3D2N in Kyoto: Experience Old-World Japan

3D2N in Kyoto: Experience Old-World Japan

Tokyo serves as the modern-day capital of Japan, it is without a doubt the business, economic, and cultural hubbub that is driving the country. What many do not know is that it wasn’t always the capital.

For much of Japan’s history, Kyoto assumed the mantle of being the capital of Japan from 794-1868. You see, traditionally in Japan, wherever the Emperor resides would then assume the title of capital of the country.

Prior to the Meiji Restoration, the Emperor lived in Heian-kyō, which is the modern-day Kyoto, resulting in its status as the capital. This all changed in 1868, when the royal family moved from Kyoto to their new imperial home in Tokyo, where they have remained to present day. Because of its many years as the capital, many in Japan have continued to view Kyoto as the “true” capital. 

Photo by Sorasak on Unsplash

“True” capital or not, Kyoto today is home to countless number of temples, shrines, and historical sites throughout its land. It has one of the world’s largest collections of UNESCO World Heritage sites, totaling some 17 of them.

Join us as we go on a cultural tour of Kyoto, uncovering the historical ins and outs of this heritage-rich city.

How to get there:

If you plan on flying in, take note that Kyoto does not have its own airport so you’re best bet is either Osaka International Airport (ITM) or Kansai International Airport (KIX).

Despite having “International” in its name though, the Osaka airport only serves domestic flights, having stopped its international services some time in the 1990s. So if you plan to fly in, KIX will be your best choice, which will then take about a 75 min train ride aboard Limited Express Haruka to reach Kyoto.

If you’re coming in from Tokyo, it’ll be roughly a 2h 20min train ride from Tokyo Shinagawa Station aboard the Nozomi Shinkansen. You can find the timetable here.

Getting around:

Depending on your length of stay in Kyoto, if it’s for more than 2 days, we’d recommend getting the 3 Day Kansai Thru Pass which will grant you the best access to the extensive bus and non-JR train network in Kyoto.

Unfortunately, there is no single pass that covers both JR and non-JR networks, so it is advisable to also get a rechargeable transport card (ICOCA) that will help you get around on both JR and non-JR train network.

Where to stay:

If you’re deciding on an area to stay, the Geisha neighbourhood of Gion in the heart of Kyoto would be a culturally enriching experience.

It is in this neighbourhood where it’s common to see Geishas sauntering along streets lined with traditional wooden houses. There is a myriad of options for accommodations in Kyoto’s foremost Geisha district, and we’d recommend the Kyoto Granbell Hotel, here is where modern living meets tradition.

Day 1: Ins and Outs of the Higashiyama Area

We start off our cultural foray in the Higashiyama area which is littered with temples and shrines throughout the Northern and Southern parts of Higashiyama.

What may perhaps be one of the top sights in all of Kyoto, the Kiyomizudera Temple (Pure Water Temple) is perched on top of Mount Otowa, giving people a panoramic view of Kyoto. Founded in 780, the temple got its name from the waters of the Otowa Waterfall where it was built.

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1994, the temple’s viewing gallery just outside the main hall opens up to countless cherry and maple trees, which during the spring and fall seasons, will come alive with myriad of colours that will blow you away.

The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of the main hall where visitors can drink from three separate streams of water that grants the drinker fortune in terms of longevity, success in school, and in love.

Address

294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan

Opening Hours

Daily from 6 AM – 6 PM / 6:30PM (Special opening hours can be viewed here)

After a rejuvenating experience at Kiyomizudera, a great lunch option would be the signature Nishin Soba which was first created in Kyoto. One such joint would be Matsuba Soba, which happens to be one of the oldest Soba establishments operating in Kyoto today.

Nishin Soba is essentially a savoury bowl of buckwheat noodles topped with dried herring fish simmered in a concoction of soy sauce, mirin sweet cooking rice wine, and sugar. A bowl of Nishin Soba can be a comforting pit stop, especially on a cold winter day.

Address

192 Kawabatacho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0076, Kyoto Prefecture

Opening Hours

Daily from 11 AM – 9:30 PM

Now whether Kiyomizudera Temple was your first stop or last, en route to Kiyomizudera you’ll find many religious temples all about and one you should stop by is the Kodai-ji Temple. Built in 1606 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s wife in memory of her husband, the Kodai-ji Temple of today is surrounded by beautiful Zen gardens that warrants a short visit,

Address

526 Shimokawaracho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0825, Japan

Opening Hours

Daily from 9 AM – 5 PM

From Kodai-ji Temple, step back into the bygone era of Samurais and Geishas that is Ishibei-Koji Street. The cobblestoned streets and traditional wooden Japanese houses is a nice juxtaposition to the modern skyscraper world we know today.

Up in Northern Higashiyama, there are numerous temples as well, but we’ll point your way to a lesser known spot called Philosopher’s Path. A 2km stone is enveloped in lush greenery and lined with cherry blossom trees, that as you may have guessed bloom beautifully during hanami season.

If you love cats, keep an eye out because there’s even a spot along the path where these cute felines rest and roll around.

Address

Shishigatani Honenin Nishimachi, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8427, Japan

Opening Hours

24 hours

 

Day 2: Journey to the West to Arashiyama

With a good night’s rest, it’s time to travel out a bit to Western Kyoto.

