Japan

Japan 2017 ~ Hakone/Lake Kawaguchiko

STAY:

Apr 3-4 SengoKuhara Prince Hotel

This hotel is right beside a golf course, off Hakone town, they provide free bus shuttle service to nearest train station at specific timings. The hotel is big, and has a resort feel, it has fantastic views of golf course as well as the mountains nearby. It’s a non-smoking hotel which I like and which is rare to find in Japan.

We booked the Superior Twin Room, the cheapest one but it is already a generous 29sqm room. (Actually it feels bigger than that) The bath/toilet/closet/vanity area is on a higher level than the actual bedroom which is pretty unique in Japan. I like that the balcony has great view of the golf course and mountains. Everywhere we go, we had to ask for extra adaptors for our charging needs(we only have one travel adaptor and we have so many handphones/laptop/ipad/powerbanks). This modern room has 2 USB charging point at the bedside which is great for us. They provide us 2 pillows each, one hard, one soft for your own picking.

Do note due to its secluded location, there is not much choices of food nearby, so do plan your breakfasts and dinner ahead if you don’t intend to eat at the hotel. We tried the hotel dinner buffet(bec we had no choice) and it was really not worth the hefty price we paid for.

That said, the onsen here was awesome! It has open air as well as indoor, I will share more about it below but their onsen was my first public onsen experience. The price? about S$250 a night.

Apr 4-6 La Vista Fujikawaguchiko (pic credit: Booking.com)

One word WOW! This hotel impresses from the moment you stepped in. We were ushered into the lobby while a lady helps with the luggage(I’m very surprise that in Japan they do not have bellboys to do that, so far, it has always been a female who helped us with our luggage). Like always, I walked straight to the front desk to check in, but instead I was shown to a seat on the sofa and within seconds, another lady brought in 4 glasses of welcome drink and beckon us to have it. It was a warm citron drink which was simply lovely and delicious. My kids didn’t like it so I had 2 haha.

As I drank my lovely citron drink, another lady squatted next to me and start to explain the hotel facilities and details of my stay etc. After giving me a map, keys and all the instructions, she showed us how to get to our rooms. Ok we still have to take our own luggage to the room, there is no porter service here (or anywhere I’ve been in Japan so far). But they do make me feel like VVIP from the moment I enter so I would give their service a very high rating.

I booked the quadruple room with Mt Fuji View and my room looks identical to the pics shown above. It was a humongous room by any Japanese standards (57sqm). There are 4 twin beds, with 2 beds separated in another room. Toilet separated from the bath area, double vanity, shower area and a heart-shaped onsen bath as seen above. (just that I only have a small window to see Mt Fuji not the full length one as shown.) as well as a living area and a balcony to see fabulous Mt Fuji in. (Pic below: View of Mt Fuji from our room balcony)

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Full amenities are provided, standard and extra. They provided drip coffee which you have to grind the beans yourself, I thought it was a unique experience. Even though I don’t drink coffee I had fun grinding the beans for Alan. Below is the pic of the cute little grinder (Alan wanted to bring it home)

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Closet space is limited however as it is full with the Japanese robes they provided for you to wear in the hotel(if you want) plus 4 baskets of whatever is needed for you to go to the onsen for a bath. Slippers everywhere, they have slippers for the room, slippers for the toilet and bath and slippers that you can wear to walk around the hotel, multiply that by 4.

It is a really lovely place and especially good if you drive here, yeah parking is FREE! But if you don’t they do provide free bus shuttle to Kawaguchiko train station at specific timings. Price is steeped since its mostly half-board(ie buffet breakfast and fine dining dinner inclusive) so they charge by person rather than by room. So for our room type is more of a suite than a room, *drum rolls* its a hefty S$1,000 a night for 4 of us. But everyone is really pleased with the room and the food(fine dining would easily cost us S$100 a person per meal) and we see Mt Fuji whenever we look out our window. *consoles and justifies self* But seriously I still think its worth it.

