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puddinggow Nov 12th, 2006 06:18 AM

Nov 06 trip report - Tokyo, Takayama, Gero, Shirakawago & Kyoto
Just returned from my 8 day trip to Tokyo, Takayama, Gero, Kanazawa & Kyoto and here's the first of my trip reports (sorry it's so long!):

Day 1 - Sat 4 Nov 06
Arrived at Narita just before 2pm and rushed to immigration to avoid the long queues. The security was very tight and the customs were doing a lot of random checks. I was made to open my suitcase – the first time I have ever been checked coming to Japan (& I have flown into Narita over 20 times)! I decided not to exchange my Japan rail pass in Narita Airport as there was about 5-6 people already in the queue & wanted to get to downtown as soon as possible. Booked the Metropolitan Hotel in Ikebukuro - have stayed there a few times before - chosen mainly for the location - 2 mins walk from the station & Seibu/Tobu dept stores. At around 5pm went to find the place for the pass exchange - you cannot exchange at the normal ticket office in Ikebukuro. It took a while to find but luckily saw an info booth otherwise we would have been walking around for hours) who told us to go up to the street level & look for the travel agency (actually the JR travel centre). Waited over 1 hr despite being the 3rd person in line. Either the Japanese are booking ahead for the new years holidays or maybe it was just a typical Sat but each person took ages to look through all the options – 30 mins or more & the staff were so patient. Although the opening hours were advertised until 7pm, they put up the closed sign at 6pm & accepted no more people – they were 10 people after us! When it was finally our turn – although we had filled in the application forms printed from the JR website - it still took them around 15 mins to process. They also helped us make the seat reservations – I would strongly recommend that you check out in advance what trains you want to travel on in the first place from the hyperdia website and make a note of the timings and train numbers to have ready for them. It really speeded up things a lot for us & other people in the queue - it took them less than 5 mins to reserve seats on 6 trains. However, it is quite difficult to reserve a non-smoking seat on the more popular routes even 3-4 days ahead of time. All the non-smoking seats were full on the 6.36am Hikari we were planning to take to Nagoya the next morning so we thought we would try our luck & arrive early to queue up at one of the non-reserved cars.

Day 2 – Sun 5 Nov 05
An early start – we checked out of the hotel at around 5.30am & walked to the JR station to take the Yamanote line to Tokyo. The Shinkansen tracks are quite convenient – less than 5 mins walk. We got to the platform at around 6am and there were already a couple of people waiting. By around 6.15am there were quite a few people queuing up but as we were 2nd in line we managed to get a good seat. You might want to buy some food at the station or beforehand as they didn’t sell bento boxes on the train – just the typical soft drinks, coffee & snacks. Slept for most of the 1hr 46mins trip to Nagoya & an easy transfer with 17 mins (plenty of time) between trains to Takayama. We were a little bemused that all the seats were facing backwards on the Hida Wideview Limited Express but the conductor explained that we would soon face the right way after departing from Gifu – strange but he was right! The best scenery was after Gero through to Takayama – a kaleidoscope of autumn colours with greens, oranges, reds & browns - fantastic! We reached Takayama just before 11am and brought our tickets for both Shirakawago & Kanazawa (day 4) at the Nohi bus centre (it is on your right about 25m as you exit out of the station). There is a tourist info booth straight in front of the station where you can pick up a map & ask questions.

That's all for now - more later....

hawaiiantraveler Nov 12th, 2006 03:24 PM

Thanks for the great start to your report. Anxiously awaiting more.

puddinggow Nov 14th, 2006 07:19 AM

Aloha - glad you enjoyed the first part of my report - here is rest of day 2 and day 3.