The main attraction is one you’ll recognise all over Instagram— Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.

Indubitably one of the most quiet and serene places in all Japan, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a surreal experience that could prove to be the place that leaves the most indelible impression of the entire trip.

Taking a stroll through the forest is a must, immersing yourself in the peace and tranquility, something that is remarkably far and few between in today’s highly-connected world.

Local tip: Try to get there early in the morning before the sun rises. 

Address

Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-0007, Japan

Opening Hours

24 hours

Near the entrance of Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is the famed Tenryu-ji Temple, which boasts one of the finest gardens in all of Kyoto (and that’s saying something). Ranked at the top as the most important Zen temple in the Arashiyama area, you shouldn’t miss out on this temple when you’re in the area.

Address

68 Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8385, Japan

Opening Hours

Daily from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM (Until 5:00 PM from late Oct to late Mar)

Before heading back, take a short trip slightly north to Kinkaku-ji Temple, more famously known as the Golden Pavilion. Originally the retirement home of a Shogun, it became a Zen temple with his death in 1408 per the Shogun’s will.

The top two floors of this impressive structure features gold leaf, which is nothing short of majestic as it rests on the riverbank. Now who says temples can’t be luxurious?

Address

1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361, Japan

Opening Hours

Daily from 9 AM to 5 PM

Day 3: Explore Downtown Kyoto and Fushimi-Inari

Get an early morning rise and head to the Nishiki Market where you’ll find no shortage of street side food and snacks. Also known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, Nishiki Market is a food paradise that buzzes from morning to the evening.

With free samples from practically almost every stall, I can promise you’ll be full from just walking from end to end trying all sorts of delights from Konnamonja Soy Milk Donuts which are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside to meat skewers and matcha mochi!

Address

609 Nishidaimonjicho Tominokoji Dori Shijoagaru, Nakagyo, Kyoto 604-8054, Kyoto Prefecture

Opening Hours

Daily from 9 AM to 6 PM

With your tummy filled, it’s time to learn about a Japanese cultural phenomenon that has captured the hearts of many Otakus all over the world — yes, the creative world of Manga. The Kyoto International Manga Museum is home to over 50,000 publications and three floors of Manga.

 

The main draw is of course the large collection of Manga available for reading and most of these are in Japanese, of course there are some translated ones as well. You’ll also find some temporary exhibitions that celebrate both local and international manga artists and their works.

It’s a place for Otakus to unite!

Address

Karasuma-dori Oike-agaruKyoto 604-0846, Kyoto Prefecture

Opening Hours

Daily from 10 AM to 6 PM

The trip culminates in what may be the number one attraction in all of Kyoto, a site that is photographed and instagrammed all over the world — the Fushimi-Inari Shrine. Easily recognised with its iconic vermilion torii gates, Fushimi-Inari is almost synonymous with Kyoto today.

Many know the beautiful orange gates, but not what it enshrines. Fushimi-Inari celebrates the god Inari, which is the god of rice, harvest, commerce, and business. The messenger of Inari is a fox, which explains the numerous fox statues and images around the grounds.

Photo by Nicole Y-C on Unsplash

Don’t miss out on the short hike up Mount Inari-san and the pilgrimage walk around the shrines near the top during your visit to Fushimi-Inari to have the most enriching experience.

Address

68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882, Japan

Opening Hours

24 hours

Photo by Jan Gottweiss on Unsplash

3D2N Escape to Kawaguchiko

3D2N Escape to Kawaguchiko

Kawaguchiko hardly rings any bell for the mainstream traveller, often dwarfed in popularity to the dominant cities of Tokyo and Osaka. It, however, is an absolutely stunning place in the Yamanashi prefecture that has a lot to offer in terms of scenic views, culinary delights, culture, and history. Just an hour and a half away from Tokyo, it’s more known as a day trip out for many travellers staying in Tokyo. Oh yes before I forget, they also have Mount Fuji, you may or may not have heard of that.

I jest, chances are if you are planning a trip to Tokyo, a visit to Mount Fuji would already either be in the cards or would have at least garnered some consideration. Here’s why you should hesitate no longer and take that journey out of Tokyo, turning it into a quick getaway from the dense city streets of Tokyo.

How to get there:

If you’re heading to Kawaguchiko from Tokyo, express bus or train would be the most convenient way. Available from the Shinjuku and Shibuya stations, the express bus would take you about an hour and a half to an hour and 40 mins barring traffic congestion.

When you’re travelling in and around Kawaguchiko, there are many local buses that operate in the area, so have no fear. If you’re travelling in a group, renting a car may prove to be the more efficient option of getting around.

Alternatively, you can consider getting the JR Tokyo Wide 3 Days pass to help you get around via the local bus and the Fujikyu Railway. 

Where to stay:

There are many hotels available in Kawaguchiko, and HOTEL MYSTAY Fuji Onsen Resort is one of the best choices out there. With an open landscape view of Mount Fuji from your hotel room, the views are breathtaking.

Should you want a more localised feel, or just a different lodging experience from a hotel, there are also many Airbnbs for you to consider!

