jeane had felt a cold coming on and today it arrived in full force. She was ready to soldier on, but I felt really bad for her. It was quite overcast but not raining that day. In Kanazawa, many of the sights were grouped around the Kanazawa Castle and the Kenrokuen Garden so our plan for the day was to cover as much as possible in that area. The castle was an easy walk from Kikunoya. There are free tours available but we opted to just walk the grounds and take photos of the school kids playing games in the large courtyard. We took the bridge from the castle gate to Kenrokuen Garden and paid the entry fee. The garden lived up to its reputation as one of the finest gardens in Japan. We spent a couple of hours there, wandering around and taking photos. Within the park is Seisonkaku, an elegant 19th century samurai villa. The villa was worth the separate admission and the time we spent there.

Gyokusen is a small family garden right next to Kenrokuen. We decided to stop there and see if we could attend a tea ceremony. As it happened, there was one being performed for a group in about 45 minutes and we could join them. We could tour the garden while we waited. It took only about 15 minutes to walk the entire garden,. However, the ceremony started earlier than planned so there wasn’t much idle time. Our group consisted of six Russian college students on a cultural exchange accompanied by a translator plus Jeane and I. It was a really fun event and the real deal - highly recommended. It is said that the Samurai warriors performed the ceremony to relax and clear their minds before going into battle.

Our next stop was the nearby Ishikawa Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts. This was a worthwhile visit and a good introduction to the Kutani pottery, Kanazawa lacquerware and other crafts produced in the area. It was a bit of a walk to our final destination, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, where we spent about 45 minutes looking at the exhibits, some of which were quite bizarre. We could easily have skipped this museum.

It was a long trek back to Kikunoya. We should have taken a taxi. It didn’t help that after we exited the museum, we took a wrong turn and walked for 5 minutes in the wrong direction. Never-the-less, we returned in time for Jeane to take a short nap before our 7 PM GTG with KimJapan. Bob, Karen, Peter and Linda had arrived in Kanazawa that afternoon and would also be joining us.

The GTG was lots of fun. Jeane and I taxied over to our meeting place, Arroz with Kim. It was great seeing her for the very first time. Kim and her agency, The Art of Travel, did a fabulous job with all of the arrangements for our middle 5 days in Japan, including the geisha performance we would see the following night. When we arrived at the restaurant, the others were already there. Arroz serves Spanish food (with chopsticks) and Kim ordered for everyone. It was a veritable feast - lots of meat dishes, lots of wine and sangria. No one left hungry that night. We had a terrific time with lots of laughs and great conversation. As a bonus, Kim’s charming husband Rich showed up toward the end of the evening. It was nice getting to know them both. Jeane and I shared a taxi back to Kikunoya with Kim and then Kim continued home from there. We both fell into our futons and fell asleep immediately, after what was a very full day.

Next: Another Day in Kanazawa and a Geisha Performance.
Craig is offline  
Nov 13th, 2013, 12:35 PM
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Craig, how wonderful to read your experiences. We are planning a similar trip in January 2014. I will be watching for your future posts.
Incidently, we are former 20 year residents of Darien,Connecticut.

jaa is offline  
Nov 13th, 2013, 03:05 PM
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Great writing Craig keep it coming. Sounds like you had a special Japan moment with your big biru in that tiny Kanazawa izakaya.....

Maybe on your next trip to Japan we can collide again for a few days this time in the Japan countryside. Maybe somewhere on one of Kyushu's volcanic wonders or throughout Hokkaido with all of it's spectacular natural beauty or in a remote Japan outpost like the Iya Valley or during peak sakura season in Hirosaki to see the wonder of the north, Hirosaki-jo in full bloom and my beloved Kakunodate.....if you wouldn't mind a little company that is lol.

hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Nov 13th, 2013, 05:44 PM
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Peter, we would love to do some time in the Japanese countryside with you - a little company is all good
Craig is offline  

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