Day 2 - Sun 5 Nov 06 (cont)
We left our bags at the ryokan and made our way into town. It was very busy with many foreign and Japanese tourists. It’s a very nice walk around the town and the historical houses. I think you can walk around the town in around 1 hour but you can also spend ages in the souvenir shops & alleys. Many of the shops sell the same things – dolls, mochi and pickles but there are a few interesting shops which sell sake, miso and other handicrafts unique to that area. The wood furniture is beautiful. For snacks we tried the grilled beef and the milk which was delicious. There are many quaint places to eat too. We stayed at the Koto Yume which is only a 3 minute walk from the station. I chose the place as its website is very well put together in English and I was not let down. The place is charming and has a lot of character. It is modern in a lot of features but also has the character of a traditional Hida house. The price was 15,900 yen per person (regular season) for an 8 mat room with a separate seating area and bathroom. The rooms seem to be quite newly renovated and fortunately do not have the musty smell of some old places. The only drawback was it overlooked a car park and at night was a bit noisy with some over-excited people talking very loudly on they way back from the bar. They have some nice touches such as providing you with a variety of different yukatas to choose from to wear around the ryokan & for dinner. The baths are small but quite nice. There is an “outside bath” which basically has no view and has an opening at the top exposed to the outside. That only accommodates 2 persons but I quite liked it. The inside bath accommodates maybe 4 people at most. Small but most standards but it was actually quite comfortable (helped I guess but the fact there were only the 2 of us there. Later on the baths must have certainly filled up since the ryokan seemed to be nearly full. We had our meal in the restaurant as did most of the other guests and they kept on feeding us. Specialities include miso paste, Hida beef simmered in hot broth, tofu and vegetables. The feast was very good. I would definitely recommend the Koto Yume – it is very relaxing especially the lounge area with an irori fireplace and a small library. Also they have a lot of thoughtful touches and seem to be especially welcoming & popular with females. In the morning we went to the markets which are interesting but smaller that what we imagined them to be - mostly vegetables and local produce were on sale. If you only have time to visit one I would suggest the Miyagawa market. The Jinyamae market is about 15 stalls in a square mainly selling veggies & fruit whilst the Miyagawa is located alongside the river & seems to have some more stalls selling a wider variety of goods. We spent a few more hours in Takayama before backtracking to Gero.

It’s about 45 mins on limited express to Gero from Takayama heading back towards Gifu & Nagoya. We didn’t see much of the town since we called the ryokan and they said that there would be a bus to pick us up at the station. It seems to be a pretty typical onsen town with a few souvenir shops near the station – not particularly pretty. We choose the Yunoshimakan which was located quite high up about the town and would have been quite a hike back down. Most of the hotels had buses that provided pick up at a regular basis to coincide with train arrivals. The entrance is quite impressive and the place huge and sprawling. Most of the place was full and we chose a room on the lower levels which were in the older part of the ryokan. The rooms were large with windows on 2 sides and views out to the gardens. However the room was quite old and had quite a musty smell and could have done with a lick of paint. It was acceptable but I think we were comparing it to too much to the Koto Yume. The sink was in the room separate from the toilet & there was no bath. They only provided you with 1 set of towels – no spare small towels in the public baths. The inside baths were very large and so were the outside baths which were great – the best part of the ryokan & worth a large part of the 19,050 yen. They swap the men’s & women’s baths in the morning - the morning baths are the bigger ones for women. They also have 4 private baths for families or couples but we took a quick look at them and you feel like you have been transported back to the 1950s. The part of the building they were in was a bit creepy, dark and deserted. We soon made our way back to the main part of the building! The dinner was worth the other large part of the fee – it was even better than the Koto Yume with sukiyaki and grilled beef served. We just about managed the meal in Koto Yume but we were completely stuffed 2/3rds into the meal. They served us in our room & it took about 2 hours to complete and we are very quick eaters!

Day 3 - Mon 6 Nov 06

The weather was not too good and rained heavily the entire night. We were planning to make our way back to Takayama on the 7.59am local train to catch the 9.30am bus to Shirakawago but the ryokan bus was not scheduled to begin until 8.15am. However, they were most helpful & brought breakfast at 6.45am compared to 7.00am which they said was the earliest time. They also specially arranged for the bus to take us to the station at 7.40am. Service, food & the outside onsen were great – overall the rooms were a bit rundown & parts of the hotel looked like time had stood still for 50 years! It is very popular with the Japanese – bus loads of people arrived from 4pm onwards – I think they are nostalgic for the history of the place. Arrived at Takayama station in plenty of time for the bus to Shirakawago.

