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Mr. & Mrs. HT's 2008 Japan Cherry Blossom Tour

Mr. & Mrs. HT's 2008 Japan Cherry Blossom Tour

May 8th, 2008, 05:47 PM
  #21  
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April 23-24

The next morning we awoke early and went down to check out the morning fish/crab market. If you are ever in Hakodate do not miss this place. The sheer amounts of live crab and the size of some of them will truly amaze you. We ended buying a few things there to take home that were shrunk wrapped and sealed well. One thing we bought that I had never seen before was cuttled crab, no not cuttle fish but cuttle crab. We were walking by one of the vendors when I noticed this machine going round and round making a heck of a noise and every so often a piece of cuttled meat would drop down the chute. I asked the lady in Japanese “oishi desu ka” (does this taste good?). You really have to learn this phrase if you visit food markets with samples or the large department stores with basement food departments that have samples of food all over. You will be offered a sample to taste, if you like it reply “oishi desu” (this is delicious) and buy what you want or pass it by. Needless to say the cuttled crab was delicious and we bought a couple of bags to take home with us.

We then checked out of our hotel and it was off to the train station for our 2 hour plus ride to Noboribetsu Onsen and our two night stay at the Takimoto Inn right across the street from the huge Daiichi Takimoto Hotel and Spa.

The green cars of the JR trains in Hokkaido are a carbon copy of the JR Kyushu trains with three seats across and a free drink is offered and a whole lot of elbow room. They don’t have the leather slippers though. The service is outstanding as they assign a personal valet to your first class car. The ride out of Hakodate to Noboribetsu is very scenic as you travel along the coastline and pass through two National Parks along the way (Noboribetsu being in the heart of one).

We arrived in the JR Noboribetsu station and went out to the number seven bus stop located right outside of the back entrance of the station. The buses to Noboribetsu Onsen depart every twenty minutes or so and we were soon on our way. You again have to take a ticket as you enter the bus as I explained earlier and pay when you leave. The fare was 660 yen for two people. In hindsight I should have taken a taxi as the ride is short and only about 5 kilometers from the train station. That would have saved us the walk uphill to the hotel from the bus stop along the highway.

The Takimoto Inn is a small seven story hotel built in 1977 and as I said across the street from their sister hotel the Daiichi Takimotokan Hotel. I had originally thought of booking the Daiichi but another brilliant suggestion by mrwunrfl saved us a bunch of money. At the Takimoto you can use all of the fabulous facilities at the Daiichi for free. That meant we didn’t have to pay the $285.00 US per person per night that we were quoted. The Takimoto Inn charged us 6000 yen ($60.00US) per person per night. This included a kaiseki dinner and a buffet breakfast both days. Granted the hotel room was a small Western double with a tiny full bathroom but we believe it was a great deal as the food was great, the people more than friendly and the price were right.

Now a little information about the baths at Daiichi. I have never seen a more elaborate set of hot spring baths in my travels throughout Japan. Kuranosuke had it right. The baths are huge and plentiful. There are 36 different baths in all with all different water contents, shapes and sizes. The baths are very elaborate and they are constantly cleaning them every day between 8:00 am till about 3:30 pm. There are rotenburo with gorgeous views of the “hells” that are right behind the hotel, hot spring water fall massages, hot spring whirlpools and hot spring Jacuzzis, steam and sauna rooms and even a small water park on the bottom floor for the kids complete with water slides. There are sulfur baths, acidic baths, mineral baths and few more baths with different water contents that I am forgetting this late at night. If you are ever in the area and not staying in the one of the hotels you can be a day visitor for 1900 yen per person. The visitors have to leave by 19:00 but the baths are open to their hotel guests 24 hours a day and seven days a week. We really enjoyed our two days in Noboribetsu Onsen and would recommend a visit if you ever have the chance.

April 25

We left Noboribetsu with the 8:40 train and arrived in Hirosaki at 2:10 pm. Our hotel for the evening is the New City Hotel which I arranged through Japanicam dot com. This is the first time I am trying them as they had the best rate I could find online for this hotel in the cherry blossoms season. It is a Best Western Hotel. I had read in previous months that they had gotten away from the BW chain of hotels but the sign is above the door and everywhere to be seen in the hotel so another goof by the Trip Advisor crowd.