Day 1: Eat, Sleep, and Play in Kawaguchiko

We’d recommend travelling to Kawaguchiko early in the morning so as the maximise your day, and after a lengthy bus or train ride, going for a dip into an onsen should be your first order of business which in my opinion, is the best way for some rejuvenation before setting out to conquer the rest of your day. After all, Kawaguchiko is also known for being a hot springs resort town.

If you chose to stay in Fuji Onsen Resort, then you can head up to the top floor where their in-house onsen is located which also grants you an expansive view of Mount Fuji standing in the horizon across. If not, there are tons of onsens littered throughout the town, with a bunch of them offering views of the signature mountain.

Address

2654 Arakura, Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi 403-0011, Japan

Opening Hours

Daily from 5 AM – 10 AM, 3 PM – 1 AM

Now that you’re all warm and rejuvenated, it’s time to get you fed. For lunch, go straight for their local delicacy of Houtou noodles that is signature of the Kawaguchiko region. Houtou noodles are unusual flat noodles which are stewed in miso broth and fresh vegetables.

You get a mixture of umami from the miso with a little sweetness from the vegetables which results in a nice, balanced dish. The noodles are chewy and a little reminiscent of udon, but they are two different types of noodles. It’s a one pot delight that has its roots in Kawaguchiko tradition. There are no shortage of establishments selling Houtou noodles, but Houtou Fodou is one of the leading restaurants which has an outlet famed for their igloo-like structure. 

Address

2458 Funatsu Higashikoiji, Fujikawaguchiko-machi, Minamitsuru-gun 401-0301, Yamanashi Prefecture

Opening Hours

Daily from 11 AM – 8 PM

Now, with your body rested and tummy fed, it’s time for a cultural learning journey around Lake Kawaguchi. Located along the Northeast bank of Lake Kawaguchi are a duo of museums which are beautiful.

The first is the Kawaguchiko Music Forest Museum which is musical theme park designed with capturing the essence of the “European Alps” in mind. The grounds have a whimsical vibe as you stroll through blooming flowers and swans skimming the surfaces of ponds. Inside the European-styled houses you’ll find antique music boxes that have stood the test of time.

Address

3077-20 Kawaguchi, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi 401-0304, Japan

Opening Hours

Daily from 9:30 AM – 6 PM (Opens until 5:30 PM on Sundays)

Go up North of the Music Forest Museum and in short time you’ll find yourself at the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum. Receiving 3 stars back in the 2009 Michelin Travel Guide, the art museum has been a mainstay of attractions in Kawaguchiko.

The museum celebrates and features the works of textile artist Itchiku Kubota who was famous for resurrecting and reinventing the lost art of Tsujigahana, a traditional fabric dyeing technique.

Address

2255 KawaguchiFujikawaguchiko-machi, Minamitsuru-gun 401-0304, Yamanashi Prefecture

Opening Hours

Daily from 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM 

Head on a little more West and you’ll come across the Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center which offers a unique and their signature blueberry soft serve. It’s a sweet and delicious treat that will be worth the mileage.

Address

2585 Oishi, Fujikawaguchiko-machi, Minamitsuru-gun 401-0305, Yamanashi Prefecture

Opening Hours

Daily from 9 AM – 6 PM 

Day 2: All About Heights – Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway and Hiking Mount Fuji

Rise and shine for day 2 and it’s all about the elevation today.

The Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway is a 400m ascent to the peak of Mount Tenjo. It was previously called the Kachi Kachi Yama Ropeway as Mount Tenjo was said to be the mountain where the folktale “Kachi Kachi Yama” originated. Some have said that it is an onomatopoeia for the sound the cable car makes as it takes you up.

As the current name suggests, right at the summit, there’s a viewing deck that will give you expansive and panoramic views of Mount Fuji, all the way to the foot of the mountain. Looking at the tip of Mount Fuji, just barely breaking through the clouds is a sight to behold.

Note: This is all predicated on the visibility of the day, so be careful as sometimes it can get quite cloudy which will obstruct you having a perfect view.

Address

1163-1 AzagawaFujikawaguchiko-machi, Minamitsuru-gun 401-0303, Yamanashi Prefecture

Opening Hours

Daily from 9:30 AM – 4:40 PM

It’s nice and all to take a photo of Mount Fuji from a distance, and don’t get me wrong, you are sure to get some great shots. But sometimes, you didn’t come this far, just to get this far.

Climbing Mount Fuji is an experience and opportunity that doesn’t come every so often. From July to September is typically the climbing season, so if you happen to find yourself in Kawaguchiko during this period, it’s a sign to ascend to the top.

This climb will be an overnight one so don’t worry about waking during the wee hours of the morning. That would also mean you’ll have to book accommodations at a mountain hut as climbing in one go (bullet climbing) compromises safety.

Before the actual climb though, start off with some brunch at the 5th station some 2400m up. The 5th station is the 5th of the Fuji Subaru Line which is approximately halfway up the Yoshida Trail. There are many rest houses from which you can get a meal to fuel up before embarking on the climb.

To make the most of the day climb, we’d recommend to start climbing at about 4pm. There are plenty of scenic views and photo ops available as you ascend so take those chances to take a break. It’ll be handy to have ¥100 coins available for toilet breaks as well.