Report on Shirakawago & Kanazawa to follow later.....

hawaiiantraveler Nov 14th, 2006 08:25 AM

Fantastic report so far! Love your being very descriptive of the sights and smells of your trip. We were planning a trip thru the same area you covered over the spring but have been lured further north this time. Looking forward to the rest!

puddinggow Nov 16th, 2006 06:24 AM

Thanks Hawaiiantraveler! Sorry for the speed - been very busy at work this week. Trying to write when I have the time. Here's my account of the day spent in Shirakawago.

Sorry somewhere in the middle it should be Day 4 - the day we left Gero for Takayama to Shirakawago

Day 4 - Tue 7 Nov 06
Takayama - Shirakawago

The bus stop #2 for Shirakawago is just across from the Nohi bus ticket office & in front of the station waiting room & shop & is clearly marked in English. The bus left promptly at 9.30am & was about ˝ full – probably due to the fact it was a weekday. We stopped at 3 bus stops on the way but picked up no one. The sun came out just as we were leaving Takayama & we were in high spirits for a nice day in Shirakawago but, alas, we seemed to be travelling towards the dark skies & the rain got heavier as we got closer. There was some beautiful scenery on the way & the road twisted through several tunnels. We arrived at around 11am & made a short dash from the bus to information centre aka umbrella shop (it must have sold several hundred that day) to avoid the rain. In the waiting room next to the info centre there are about 20 or so lockers. We had a medium carry-on size suitcase which we tried to ram in but the door wouldn’t close & my heart did skip a few beats when it seemed to get stuck. We finally managed to free it & the lady at the info centre agreed to look after it for 200 yen (the same cost as the lockers). You can leave your luggage there until 5pm when they close – this also applies to the lockers – I think they will check at 5pm & empty them when they close the waiting room. With our study 500yen plastic umbrellas in hand we braved the rain & cold (only 7 Celsius compared to 21C the previous day in Takayama) & joined the hordes of other tourists (mainly Japanese) across the bridge to the main part of the village. Although hampered by the bad weather we enjoyed the village very much but if we had known that it was going to rain non-stop we probably would have taken a later bus as we had an ample 6 hours to spend there. We did visit one of the houses – the Wada one I believe. It is worth the 300yen entry fee & is fascinating to see how they live & the implements they used. I was a bit disappointed with the souvenir shops – they were all selling the same stuff that was available in Takayama but not so much choice & unfortunately we found quite a lot were labelled made in China! Although you can spend 5-6 hours there leisurely if you go into most of the marked houses, I think 2-3 hours is ok too – it’s quite a small place. The best value of the whole trip was a small grassho house with modern interior, not far the bridge, which offered green tea at 100 yen or coffee at 200 yen and lets you stay for as long as you want. You put the money in a little money box & the gentlemen who servesthe drinks also puts on some classical music. You can sit on the floor & watch the tourists go by from the large windows for hours & it is warm & the toilet is very clean. It is also provides one of the designated smoking areas - you are not allowed to smoke in the village in or around the houses for obvious reasons. After another walk around we made our way to the waiting room & spent about 1.30 hours with some others waiting for the bus to Kanazawa to arrive at 5pm. The coaches of Japanese tourists gradually left & at around 4.30pm there were only a handful of us left. The last sight that I was left with was a couple of German tourists who wanted to leave for Kanazawa that night but had probably booked & paid for everything for the next day & decided to stay in Shirakawago. They made their way across the bridge back to the dark & silent village – I can imagine what a lonely & eerie place it would be in the middle of winter deserted of all the tourists.

hawaiiantraveler Nov 18th, 2006 01:15 PM


we are planning an evening in s-go so this report is very enlightning.....please continue!!

hawaiiantraveler Nov 20th, 2006 04:33 PM


you still there? don't worry i guarantee i'm not the only one enjoying your trip report!


emd Nov 20th, 2006 06:15 PM

puddinggow, I followed your pre-trip postings and replied to them. I am very interested and following your report also.