The hotel itself is right next to the JR Hirosaki station and is new and everything is nice and looks new. You walk out the front door of the station and turn left. You will see the hotel to the left about a one-minute walk away. Check in was a breeze and even though they were very busy due to the peak cherry blossoms season and the fact that it was a Friday, everything went smoothly. Ok enough about the details as we just returned from several hours at the Hirosaki Castle and their more than 2600 cherry trees that were all in peak blossoms, dang what a sight. I have been to many places now in Japan and have seen peak blossoms in most of the places that we have been to but this place is by far the best I have ever been to yet (we leave for Kakunodate in the morning). What a sight! We were both just stunned to witness what just happened to us. We were expecting and hoping that we would see blossoms in full bloom but not on the magnitude and beauty that we both have just witnessed. I am very happy that we had an extra day to kill when making our plans so I decided to slip Hirosaki in just for the heck of it. I had read a little about the place and decided to shorten a long commute day with an overnight here. This place in peak bloom honestly makes Ueno Park in Tokyo in peak bloom look like a small circus sideshow. Honest folks it is that good. If you ever have a chance to see Hirosaki in full bloom it is a must see place. KimJapan and bmttokyo and all others who live in Japan who have not been here before and love to view the cherry blossoms put this place on your radar for future reference.

Hirosaki-jo is about a twenty-minute walk from the hotel or a five-minute taxi ride that cost us 910 yen ($9.10 US). You can also catch a city bus from the JR Hirosaki station and it is about a ten-minute ride. If you plan on visiting you should give yourself a good three to four hours especially if the bloom is on at the time. The entrance to the castle itself was 300 yen but you do not have to visit the castle to see the blossoms.

It seemed all of the small town of Hirosaki and neighboring communities where there at the castle touring and having their hanami in the large park which surrounds the castle grounds. As I had mentioned before there are over 2,600 trees on this site and every one of them seemed to be in peak bloom.

One of the best things about this park imho is the variety of cherry blossom trees that are available for viewing in the park. See this site for types of trees:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2011_species.html

In Tokyo and places south of Tokyo it seems that the majority of trees are the Yoshino Cherry trees, which are beautiful, but I love the variety of colors and shapes of other varieties especially the Shidarzakura (weeping cherry) and the Kanzan trees. These and the other varieties are also in abundance in Hirosaki. There are also a couple of “tree tunnels” which are lined with trees that you walk through and it is just beyond my poor writing abilities to explain with any comprehension that will do it the justice that they deserve.

They are a myriad of vendors there selling all kinds of Japanese comfort foods and beverages that will tantalize your taste buds. Vendors there also sell all kinds of Japanese products from extra film or memory cards to artwork from famous artists, pottery, books, handmade stitched products, etc., you can plan to eat lunch or dinner there very cheaply and then walk off some of the calories to boot.

There was a carnival for the children with all kinds of rides and games and it really was just a whole lot of fun. There are crowds but not the crush of people you get at Ueno Park and a family or visitors can actually come in and find a place to sit and put down your tarp or ground covering and have a good time. We love to people watch and really enjoyed watching people having a good time or getting drunk and singing and dancing away. I forget what the Japanese term is for the promises that the Japanese people make but even though we didn’t understand all that was said it was very interesting to witness to say the least. As I said before Hirosaki is a must visit if you enjoy viewing the cherry blossoms and we are glad and feel blessed that we were able to enjoy a hanami in Hirosaki.

Here is a little information on how to get to Hirosaki by train:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3701.html


more later

Aloha!











































































































hawaiiantraveler is offline  
May 8th, 2008, 06:12 PM
  #22  
 
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HT
Your report is very thorough and inviting. I really must put Japan on my list of must-see places!
Carol
simpsonc510 is offline  
May 8th, 2008, 08:13 PM
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Wonderful report and great detail.