Rest up and take a good nap in one of your chosen huts and make the finish push up to the summit of Mount Fuji. The views are unparalleled and the entire experience will be the signature and highlight of your little escape to Kawaguchiko.

Day 3: Stopover at Fuji Q Highland

Your chapter at Kawaguchiko is coming to an end. And as you’re heading back to Tokyo, stop by at Fuji Q Highland for an adrenaline-filled afternoon.

There are many exhilarating rides, and I mean many, at Fuji Q Highland. From the Takabisha which happens to be the world’s steepest drop at 121 degrees to an over 3 minute roller coaster beast that is Fujiyama, your heart will sure be pumping and racing throughout.

 When you’re finally on the bus back to Tokyo, you’ll look back at Kawaguchiko and be happy that you made that trip out of the city.

Address

5-6-1 Shin NishiharaFujiyoshida 403-0017, Yamanashi Prefecture

Opening Hours

Daily from 9 AM – 6 PM

Tokyo’s Best Kept Secret: Omokagebashi Bridge

Tokyo’s Best Kept Secret: Omokagebashi Bridge

Spring in Tokyo is an ethereal sight. The weather is becoming warmer, trees have shed their winter covers, and those branches that stretch into the sky are shrouded in pink petals. Cherry Blossom, or Sakura, is Japan’s symbol and national flower. These cherry blossoms trees are deeply revered in Japanese culture as they symbolise the transient nature of life, beautiful yet fleeting.

When the season rolls round, the people of Tokyo pack picnic baskets and gather underneath the cherry blossom trees to adore and to celebrate this ephemeral phenomenon. 

Sakura hubuki, which means ‘a rainfall of cherry blossoms’ in Japanese, is exactly how Tokyo looks like in April.

On our recent trip to Tokyo, we followed goddess serendipity and chanced upon an unassuming neighbourhood near Waseda University and much to our surprise, we were literally under a Sakura Hubuki – an ornamental bloom of white, purple and pale pink surrounds Omokagebashi Bridge

The Omokagebashi Bridge is one of the little bridges that lies over the Kanda River. After getting off at the nearby eponymous tram station, we wondered at first whether we were at the right place. The immediate vicinity was a worryingly nondescript Tokyo urban neighbourhood.

Turning into a side road leading to the Kanda river, we approached Omokagebashi Bridge, and were rewarded with Sakura blossoms lining both sides of the river.

We were speechless and in awe of what we saw and concluded that this has to be the most underrated cherry blossom viewing spot in Tokyo because we could still count on our fingers the number of onlookers who briefly stopped by the bridge.

These Sakura blooms continue from Omokagebashi bridge eastwards to Edogawa bridge. However, the densest blooms can be found surrounding Omokagebashi bridge itself. The Kanda river flow was also at its most furious here, providing a nice contrast to the gently swaying petals above it. Further down towards Edogawa bridge, the blooms start to thin out, and correspondingly, the river flow slowed down to a tepid meander.

Omokagebashi Bridge’s proximity to the Waseda campus meant students didn’t have far to travel, to enjoy one of Tokyo’s best Hanami treats. The fact it wasn’t too crowded meant they weren’t too eager on sharing their secret spot. Also, the bridge has regular vehicular traffic traversing, so avid photographers would do well to take note of their surroundings.

We’ll never get over springtime in Japan; however short-lived these beauties of nature are, they will always enchant visitors from around the world to experience hanami (Cherry blossom viewing festival).

All photographs taken by Discoverist.sg.

Stay tuned for more travel stories! We are launching our youtube channel soon! 

Address

3, Nishiwaseda, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Getting There

Get on Toden Arakawa Line (Tokyo Tram) and alight at Omokagebashi Station

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Springtime Vacation

Springtime Vacation

When it comes to taking a vacation during Spring, what do you look for in a destination? Do you consider the country’s climate, traditions, family-friendly facilities and activities, or the cuisine your top priority? For me, I would like to experience colours that mother nature has to offer – crystal clear blue sky, warmer climate, trees in bloom – bidding lifeless winter goodbye. The top destination on my mind is none other than Japan, which basically has it all. 

Every Spring, the land of the rising sun put on a flower show, its visually arresting sea of pink and white has captivated hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world to experience the fleeting beauty, also known as Hanami Festival (Cherry Blossom Viewing Festival). After all, cherry blossom is Japan’s national symbol and there is even a national association for it. 

February is Japan’s coldest month. To experience the beauty of Spring in Japan, the best time to visit is between mid-March and early May. 

 

When and Where to see Cherry Blossom in Japan

Here’s a roundup on where to enjoy a sea of brilliant blossoms in Japan.

1. Kumamoto (19 Mar – 29 Mar)

Best Cherry Blossom Spots: Kumamoto Castle, Suizenji Koen

Kumamoto Castle is situated on a hilltop and one of the best cherry blossoms viewing spots ranked by the Japan Cherry Blossoms Association. The Kumamoto Castle is possibly the largest and tallest castle in Japan. There are close to 800 cherry blossom trees within the castle grounds. The soft pink blooms contrast against the distinctively striking black facade of the castle is definitely an insta-worthy sight. 