PLAY:

Apr 3 Sumida River/Self-Drive/Hakone

On our return trip from Nikko, we stop at Tokyo Skytree station instead of Asakusa because its nearer to where we were to pick up our car for our next leg of our trip.  Pic below Tokyo Skytree.

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Since we heard the cherry tree started blossoming while we were away, we decided to walk to the nearby Sumida river to view it before heading south to Hakone. We stored out luggage at the train station and with the help of a female attendant standing at the station, we found our way to Sumida River which is only a short distance away.

The cherry blossom trees lined the river and it was bustling with people and from the pic you can see the locals enjoying snacks sitting underneath the cherry blossoms tree and by the river. The weather was cool enough to enjoy such activity under the sun.

After a brief walk, we took a subway a stop away to our car pickup location(I think it would have been better if we just walked there). I had to use google map to guide us to the Toyota Car Rental. Once there, the pickup was actually a breeze(details of car rental and self-driving experience covered in this post). We were given a Toyota Sienta which is a boxy mini wagon but it was sufficient for 4 of us. This little car will serve us for our trip to Hakone and Lake Kawaguchiko for the next few days.

Apr 4

Hakone Venetian Glass Museum

This place is less than 10 minutes drive from our hotel in Hakone. They opened at 10am, which is great for us since my family are not early risers. It is actually a very small garden like glass museum but the glass trees and exhibits are very pretty to look at. Alan adores this place and took lots of pics of the exhibits while the kids are enthralled with the ducks here. The souvenir shop is packed with enticing gifts for you to buy but I had to discouraged my kids from buying since it will be a hassle to bring home since its so fragile. Admission fee is 1,500yen per adult around S$19 for us at current exchange rate.

Bonus:

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This pic is taken from outside the glass museum as pointed by the car park attendant. The smoke that can be seen is where the famous Owadukani Boiling Valley is.

Ashinoko Skyline Drive

This is a toll road that cost about 600yen and its pretty short at around 10km but it is a very scenic road to drive. It basically runs parallel to Lake Ashi and has splendid views of the Lake and on a clear day Mount Fuji. Truly Mount Fuji felt it was right in front of us when we viewed it here. (except for some clouds which obstructed our view ^^;) We all love this short drive and we had a lunch rest stop along the way at a family restaurant with equally fantastic viewing points. Pics below show Mt Fuji view from different viewing points as well as resident goat in front of the family restaurant we ate. The food is good but most people seems to come here for the ice-cream though we didn’t try it.

 

Mishima Skywalk

This is a pretty new attraction, it is basically a 400m scenic bridge walk. It was very windy when we were there and it is very crowded. You basically lined up and walk across on one side of the bridge and make a return on the other side. Mt Fuji view is purported to excellent on good clear days, but it wasn’t on ours. There was to be a nice garden cafe to rest and eat in but we can’t find it and no one was really interested in it so, it was just touch and go for us. There was an event when we were there however, where you pay 200yen to buy a seed and then throw it over the bridge to help grow the trees there. We bought the seeds and brought it home haha.

 

 

 

Apr 5

My son’s friends were also in Japan at the same time, and they decided to join us today for a tour together on a tiny 7 seater car. We are a family of 4 and there were 4 of them so it was quite a squeeze. So I planned places to visit that are pretty short drives away.

Kawaguchiko Station

This is not an attraction but we came here to pick up the 4 boys who were travelling from Tokyo all the way here just to join us on a day tour in our tiny little rented car. But I would just like to say a few things about this station.

It is a small station BUT it is supercrowded! There are tourists queuing everywhere, either they are queuing for the tour bus outside, or they are queuing to buy train/tour tickets, or waiting for the next train etc. This is so since this is like the the stop where most sightseeing tours start for Mount Fuji and surrounds. And add all the surround hotel bus shuttles for the guests, this place is packed to the brim!