I must admit that I agree with you about the Hyatt's Regency Club level being much better than the Sheraton's. The only Sheraton I've stayed in that had a great concierge level is, of course, the Royal Orchid in Bangkok. There they have free-flowing wine and liquor plus plenty of frequently replenished canapes and desserts, much like the best of the international Hyatts.
Kathie is offline  
May 9th, 2008, 06:27 PM
  #24  
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thank you, almost done
continuing

April 26-27

We arrived in Kakunodate on the 2:48pm Komachi Shinkansen with hordes of people at the rail station when we arrived which could only mean one thing in my mind that the bloom was on! We walked out of the train station to our hotel for 2 nights the JR Folkloro Hotel Kakunodate. After dodging literally hundreds of people from the train station to the hotel (30 second walk). We arrived at the front desk of the JR Folkloro Hotel and were greeted by Akiyamasan who greeted as an old friend and welcomed us back to the hotel. We met and befriended Akiyamasan last year and I have had several contacts with her the past year as I tried to nail down the exact dates of our two-night stay.

The Folkloro Hotel had undergone a major renovation since last year and the place is now sparkling. We were given our requested room that is the largest in the place and on the first floor. I won’t give out the room number online but if you want to visit and have that room you can email me for the information.

We freshened up in our room and rushed out to see the bloom on the river, as that is what this trip was all about. On our way out we presented Akiyamasan with our “omiyagi” from Hawaii for all her past help and she was just thrilled and excited beyond our wildest expectations. After a few minutes we excused ourselves politely and almost ran out the door towards the Hinokanai River. The river is a twenty-minute walk from the hotel and there were literally hundreds of people along the way.

Something seemed wrong after about the first block or so as we passed several trees that looked not past peak but they had no blossoms on them whatsoever. They only had the stamens but no leaves and no blossoms. Had we missed the bloom? Were we too late? I was flummoxed, as the timing was right I thought and how could this be? We turned the corner and I saw one tree in full bloom and felt a little better but when we passed by the street with the Samurai Houses all of the trees had no blossoms, only the stamens. I felt a little apprehensive but Linda said don’t worry they will be there. We reached the river and my total disappointment was fully realized, as there were no blossoms to be seen. ALL THE TREES WERE BARE.

I couldn’t believe it. What had we done wrong? We were both terribly disappointed beyond words. We wandered aimlessly in the crowds of people for an hour or so when I decided to head back to the hotel and start an early happy hour. I wanted to leave town tonight.

When we got back to the hotel Akiyamasan ran out of the back office to greet us so happy and thankful again for her presents. She immediately noticed our unhappy demeanor, as I just couldn’t properly mask what I was feeling at the time. What happened to the flowers I asked? Ohhhhhhh she said now looking sad, as she had picked up on my negative vibe. “They started to bloom here the 19th” she explained pointing to the calendar behind her. Today was the 26th exactly one week later, they should now be in peak bloom. She then pointed to the 24th and in halting English said “we had a freezing rain this night and all of the blossoms fell, I am so sorry. It has been unusually cold this spring and the freezing rain only happens every few years but when it does all the blossoms fall”. Global warming hah, so the cold La Nina weather had played a nasty trick on the HT’s.

She then started to explain about the money that the Sakura season brings to the little town of Kakunodate and how the people depend on that to make ends meet. This weekend will be ok she said but the word of no blossoms had already gotten out and people were canceling their reservations for the next two weeks and that will really hurt the pocketbooks (my words not hers) or all the people in town. I started to feel a little selfish about my earlier pouting and realized how lucky we were just to be in this beautiful little town in Northern Tohoku. The way she explained it with all the calm and confidence of a person who is very centered and at peace with herself just put us at peace and in a better mood. I remember saying after her speech “I guess that gives us a good reason to come back and try again next year”. The smile returned to her now beaming face as she bowed very low and said “it would be an honor for all of us here if you would do us that honor” she said in her broken English.

We all laughed together very loudly and it was then that I realized that there were a lot of people behind and around us waiting to check in or waiting in line to get into the restaurant and they all seemed to be listening with interest to our story (I doubt if any of them could understand what was being said but they all sure seemed interested). We went back to our room and I ordered a bottle of cold sake. I felt better after that, lol.

The next morning we decided to rent two bicycles at the bike rental next door to the hotel. They cost 300 yen per hour and we were gone for about five hours. I am really glad we did this and if you ever go to Kakunodate in the cherry blossom season I can fully recommend this over renting a car as the traffic is horrendous in the little town as they close most of the main streets near the river and Samurai Houses from 10:00 am till 4:00 pm.

