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Kyushu & Honshu Fall 2011

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Dec 6th, 2011, 03:21 PM
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Kyushu & Honshu Fall 2011

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

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

http://hawaiiantraveler.smugmug.com/...490744_8NCmtNq

Follow the link and the password is:

Fall 2011

Capital F and a space between the words.

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

Aloha!
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Dec 6th, 2011, 04:47 PM
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no one goes to japan that many times that is 'short of cash'
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Dec 6th, 2011, 04:59 PM
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Great pictures, ht! すごい. Thanks for sharing - you seemed to get your koyo timing quite well!

And traveling in Japan is not that expensive - at least not compared to European cities - maybe Asian places like Vietnam, Thailand, etc. are inexpensive but to a New Yorker like me, Japan is not that bad.....
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Dec 6th, 2011, 05:00 PM
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Beautiful pictures Peter. Love the colors of the leafs and the beautiful Geisha!
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Dec 6th, 2011, 09:59 PM
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Looking forward to the report!
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Dec 6th, 2011, 11:36 PM
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Welcome home, Peter and Linda. It's fun to view your photos at Narita. I look forward to your report.
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Dec 7th, 2011, 07:05 AM
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Beautiful pictures Peter. What a contrast to our Indian ones, (yes they are coming in the future). In yours every thing is neat , orderly and clean. Ours shows the chaos of India. Loved the colors...we missed fall this year.
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Dec 7th, 2011, 09:20 AM
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"Back at work and just putting together the actual report ..."

Not sure if that means that he was back working at work or that he spent the past week posting the photos at work.
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Dec 7th, 2011, 10:19 AM
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We left HNL November 9th at 10:50 am five minutes early via an ANA flight and arrived in NRT 25 minutes early at about 2:40 pm November 10th. We had seats 23 H & J so we were by ourselves window/aisle seats and nearer the front of the cabin. We are offered and served a chicken or fish meal, I the chic and L the fish both served with leafy salads and choice of buns and dessert. Meals served are better than we are used to on United Economy but not gourmet in any sense. We are served a cold sandwich w/yogurt and fruit before arrival. Great friendly service by this crew and the bathrooms are cleaned at least once an hour. Alcohol drinks are served liberally for free and we constantly hear the call bells going off and the stewardesses gratefully answering and serving their customers with smiles and a thank you. To us in the US this is a very uncommon occurrence. French and California wines are also served free in Economy with of course soft drinks and bottled water.
When we land at NRT and deplane I notice that most of the passengers head over to the Japanese National entrance lines and only a handful of us are actual foreign tourists……oh well. Since no one is in front of us it takes less than 5 minutes to clear customs then downstairs to collect luggage as it is rolling down the chute as we walk up to the luggage carousel and clear immigrations then out the door in 15 minutes……couldn’t believe it as it never happens this fast.
Linda exchanges some US$ for yen and we are off to buy the NEX/ Suica package for our transfer to Yokohama station and the Sheraton there our base for the first two nights. With bags on two luggage carts we head downstairs via the elevator to the train platform area. I buy two first class tickets on the next NEX to the JR Yokohama Station. The cost for the ticket and pass is 5,000 yen per person. You can purchase a second class ticket with Suica card for 3,500 yen p/p. The Suica card is loaded with 2000 yen (incl 500 yen deposit) which you can use in Tokyo on the Metro and actually now all throughout Japan on the JR lines and various combi and other stores.
I have pictures of the train in the link above. The ride is smooth and efficient making only a few stops at key stations along the way. 89 minutes later and we are arriving at the JR Yokohama station on time as usual. It is said you can set your watch by the Japanese train systems especially the shinkansen. Well I have to admit we have rarely been late on trains at most a minute or two maybe three on some local lines but not on the shinkansen, at least not till later in this report……
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Dec 7th, 2011, 10:25 AM
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I posted the photos from home as they are on my home computer.