Photograph by krylpaez via Instagram

2. Fukuoka (22 Mar – 29 Mar)

Best Cherry Blossom Spots: Fukuoka’s Atago Shrine, Uminonakamichi Seaside Park

Uminonakamichi Seaside Park is a popular cherry blossom viewing spot among families with children. There is an amusement park with rides and games within the same vicinity. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a charming and peaceful location to enjoy Hanami, try Fukuoka’s Atago Shrine which offers panoramic vistas of Fukuoka city from the top of the hill. 

 

Photo source: Tokyo Penguin

3. Hiroshima (24 Mar – 31 Mar)

Best Cherry Blossom Spots: Hijiyama Park, Miyajima Island

Besides the ever-popular Five-Storied Pagoda on Mijiyama Island, Hiroshima, try Hijiyama Park which offers a panoramic view of the city. For the culture buff and art lovers, there is a library and Japan’s first public modern art museum within the park. 

 

Photograph by pegasus.sa via Instagram

4. Osaka (28 Mar – 3 Apr)

Best Cherry Blossom Spots: Osaka Castle, Kema Sakuranomiya Park

Like many others, you’ll probably be at Osaka Castle grounds. We recommend making your way down to Kema Sakuranomiya Park, which is approximately a 30-minute ride from Morinomiya Station (nearest station to Osaka Castle) on JR Osaka line. Located on the river terrace between Kema Araizeki and Temmabashi Bridge, Kema Sakuranomiya Park has close to 5,000 cherry blossom trees. You can also choose to go on a mini cruise along the river to take in the sights of endless blooming trees. 

 

5. Kyoto (25 Mar – 2 Apr)

Best Cherry Blossom Spots: Heian Shrine, Maruyama Park

Heian Shrine was built in 1895 to commemorate the founding of Kyoto, formerly known as Heian. The premise was inspired by the Imperial Palace.

Photograph by starza_shine via Instagram

6. Nagoya (22 Mar – 1 Apr)

Best Cherry Blossom Spots: Yamazakigawa Riverside, Inuyama Castle

If you’re in Nagoya, don’t miss Yamazakigawa Riverside, one of the top 100 cherry blossom viewing locations ranked by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association. Hundreds of cherry blossom trees in bloom like pink fluffy clouds massing over the Yamazakigawa river banks, it is definitely an insta-worthy sight! 

 

Photograph by tucko.paripari via Instagram

7. Kanazawa (4 May – 8 May)

Best Cherry Blossom Spots: Kanazawa Castle, Kenrokuen Garden

A famous landmark in Kanazawa, the castle is also home to 400 cherry blossom trees. Apart from the sweeping views of cherry blossom trees, explore the rich heritage of Kanazawa and feel as if you have travelled back to the days of the Samurai.

Photograph by c.o.m.2345 via Instagram

8. Tokyo (21 Mar – 2 Apr)

Best Cherry Blossom Spots: Shinjuku Goen, Cherry Trees Alley at Yanaka Cemetery

For a serene and peaceful cherry blossom viewing experience, we recommend a trip to the cherry trees alley at Yanaka Cemetery. 

 

Photograph by mui._______.mui via Instagram

9. Sendai (9 Apr – 14 Apr)

Best Cherry Blossom Spots: Mikamine Park, Tsutsujigaoka Park

Located in central Sendai, Tsutsujigaoka Park is one of the most popular nature parks in Sendai boasting a variety of cherry blossoms, which creates a multi-coloured canopy at full bloom. 

 

Photograph by vickihung via Instagram

10. Hokkaido (4 May – 8 May)

Best Cherry Blossom Spots: Matsumae Park, Goryokaku (Hakodate)

Possibly one of the best cherry blossom spots in Hokkaido, the Goryokaku in Hakodate city. The star-shaped citadel is decorated with hundreds of cherry trees which is a spectacular sight to behold when seen from the top of Goryokaku Tower. 

 

Photograph by momochen0628 via Instagram

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The Splendid Urban Night Views of Japan

The Splendid Urban Night Views of Japan

“The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” 

  ― G.K. Chesterton 

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve arrived in Japan to be a tourist or a traveller.

When you have boarded the flight to Japan, you’d already know that this is going to be a never-ending love affair. No matter if you’re solo or coupled up, Japan will always keep you entertained and mesmerised.

The land of impeccable manners, ingenious inventions and gastronomical delights beckon globetrotters around the world to return time after time – very possibly to gaze again at the cityscape from a favourite vantage point. And what satisfaction! Under the night skies, you’ll feel like the luckiest person alive, yet also utterly insignificant, compared to the dazzling metropolis laid out beneath.

Here are three cities in Japan that know how to put on a show when the night falls.

NAGASAKI 

Offering possibly the most spectacular night views in Japan, Nagasaki’s Mount Inasa (Inasa-yama), is a mountain with a height of 333 meters above sea level, and a popular landmark. It is also a mountain-top recreation park, featuring a glass observatory dome, gift shop, restaurants, hiking trails and public amenities.

The glass observatory dome at the top of Mount Inasa offers a 360-degree view of the city surrounded by the mountains and the sea.

Take the 5-minute ropeway ride to the summit in the evening and watch Nagasaki bay transformed into a shimmering ocean of lights.

Try to get there before the sunset, as there is usually a long queue. The ropeway ride departs every 15 to 20 minutes.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can trek up the mountain via the hiking trails.