By using the bikes we got to see the whole town over the river and across the train tracks. We also got to see a lot of cherry trees in full bloom in various other parts of the town in people’s yards, schools, small parks, and various other nooks and crannies of the town that we would never have had time to do on foot. It started to rain in the afternoon so we returned the bikes just before a huge storm complete with thunder and lightning rolled in just about 2:00 pm. We ran into the hotel lobby just as the rain really started to come down when out popped Akiyamasan with a present for us. She bowed very low and said “please accept this, I hope it makes you feel better” then ran away back around the corner to her office.

In the room we opened the envelope and inside were pictures she had taken and dated 4-23-2008. The pictures were of the River and surrounding area in full bloom and were just fantastic! A little note was attached which read “I sincerely hope that you will return to see this next year and I hope these pictures I took three days ago will make you happy until your return”. What a beautiful person this girl is. She really took the entire sting of our disappointment and we are already thinking and planning a return sometime next year to Kakunodate and the Folkloro Hotel.

Later on that evening when we were having dinner in the little restaurant on the premises Akiyamasa saw us go in and ran into the restaurant to act as our personal waitress as the other waitresses speak no or barely any English. They do have English menus though so if you get one of the ones who can’t speak any English you can just point at the items you want. After we were done she presented us with the special cherry blossom soda for dessert, which she bought herself and then ran out quickly to check on the front desk. During the cherry blossom season she works more than twelve hours a day. She is a very hard worker and the hotel is lucky to have her as an employee.

April 28-29

We had the 7:45 am Shinkansen train in the morning so after an early breakfast we were checking out at the front desk when Akiyamasan popped out of the office to personally check us out. In her hands were gifts for us that she presented to us with a very low bow. We thanked her profusely and left after a few pleasantries, as our train was due to leave in five minutes. The staff walked us out the door and all bowed as we left. We will return was my thought as we left the hotel. In the train we opened our gifts to find a beautiful sakura scented candle in a gorgeous glass container that when lit reflects little cherry blossoms on the walls. She also included a container of cherry blossom tea and two pair of hand painted chopsticks adorned with of course, cherry blossoms. Thank you Akiyamasan for all that you have done for us and save my same room for next year, we will be back again and again until we see your little town in full bloom.

We took that Komachi Shinkansen to Omiya (Saitama) station then transferred to the Joetsu Shinkansen for a short twenty-minute ride to Takasaki. From Takasaki we transferred to a JR local train for a fifty-nine minute ride to the little town of Minakami up against the mountains known as the Japan Alps that were still covered in snow. As we were gaining altitude climbing on the train we noticed more and more cherry blossoms along the way and all in full bloom. We waited in the train station for the free shuttle bus to our next to last destination on this trip the Osenkaku Ryokan in the Takawagara Onsen.

The bus arrived at 2:30 pm and we were off for a forty-minute bus ride deep into the mountains on our last adventure before returning to Tokyo and the ending of our trip.

This is the most remote place we have ever been to in Japan sans the Tsurunoyu Onsen last year. This place is simply gorgeous! The vistas that we were privy to as the bus turned every corner around the lake and as the snow covered mountains were mirrored into the reflection of the lake......just so serene! We were so impressed with the area that we are making another trip into this area of Japan sometime in the near future for further exploration.

Japanese Guest Houses arraigned this ryokan for us and I can’t say enough good things about them and their service. In fact they arraigned the Furusato Kanko Hotel, the Iwaso Ryokan in Miyajima and the Takimoto Inn at Noboribetsu Onsen also for us on this trip. See this site for pictures of Osenkaku Ryokan:

http://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/d...a/osenkaku.htm

Our twelve tatami mat room in the new wing of the Ryokan was all we could ask for and the views from our balcony were just awesome. The Cherry trees were in full bloom and the river rushing right below us made for a very peaceful and scenic next two days.