I am posting this trip report from work as Bob suggested

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

Aloha!
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Dec 7th, 2011, 10:26 AM
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As we exit the ticket gates and head for an exit I realize that I have never been outside of this station before nor do I remember where the front entrance is which will take us towards our Sheraton across the street. So I stop dead cold and the chain reaction behind me starts. “Gomen nasai, gomen, gomen, gomen nasai” I say as we scurry to the side into the ebb and out of the flow.
Oh the flow………those of you who have not been to a crowded city train station in Japan should be told about the flow. Well there are millions of people living in Japan’s larger cities and in each of these larger cities are very crowded train stations. At rush hour in the morning or afternoons there is a flow of people in and out of these stations. They flow like a black (main color of their suits) tide in and out of the platforms and the stations. Yokohama with a population of over 3 million people is Japan’s second largest city behind Tokyo so the flows of people at those times can be huge. Either you go with the flow or become a blocking rock in the river with people flowing all over you.
So off to the side I look for the signs of the central-west exit and check our bearings on my iphone compass. Then after a deep breath we take a positive step forward with new direction as we enter back into the flow and get out the exit we want with bags in tow. As we exit I notice that the street intersection is huge and we have to either go up one level and across a sky bridge to the hotel or cross four intersections to get to the front door. We go for the up one level and across the sky bridge route.
It was about here rolling those bags that I realize that I really like the limosine bus with their door to door service. They do service the Yokohama Sheraton from NRT in 100 minutes and also have their version of the Suica deal but with a Metro Pass. With the limo bus if your hotel is on the route the last time you touch your luggage is when you hand to them to the handlers who load the bus. They and your bell boys at your destination handle the rest. Anyways that’s what I was thinking while walking with our luggage.
Check in to the Sheraton was swift and they relieved me of my luggage as soon as they saw us dragging it into the lobby from the 2nd floor elevators. We would spend two nights here on 10,000 Starwood Points per night so price was right. Nice lux looks to the hotel with good restaurants and with all the shopping, train station (more eating) and eateries in the direct vicinity this place deserves attention. The hotel is also connected to a luxurious indoor mall adjacent to the station. The rooms are large for Japanese rooms. Bathrooms are also large with great lighting with a separate shower stall and a deep tub used as furo I’m sure by Japanese.
We get settled then head out to find something to eat. We had checked out the hotel menu listings in the room’s books but decide we want Japanese food and where better to go when in Japan than to a train station! We wander back and forth till we see what we want. The ubiquitous Japanese restaurant that serves about everything from noodles to sushi. The name on the front of restaurant was only in Japanese characters. Lots of plastic food on the outside but we don’t need them today. We know what we want. We are greeted in Japanese and no English is spoken as we are seated. Japanese menus are given to us. In curiosity I ask in Japanese if they have English menus. Iye/no English menus. On our first trips to Japan we would have been intimidated and not have walked in to a restaurant with no English menu but now we know what to expect and what to order in Japanese if we are starving,lol. I order the Gyu don with side of karaage and Linda orders a shoyu ramen and tempura platter which we share. There were shrimp, sweet potato, okra, string beans, eggplant, carrots and a couple of other veggies on that tempura platter that were outstanding. We don’t drink beer which was also on offer here so just waters. Our simple dinner cost 2200 yen. Really hit the spot and we thought we were stuffed as we walked back to the hotel when we past the inevitable ice cream machine. One chocolate and one macha (green tea) ice cream cone and off to bed early as the jet lag had really started to set in on our first day back in Japan.

Aloha!
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Dec 7th, 2011, 10:55 AM
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ありがとうございます Mara!!

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

Aloha!
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Dec 7th, 2011, 11:21 AM
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Day 2