Getting There

Public Transport (Bus) from JR Nagasaki station:

Nagasaki Bus 3 or 4 (bound for Shimohashi) approximately 7 minutes journey and alight at Nagasaki Ropeway Bus Stop. Walk to the Fuchi Shrine Station to take the ropeway ride.

Nagasaki Ropeway Ride Tickets (Fuchi Shrine Station to Inasa Dake Station)

  • Return ticket: 1,230 yen (adult)
  • One-way ticket: 720 yen (adult)

Operating Hours: 09:00 – 22:00
*Operating hours may change subject to weather or other conditions.

By Car:
Parking is available at the summit of Mount Inasa (100 yen).
The car ride from Nagasaki Station takes roughly 15 minutes, while a taxi ride costs around 2,000 yen one way.

 

The Essentials

Before you embark on a trip to Mt Inasa, check the weather forecast to avoid disappointment. On a fine day, the outdoor observatory gets crowded despite the inhospitable wind, so do bring along a jacket to keep warm.

TOKYO

When in Tokyo, you’d be spoilt for choices on where to catch the sunset and witness its magnificent night views and of course, the classic Mt. Fuji. If you follow the crowds, you’re apt to end up at Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, and Sky Circus Sunshine 60 Observatory

These are popular choices for shutterbugs, but for truly spectacular shots that encompasses more landmarks – including Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, and the Ferris Wheel amidst the urban sprawl – we recommend these three vantage points in Southern Tokyo.

1. Telecom Center Observatory 

Tokyo Bay is a futuristic, man-made island and Odaiba is the shopping and entertainment district of said island. The Odaiba’s Rainbow Bridge and the Ferris Wheel are the two iconic structures which make up the Tokyo Bay’s skyline.

The Telecom Center in Odaiba houses an observatory at the 21st floor. Treat yourself to a glittering view of the skyline at Telecom Center Observatory in the evening. You can see Odaiba’s Rainbow Bridge and Ferris Wheel, as well as the Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower, all set to a backdrop of the glittering lights of Tokyo city.

Photo by okami._.chan on Instagram

Getting There

• The nearest station to Telecom Center Observatory is Telecom Center Station on the Yurikamome Line from Shimbashi Station (17 minutes).
• If you’re visiting Odaiba, take Rinkai Line and alight at Tokyo Teleport Station followed by a 10-minute walk to the Telecom Center Observatory.

Observation Deck:
15:00 to 21:00 (weekdays)
11:00 to 21:00 (weekends and national holidays)
Closed: Mondays (following day if Monday is a holiday)

Admission fee: 500 yen

Photo by HOK

The Telecom Center which resembles the Grande Arche of France is impossible to miss.

2. Roppongi Hills Mori Tower

Roppongi is a vibrant neighbourhood peppered with affluent mixed-use developments such as luxury hotels, offices, art galleries and restaurants. The locals call it “a city within a city’’ and it’s the go-to district if you’re looking to party all night. It has since undergone a cultural renaissance to become Tokyo’s art and design hub with some of the world’s finest museums and art centres.

Roppongi Hills Mori Tower is a mixed-use skyscraper featuring Mori Art Museum and Tokyo City View Observatory from the 52nd floor onwards. If you think the view from the Tokyo Skytree is nice, try going to Tokyo City View and Sky Deck Observatory in the evening, and it is times ten.

There are two observation decks within Roppongi Hills Mori Tower namely the Tokyo City View (Indoor) and the Rooftop Sky Deck (Outdoor).

Tokyo City View is the indoor observatory deck which sits on the 52nd floor, and there is a newly furbished all-day dining lounge ‘The Moon’, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows on the same level. A perfect place to enjoy exotic cocktails and escape from the hubbub down below, as the city turns into a dreamy scene of sparkling lights. After a toast to your vacation, head up to the Rooftop Sky Deck for a 360-degree heart-stopping view of the megacity.

We recommend getting the tickets to Mori Art Museum and spend the day admiring some of the finest contemporary art exhibitions in Asia before heading to the Tokyo City View Observatory Deck to catch the sunset. 

Photo by jinception on Instagram
Photo by ktweel on Instagram

Getting There

  • From Tokyo Station, take Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line to Kasumigaseki, and transfer to Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line for Roppongi.
  • If you’re coming from Shinjuku Station, get on Toei Oedo Line (9 minutes) and alight at Roppongi Station.

Tokyo City View Indoor Observation Deck:
10:00 to 23:00 (weekdays and national holidays)
Last Admission at 22:30

10:00 to 01:00 (Fridays, Saturdays, Eve of Holidays)
Last Admission at 24:00

Admission fee: 1800 yen (adult) *Ticket is valid for Mori Art Museum

Rooftop Sky Deck:
11:00 to 20:00 (Monday to Sunday)
Last Admission at 19:30

Admission fee: 500 yen (adult)

*Ticket holders of Mori Art Museum, Tokyo City View, or Mori Arts Center Gallery may enter the Sky Deck with additional fee.

The Essentials

Access to the Rooftop Sky Deck is subject to inclement weather. It is imperative that you check the weather forecast to avoid disappointment. Do bring along a jacket as it gets chilly at the rooftop sky deck after sunset.