They have a carpark with free parking for first 30mins if you are there to pick up friends like us. And to add, you get to see Mt Fujisan in the background. It is a very busy, bustling place, when I look at it, I’m so glad we chose to drive.

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(photo credit on pic.)

Fuji Kachoen

It’s slightly more than half an hour drive from Kawaguchiko Train station to Fuji Kachoen. It is not a major tourist stop but more for locals which we really like. But we are really here for the owls. There are sooo many varieties and everyone adults and kids alike spent a good deal of time snapping photos after photos of these night creatures.

Above pics are just a few of the many that we’ve seen and there’s more. There were penguins/birds/bunnies/flamingoes and for most of them you can freely touch them and interact with them. The big boys and girl couldn’t get enough of them!

They have a bird show out in the open, yep you get to see Mt Fujisan as the backdrop too. They have an internal controlled garden of Begonias and other flowers that will bloom all seasons.

Admission at 1,100yen per adult is pretty cheap if you ask me, interaction with the owls like petting them or taking a photo is not free, its 500yen per person and only at specified timings. I would actually highly recommend this garden if you are self-driving here.

Ice Cave

I chose this cave as opposed to the wind cave nearby for 2 reasons, it has a shorter route about 7mins and ice cave sounds cooler than wind cave, bad choice. Although the route is shorter, it was way harder and more slippery. The guy who sold me the tickets at the entrance was very friendly and gave us discounts because we are foreigners. Then we were handed helmets. I thought the helmets were just pre-cautionary since we are entering a cave. Well they are not, they are NECESSARY! Alan bumped his head at least thrice and was thankful that we had helmets. The entrance to the cave was like any other caves we’ve been to, with steps leading you down, but as  we went in, it became slippery(ok its an ice cave) and narrower and narrower. I was right in front of everyone else and when I reach the point where it became so narrow where you’ll have to crouch/bend and use your hand to squeeze through, I was like standing there, thinking to myself, should I just turn back? But behind, the people were just coming through one by one so I had to tell myself I can do this and push myself forward. Behind me, I can hear voices moaning, “wait what is this?” “no I cannot do this” “this isn’t the kind of thing for me” ^^;;; the narrow part wasn’t that long but it seems forever as you try to navigate through it. My poor girl was so scared she cried. And the big boys some of them more than 1.8m tall actually made it through with much difficulty. Phew this was quite a challenge. I cannot tell you how much damage it made to my already weakened knees because of past injury, the pain persisted for a long while after this adventure. So if you are physically strong and brave, go ahead and try this if not, you can sit this one out or try the milder wind cave nearby. (Note: Sightseeing buses from Kawaguchiko station does not stop at ice cave but there is one that stops at wind cave.)

First 2 pics credit to: Mt-Fuji-cave.com and last pic credit to:GajingoJapan

Kawaguchiko Music Forest Museum

This is another pretty little themed garden very similar to Hakone glass museum only that is it music-themed. I printed the coupon for  a 100yen discount off the admission from the website only to find out later, that La Vista Hotel had a better discount for it. So if you are coming here and staying at La Vista, do get the discount pamphlet at the front office. Sightseeing buses from Kawaguchiko station stops here too if you are not driving.

There is a small musical fountain that comes alive every hours faithfully. The museum showcases music boxes as well as automated musical instruments. Try and imagine a mini-orchestra boxed up into one automated machine. It was a unique experience, they have many concerts held there, we went there late but we attended two demonstrations-one which they speaker spoke too fast and we couldn’t catch a single thing(good thing they had it flash out in English on a wall behind) and the second one, the presenter spoke so slowly that we almost want to fall asleep. But it is interesting to see all the rare music boxes as well as the automated musical instruments which most of them we’ll probably never come across with. Some of them are for sale at the shop but their prices are mind-boggling(because it is ancient and rare)

Admission price is 1,300yen which is pretty steep. That said, we also missed a fantastic music sand art show too. Sigh….