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

To activate a JR voucher into a JR Pass you must take your voucher to one of authorized JR station offices of service centers along with your passport. Don’t forget you passport. The nearest office was right across the street at the JR Yokohama station but that office didn’t open until 11:00. But the one at the Shin-Yokohama station opens at 7:00 and it was already 7:10 so we got ready and out the door we went without breakfast knowing that we would find something to eat at the station.
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Dec 7th, 2011, 11:22 AM
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The crowds were starting to gather as we marched into the station this time with all the confidence of a Yokohama local. Right to the head of the pack she flew and Linda was first through the gate to the train platform with her Suica card and then it was my turn. I confidently followed and swiped my card on the reader and walked right into the still closed gate as the reader still was red and closed…..thud. The flow started to back up behind me. I swiped again in vain as now the flow started to get into other lanes as it was obvious this gaijin was a rookie. What the heck, I swiped desperately and in shame one last time and bingo the gates opened and let me through. I confidently strolled past the waiting Mrs HT with all the bravado of a samurai lord. She rolled her eyes and I think I caught the expression “gaijin” under her breath as I walked by……..no matter, I knew what track we were to take and she didn’t……….ha gaijin indeed.
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Dec 7th, 2011, 12:29 PM
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We made our way quickly to the right platform and in a few minutes were at the Shin-Yokohama station. This is the station in Yokohama where you would catch the Shinkansen from. Get it.....Shin-Yokohama….Shin kansen. In fact a lot of major cities that have the Shinkansen train run through it have stations that were made after and around the major station of that city such as Shin-Yokohama, Shin-Aomori, Shin-Kobe etc.

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

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

After the passes were activated I made some train reservations we needed. All was ok except the next morning’s train that we wanted to take to Nagasaki. One of the trains we wanted was sold out. First and second class cars sold out with only smoking cars left. So we made a little later reservation and it was off to Chinatown on the JR Negishi Line to the Ishikawacho Station using our Suica cards. As we left the ticket agent I looked behind to a line of twenty or more people……..just in time I guess.
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Dec 7th, 2011, 12:52 PM
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Almost forgot, before we left the station we had breakfast. As others here will tell you the bakeries in some of the Japanese train stations are lethal (in a good way). The croissants and pastries the Japanese make imitating the French pastry chefs are out of this world. We ended up on the second floor in a Japanese bakery famous since 1929(that was the only part of the sign in English). I had an unbelievable breakfast croissant filled with meat, cheeses, onions and other unhealthy for the heart things complete with the side of beef/potato croquettes (a Japanese delicacy loved by school children) and a hot chocolate (425 yen bkfst special) while Linda had the green salad and yogurt combo with green tea(675 yen). Thus our difference in stature,lol.

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

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

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

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

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

Early to bed again as we catch the Shinkansen to Nagasaki the next morning and we want to get early start. That always on time Shinkansen……..we’ll see about that.
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Dec 7th, 2011, 01:26 PM
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great reading so far and i too loved the pics...
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Dec 8th, 2011, 09:06 AM
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Day 3

Our Day on the Shinkansen

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

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

So we get our things together and go down to check out. Our bill includes last night’s room service and 3100 yen for the two bags sent via takuhaibin and that’s it……yeah.
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Dec 8th, 2011, 09:14 AM
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You can take the train and use your pass to get to Shin-Yokohama from where we were but we took the taxi out the front door of the hotel. Shin-Yokohama eki kudasai I tell the driver as he chuckled back “JR”?
“Hai JR” I answer and off we went.

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

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

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

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

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

When you are leaving Yokohama station you want to be on the right side of the train to enhance your chances of catching a glimpse of Mt. Fuji just past the JR Odawara train station or about 40 minutes out of Yoko station. I like to be on the left side of the train out of Hakata to Nagasaki as you seen the sights coming out of the mountains and down to the ocean through into Nagasaki.
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Dec 8th, 2011, 10:10 AM
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Well now for the delay. We arrived into Shin-Osaka on time and walked down and over to our departure gate in time. It’s there that I saw a sign on the track that I had never seen before. Sakura Shinkansen delayed. Departure time unknown. I looked around and everyone looked a little stunned. The train did finally arrive 16 minutes late and it got worse from there. I didn’t know or realize that if your shinkansen is late it has to fit in BEHIND all the other trains around it and your delayed train will become more and more delayed as it goes down the line starting and stopping outside of cities while the on time trains wiz by. Or waiting outside a city till the on time trains clear the station so you can enter or travel through. We ended up being 1 hour and 25 minutes late for our next train but had 1 minute when we arrived to catch the following train an hour later. We ran through the exit and into the train as the door buzzers where going off. I held the door open for Linda and the door was trying to close on my case but to no avail. The conductor said in broken English “delayed shinkansen?” I said yes and he took our JR Passes and looked on his hand held computer then with after a couple of entries into the handheld he showed us to our newly reserved green car seats with a smile, bow and thank you. Only in Japan.

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

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

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

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