3. Park Tokyo Hotel

For holidaymakers looking for a hotel with a splendid view, try the 4-star Park Tokyo Hotel – and you won’t be disappointed. Savour a postcard-perfect vista of Tokyo Skyline right in the comfort and privacy of your room. The view is unforgettable, especially at night, when the iconic Tokyo Tower comes on –and you find yourself hypnotized by tiny vehicles rushing along tangled lines of streets creating twisting threads of light like fleeting fireworks. In the morning, you’ll wake up to a sunlit metropolis with Mount Fuji on the horizon.

Getting There

  • The nearest station to Park Hotel Tokyo is Shimbashi Station (JR Yamanote Line).
  • If you’re coming from Narita Airport Station, take the Sky Liner to Nippori Station then change to JR Yamanote Line and alight at Shimbashi Station. From there it is a 7-minute walk to Park Hotel Tokyo.

The Essentials

Park Hotel Tokyo is co-located in Shiodome Media Tower, the center of business and culture. The hotel lobby is at the 25th floor of Shiodome Media Tower. There are 270 guest rooms, located from the 26th to 34th floors.

Photo by _kherojj on Instagram
Photo by walking0ncloud9 on Instagram

HAKODATE

It is not apocryphal when every traveller you meet on the road sing praises of Hakodate’s panoramic vistas from Mount Hakodate (Hakodate-yama). Ranked as the number one must-do when in Hakodate City, Mount Hakodate is a mountain with a height of 334meters above sea level, renowned for its breath-taking views of the port city from its open-air observatory deck.

The world-famous ‘Million Dollar View’ under the inky black sky is an incredible sight to behold. After dusk, the peninsula turns into a map of glittering constellations that will leave you in awe, emerging with a new perspective and a deep sense of gratitude (#blessed).

Take the 3-minute ropeway ride to the summit before sunset. The ropeway ride departs every 15 to 20 minutes. If you love to dine with a view, head to Restaurant Genova. Try to get a table by the windows for the best experience.

And here’s a tip from the locals: there are three katakana letters “ハート” which form the Japanese word for ”Heart” that surfaces on the illuminated skyline. See if you can spot them! Legend has it that couples who have seen them will have their wishes granted. 

 

Getting There

Public Transport (Bus) from JR Hakodate station:

Go to Bus Stop No. 4. Look for the shuttle bus. It is a one-way journey (approximately 10 minutes) to Hakodate Ropeway station.   

Hakodateyama Ropeway Ride Tickets

  • Return ticket: 1280 yen (adult)
  • One-way ticket: 780 yen (adult)

Operating Hours: 10:00 – 22:00
*Operating hours may change subject to weather or other conditions.

By Car:

Limited Parking Space at the observatory deck. 
The car ride from Hakodate Station takes roughly 20 minutes, while a taxi
 ride costs around 3,500 yen one way.

The Essentials

Before you embark on a trip to Mount Hakodate, check the weather forecast to avoid disappointment. The open-air observatory can get chilly, so bringing along a jacket is a good idea. 

The window seats in Restaurant Genova are usually reserved in advance, so be sure to call ahead for a table at least a week before your trip. 

Photo by bbong_a on Instagram
Photo by walking0ncloud9 on Instagram
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Finally, travel can make and maintain a sense of wonder that drives everything in a better direction. Now, what are you waiting for?

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For sake’s Sake: the History of sake in Five Stages

For sake’s Sake: the History of sake in Five Stages

I’m a teetotaller, but I make an exception for sake. Admittedly, this propensity might be due to my rose-tinted glasses more than an appreciation of the drink itself. I first tried sake on a windy winter night in Nara, Japan. Desiring to have dinner at an eatery that wasn’t another outlet of a chain restaurant found across the whole of Japan, I wandered around the alleys of Nara, deliberately avoiding the main shopping street.

It was a good—or rather, bad—forty-five minutes spent with a leaky nose and numb ears before I stumbled upon a tiny, one-woman café. Upon stepping foot into it, I felt like I was entering the kitchen of a friend. It was a small space, barely larger than a typical HDB bedroom, but that was exactly what I was looking for. (Unfortunately, as this trip took place more than five years ago, I can’t recall the name of the café, and have no idea if it is still operating today.)

The friendly proprietor noticed me shivering and offered me a glass of sake before I had even taken off my jacket. Feeling too polite to refuse it and too illiterate to explain in Japanese that I don’t drink, I took a sip. A fruity sweetness filled my mouth and I was immediately warmed from within.  

That memory has stayed with me since, and whenever I drink sake now, my mind transports me back to that warm kitchen of Japanese hospitality, sheltered against the biting cold outside.

Sake, I was pleased to discover, plays a similarly ceremonial and symbolic role in the lives of Japanese people. They call “sake” “nihonshu” in their language, which means 日本酒 or “Japanese liquor”, suggesting a pride in sake’s Japanese provenance, one that distinguishes it from “ordinary”  liquor.

Indeed, sake is the only alcoholic beverage to be used in many traditional Japanese festivals and ceremonies. For instance, sake is offered to Shinto gods, and is called omiki (お神酒) when used for this purpose. After the offering, omiki is drunk by propitiators to purify themselves and pray for good fortune the following year. During the New Year, a special sake called toso, which is blended with a mixture of herbs and medicines, is consumed to purify oneself of the previous year’s illnesses.