It would really help to make it more readable if you had some paragraph breaks.

More, more.

Elainee Nov 20th, 2006 06:23 PM

Great trip report. We had wanted to stay at Yunoshimakan, but did not want to backtrack to Gero. I think we made the right choice. So good to have others try places for us.

puddinggow Nov 29th, 2006 05:21 AM

So sorry got so really busy at work these couple of weeks - promise I will finish the report at the weekend!

puddinggow Nov 29th, 2006 06:19 AM

Oh what the heck - I'm meant to be doing some work but here is my report on Kanazawa (with more line breaks):

Day 3 Mon 6 Nov 06 (cont)

It rained heavily all the way from Shirakawago to Kanazawa but at least the bus was warm & it finally stopped when we arrived at the Kanazawa bus terminus around 6.45pm.

The bus terminus is a big half circle in front of the JR station. We couldn’t figure out the coordinates as to where the hotel was so went inside the JR station and found the tourist information centre just inside. Their English is limited (maybe they cater more for Japanese tourists). However they were exceptionally helpful. We left a scarf on the bus and asked the lady if she could help us. I was just expecting her to give me the name of the bus company but she did call for us (2 different numbers) & told us to go to the bus company office in the morning (the bus company staff were again so helpful despite not speaking much English & we did get our scarf back – we were so grateful everyone went out of their way to help!!!).

They provided us with some maps and showed us were our hotel – APA Ekimae was. It was on the opposite side to the bus terminus on the west side which can be reached by walking through the food hall of the dept store – only a 2 min walk from the station.

The hotel was quite large and busy – seems a lot of businessmen stay there. My sister-in-law had helped us book a twin room on the internet in Japanese – the rate is quite a lot cheaper – about 9,700 yen as compared to 16,000 yen on the English version of the website. You have to pay on arrival.

We had heard that the rooms were very small & did peek inside a some rooms which did look small – I think you can reach the TV without getting out of bed. However, we were given a corner room which was quite large indeed. There was a sofa and LCD TV and plenty of room – we were pleasantly surprised. It was clean and non-smoking! Best of all it was very convenient and as we were starving & in need of some retail therapy we made our way to the newly opened Forus shopping mall next to the JR station.

There is a food court which has a decent selection of restaurants. It was not full probably because it was a weekday. We decided on a buffet-style restaurant which seemed to be most popular. Healthy eating with lots of veggies – about US$15 per head.

The mall is open to 10pm I believe and we still had time to stroll around. The shops were aimed at the younger age bracket. They did have a lot of wonderful looking cake, ice-cream and sweet places – it seems that the people of Kanazawa have a sweet tooth. Your mouth will certainly water looking at all the cakes and desserts. In the middle of the mall there was a place that sold mochi that had a long queue. They had mochi with all sorts of fillings but all the most popular ones had sold out. We wanted to try the black sesame and sweet potato ones but even the next day there was no stock :-(.

We returned to the hotel & went to look at the onsen on the 2nd floor. We read that it was supposed to be free but they I think they said it was 3,000yen for the day. We were too tired to bother try to investigate further and retired for the night.

Day 4 - Tue 7 Nov
The next morning the weather was glorious - at last! We brought a one-day bus pass at 500yen and rode on the pitifully small circular bus. The bus can get quite full and there were a lot of Japanese tourists so I wonder how they manage when it is peak season.

We rode the bus from start to finish to get an idea of the town – it only takes about 25 mins for the entire journey.

We then went back to the hotel to check out and leave our bags at the concierge. I’m sure there are nicer places in Kanazawa think if you are planning only a day in there then the APA Ekimae is very convenient and more than adequate!

Our first stop was at the Kenrokuen Gardens. Although the leaves had not turned red it was a very pleasant hour or so. Not a huge place but certainly on your must-sees if you are in Kanazawa.

We then took the bus and got off at another couple of places. I think that you can stay a couple of days and have plenty to see but also Kanazawa is also small enough to merit a day trip. We stayed until mid-afternoon and took the 2 hour limited express Thunderbird to Kyoto.

Kyoto report coming up in the next couple of days....

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