Osenkaku has four outdoor rotenburo, which are just gorgeous and two indoor hot spring baths as well. One is for women only and the other three are mixed, the two indoor ones are separated for men and women. Women are given bath towels to wear in the rotenburo while men are pretty much running around buck-naked or with a small towel to cover their modesty. As I mentioned earlier the scenery and remote location make this one of the best places we have been to in Japan. English is spoken by many of the workers so you should have no problem communicating your wants to anyone.

In fact we befriended one of our servers who admitted that she tried to move to Hawaii twenty-five years ago after her first visit but could not find a job there back then. She said she later got married and had a family but will “always have a soft spot in her heart for Hawaii and will return”, we were told on our last morning there.

After a very smooth check in where you also pick out your yukatas from a large neat stack in the lobby with lots of different cool designs and colors(quite a refreshing difference from anywhere we had been) you are shown to your room and asked what your special wants and needs are.

We can’t say enough about the food there as the Kaiseki meals are served for dinner in your room and breakfasts are the typical Japanese or American types which are served in the main dining rooms.

One thing unique about this ryokan was that some of the meats served with our dinners were a little exotic for our tastes. They served meats and vegetables from the mountains in which we were which is not unusual. Dinners were elaborate and well served but the first night we were served bear soup that Linda balked at but it was really delicious imho. The second night one of the meat dishes was raw fillet of horse. The meat had an excellent flavor and texture and I really enjoyed my portion as well as Linda’s as she would not touch it. I kept singing the Mr. Ed song that whole night (you know the one that goes “a horse is a horse of course of course and…….” to Linda’s remorse, lol.

Linda opted for the seafood and fish Kaiseki dinners and we were both served 14 courses. Here is Linda’s first nights menu:
3 types of sashimi
Vegetable tempura and shrimp tempura
A whole fish you had to cook on the open ryori fire
Beef with raw egg
3 different pickled veggies
Mushrooms, yams and taro you had to cook on the ryori
Raw squid
Sweet beans
Stuffed cabbage
Rice
Bear soup
Some kind of fried bread dish
Jello with fruit (strawberries)
Plum wine

Linda’s 2nd night menu

Whole fish cooked on ryori
Shrimp tempura
3 types of different sashimi than the first night
3 pickled veggies
Salmon
Gobo
Miso soup
Steak
Horse tartar
Radish/cucumber salad
Crab
Chicken cooked on ryori
Rice
Three different mountain mushrooms cooked on ryori
Apple wine

My menus were similar except where there was fish they added steak, chicken or pork. Needless to say the food was excellent.

The only negatives I have about the place are the day-trippers that are let into the rotenburos from 10:00 till 17:30. I can understand the need to make a little more money and as it was explained to me by our befriended worker that “the company needs to let the local people who cannot afford to stay here at the ryokan some time in their rotenburo so they can enjoy the beautiful surroundings”…….okay. Anyway the day-trippers take all the fun out of and the exclusiveness of the place and totally ruin the atmosphere between those aforementioned hours. It’s just something to remember if staying more than one day like we did. There are a lot of hiking trails though and we did a nice long hike, just beautiful.

finishing tomorrow

Aloha!
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
May 10th, 2008, 09:54 PM
  #25  
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April 30-May 4

We headed back to Tokyo for the last four nights of our trip. So much of Tokyo has already been spoken and written about so no repeats here. We did do a day trip to Yokohama that was very interesting and I will let some tidbits go when asked to online as not to make this report any longer.

We thoroughly enjoyed this trip and would recommend Japan in the spring and cherry blossoms season to everyone who have never been. I see us doing this again sometime in the near future.

I am now in the start of the planning stage of our next trip which will probably be back to Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku in the fall of 2009 to try and chase the koyo line southwards for a few weeks……we’ll see. I have to “guess” on the dates, smiles.

Thanks for reading.

Aloha!
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
May 11th, 2008, 08:16 AM
  #26  
emd
 
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hawaii, this is a great read, I am slowly making my way through it!

I have to laugh, you aare already planning the next trip...

I'll post again after I get done, I am only about half way through your report.
emd is offline  
May 11th, 2008, 09:45 AM
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What a fabulous trip and a fabulous report, HT! Give yourself credit for guessing pretty well on the sakura - I'm sure your guesses on the koyo will be similarly accurate. When we're ready for our trip, I'll ask for your forecast!
Kathie is offline  
May 11th, 2008, 11:35 AM
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Thanks Kathie, for you anytime!