Sake even has a specific earthenware vessel in which to serve it and porcelain cup from which to drink it, called the tokkuri and sakazuki respectively.

“How did the Japanese develop such a rich tradition around sake? How did sake come about in the first place?”

The history of sake can be segmented, very roughly, into five broad phases.

The Earliest Drinks & Drunks

The first brewing of sake, as a liquor fermented from rice, naturally coincided when the cultivation of rice took root in Japan. But the first mention of sake in recorded history occurred centuries later, in a third-century Chinese history book known as the Book of Wei. In it, the author describes how the Japanese have “fondness for sake” and dancing—clearly, some practices endure across millennia and cultures.

The Japanese have their own accounts of sake drinking and brewing as well. The existence of alcoholic beverages was first mentioned in the Kojiki, a chronicle of Japan’s history that was compiled in 712. Similarly, the Fudoki, a report of ancient Japan’s culture and geography that is presented to the Japanese emperor as a sort of survey of his lands, details sake 

brewing methods using rice and mould stretching all the way back to the eighth century. These records tell us that sake is almost 2000 years old—or even older!

Sake Becomes Religious

Just as Trappist monasteries brew their world-famous Trappist beer within their religious grounds, so do Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples with sake. This practice started in the 10th century, and continued for the next 500 years.

In fact, these religious institutions were the main breweries of sake during this period, and were responsible for many of the modern brewing practices that are still being used today, such as pasteurisation and the multiple parallel fermentation process necessary for the rice in starch to be converted into sugar. 

These procedures are recorded in Tamon-in Diary, a 15th-to-17th century diary written by abbots of the Tamon-in temple who wanted to preserve the steps of sake brewing. (This is one religious text that I would want to pore over carefully.)

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The Sake Boom

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 modernised virtually the entire socio-political structure of Japan, and the brewing of sake was one beneficiary of it. During this period, the laws regarding sake brewery operation were relaxed: as long as you possessed enough capital and technical knowledge, you could open your own sake brewery. 

Taking advantage of these lax laws, the number of sake breweries exploded exponentially, with 30,000 opening in just a year. Most of the successful breweries that still exist today were founded by landowners, who could use their surplus rice harvest as raw material for their sake breweries—perhaps the first Japanese conglomerates.

The dawning of the 20th century also modernised sake brewing techniques. In 1904, a sake-brewing research institute was founded by the Japanese government, which allowed advances in yeast and mould cultivation and selection. The wooden barrel in which sake was traditionally left to mature was replaced by enamel tanks, which the Japanese government promoted as more hygienic and efficient (as sake is less prone to evaporate in it). Sake was also bottled first the first time, allowing it to be transported further without spoiling.

The Sake Bust

The boom years never last. Realising how much tax revenue they could gain from the sake-brewing industry, the Japanese government started to impose an increasingly high amount of tax. From a high of more than 30,000 breweries, the number of breweries fell to around 10,000 by 1920 as they were gradually squeezed out of the industry by the high tax rate. In addition, home-brewed sake, which was then a popular pastime, was banned by the government because they rationalised that they could not collect tax from these private pursuits.

Compounding these pressures was the outbreak of World War II. The agricultural industry was devastated by the war, and rice supplies plummeted to the extent that there was a shortage of rice. The government prioritised rice as a food staple, and imposed heavy restrictions on the use of rise for sake brewing. 

The silver lining of this hardship, however, is that the resourceful sake brewers of that time realised that adding pure alcohol to the sake-brewing process not only increases the output of sake, it also enhances and extracts flavours from the rice mash.  

 

Photograph by momoramenhh via Instagram
While this technique was known since the 17th century, it was only because of the scarcity of rice during the war that it began to be used on a wider basis. 

 

For Today’s Sake

Post-war Japan experienced the same the globalisation of economies and trade everywhere. Imported beer and wine poured into Japan, and, in the 1960s, for the first time in its 2,000-year history, consumption of sake fell beneath that of beer.

Still, this statistic does not spell the end of sake. Paradoxically, because they do not have to focus on churning out huge volumes of sake, sake brewers today have the luxury of investing their time in more artisanal brewing methods, such as revitalising old fermentation recipes or simply as a means of refining the quality of their sake.

While sake consumption in Japan has decreased because of global trade, the converse holds true as well. People outside Japan (like me) who encounter sake for the first time in the 21st century have begun to develop a taste for it; correspondingly, sake exports from Japan have experienced a year-on-year increase. To keep up with burgeoning demand, sake breweries are even being set up overseas in countries like China and across Southeast Asia, Europe, and America. 

For our sake—and sake’s sake—let’s hope that this 2,000-year-old tradition and liquor continues enjoying its current global popularity. To this end, keep the 1st of October free in your calendar: it’s the official Sake Day in Japan, and what better way to celebrate it than enjoying a glass of sake with your friends and family. For me, while I sip my sake, I will give silent thanks to the chef whose kitchen I shared, and who warmed me up with a glass of sake on that cold night—and also to the sake itself, which has forged this bond, if temporary, between two strangers.

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