Aloha!
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
May 11th, 2008, 11:39 PM
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I've read parts of this wonderful trip report. Seems like you did your part in being at the right place at the right time. Only foiled by weather in Kakunodate. I was very much looking forward to your report on the cherry blossoms but it sounds like you had a much more precious person-to-person experience there with Akiyamasan.
mrwunrfl is online now  
May 12th, 2008, 10:30 AM
  #30  
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thanks mrwunrfl for all your help....we couldn't have made it without you

Aloha!
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
May 12th, 2008, 12:54 PM
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Great trip report HT. Regarding your time at Dogo Onsen, I had a totally different experience. I went in the early afternoon and opted for the Y1500 with the private room and better bath. I figured that I would make a fool of myself in front of less people there. I believe the bath was on the second floor. There was only one other person in the ofuro at the time and it was totally invigorating.

I'm from Hawaii too HT and can I ask you what is in your omiyage that you give in your trips to Japan?
akaw is offline  
May 12th, 2008, 05:29 PM
  #32  
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akaw,

That was the way I was envisioning Dogo Onsen to be like....

this yr in our omiyage was something small from HI.... lets see a can of mac nuts, some lions kona coffee, a puka shell necklace and a turtle key chain in a lauhala container, a little touristy but they get it that its from HI

Aloha!
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
May 13th, 2008, 03:23 AM
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Dogo was the first onsen I ever went to. Guess I timed it right. It was earlier in the day and was not crowded. When I got the ticket to go in I told the lady that I just wanted to go to the downstairs. It took me a couple of minutes to realize that I got a ticket for both. It is a big open room upstairs, but I wasn't really sure what I was in for. I correctly guessed that I should wear my yukata up there. Had tea, relaxed. Next day, after a night at HPD, I bought a ticket for both downstairs and upstairs. Or thought I did. When I got upstairs and didn't have a ticket, it caused quite a fuss. Again, though, the bath was not crowded and it was a pleasant experience.

I like Fukuoka too. Did you see the shop selling Hakata dolls?
mrwunrfl is online now  
May 13th, 2008, 06:00 AM
  #34  
 
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Mahalo nui loa for all the insights in this trip report! I've been undecided whether I could plan this trip myself but after reading this, I'm pretty sure I could. I just don't know if I have enough time to plan it all for this Aug/Sept!
HunyBadger is offline  
May 13th, 2008, 01:20 PM
  #35  
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HB, you can do it, we will help if you need, lol

mrw, no I didn't see the shop with the dolls.....would go back to Fukuoka anytime.
Have you been to Shiretoko?

Aloha!
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
May 13th, 2008, 03:33 PM
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Thanks for the info on your omiyage HT. That's a good idea especially since I find that japanese people have a soft spot for people from Hawaii. I'm a sansei and like you my grandpa is Hiroshima-ken. Your travels thru the Tohoku region has me intrigued. I like those rustic out of the way places that you described.
akaw is offline  
May 13th, 2008, 07:56 PM
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Another thanks for the omiyage ideas - and for the wonderful trip report too of course! Another sansei here but my g'parents were from Wakayama and Osaka. I'll be going there in a few months (I'll post my possible itinerary & questions soon) and need to bring some omiyage from NYC. I now have food for thought.
totorofan is offline  
May 14th, 2008, 02:56 AM
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Nope, haven't been to Shiretoko. Not yet, anyway. Should I?
mrwunrfl is online now  
May 14th, 2008, 01:56 PM
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mrw,

We met a Japanese gentleman on a train and he suggested Shiretoko in the fall when I asked what area he would like to see in all of Japan. I wrote it down and asked several concierge in our hotels after about Shiretoko and all were in awe of the place yet none had much information about it.....piqued my curiosity just as much as it did a while back when you mentioned the little town of Kakunodate to me, lol

I think we will try in 10/09 to investigate the area......maybe you can make a commando run earlier and report???? lol

Aloha!
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
May 15th, 2008, 04:20 PM
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Can your next trip be any sooner because I love living vicariously!
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