EAT:

Ok this is probably one of those rare times where you see me posting about food. Since we have half board at La Vista Fujikawaguchiko, ie dinner and breakfast was included but what I didn’t know was it was to be fine dining dinner. But wait don’t worry, you don’t have to wear formally for the dinner, not here, you can even don their in house robes and slippers and eat your fine dining dinner casually, yep you can. We stayed 2 nights here so we had French for 1st night and Japanese for 2nd night. They had 2 seatings for the dinner, one at 5:20pm(which is early) and the other at 7:50pm(which is really late). But they have snack/refreshments from 6:00pm if you are feeling hungry before your late dinner and also free ramen snack from 10:00-11:00pm if you are still hungry from the early dinner seating. For both, we took the 7:50pm seating and since we spent whole day out sightseeing, we didn’t took advantage of the free before dinner snack nor the free ramen midnight supper as we finished our dinner at around 10:00pm.

French dining course

For this course, the noodles/pasta and dessert was the best for me but the cold soup was memorable since I’ve never taken cold soup before.

Japanese dining course

For the first course, it actually came hidden in a big box(very much similar to those you see in Masterchef Australia mystery box haha). The sakura rice(second pic) was really special and nice, tempura was an assortment of vegetables which I can’t even name. The sashimi is fresh but still I love my desserts.

For the french course it took us almost 2 hours to complete, Japanese course was slightly better. Breakfast was buffet style with pretty good spread of Japanese and western selections. Can I say the croissants are really good? My girl loves their potato salad the most. And I have to say, everywhere we go in Japan, the tomatoes are the freshest and juiciest I have ever tasted.

EXTRAS:

Onsen Experience

I have to share this since this is my first public onsen experience after nth times of visiting Japan. As stated above, I tried the public onsen in Sengokuhara Hakone Prince Hotel. The onsen opens from 5am, since I am an early riser, I thought there would be few or hopefully none at all at the onsen bath so I would feel less awkward. I put on the robes provided and made my way to the female onsen. When I stepped in, there were already 2 person at the bath, okay not so bad. I quickly changed into the slippers provided, put my shoes in the locker then headed to the toilet to get ready. When I came out, there was another lady getting ready to go to the onsen and I realise I will probably be the only one who goes to the toilet to get ready. Because the locals just strip there outside the lockers ^^; (btw I still have my bathrobe on) I’m sure they knew I’m not local hahaha. There is an indoor onsen as well as an outdoor one (sample pics below provided by hotel since we can’t take any pictures in an onsen)

I was trying to decide which one to go since the temperature is still low, the outdoor one would be cold but then there was no one in the outdoor one so I bravely went to the outdoor onsen. It was brrrrrr COLD(outside temp is now about 2deg)…but the onsen bath was ahhhhh HOT(onsen bath temp is about 40-43deg). I dipped my feet in to let my body slowly adjust to the hot onsen while my upper body is expose to the brrrrr freezing cold. But all is BLISS when you immersed yourself fully in the onsen, I can feel all my muscles relaxing…its that good. I usually suffers from stiff neck and back muscles and it causes me great pain and discomfort. And in my trip to Japan, I couldn’t adjust to their low and flat pillows which puts a strain on my neck, I have to use pain relief gel for it. But after a soak(roughly about only 5mins) my body feels so relaxed! As swiftly as I entered in, swiftly and quietly I exited. It was an awesome experience and I think after this, I would dare to go to Japan public onsen again.(still under certain conditions like in the wee hours of morning hahaha) So do give it a try when you are in Japan and you are not the shy type.

La Vista has great onsen too, it even has individual private onsen bath for use without the need for reservation, as long as its vacant, you can just pop in and lock the door and enjoy the onsen to yourself without getting embarrassed. (Alan’s feedback was however that it is not as clean as the public onsen bath.) I did not use the public onsen bath at La Vista since I have a private onsen bath in my room with a view and I have my soak in my own privacy for the 2 nights I’m there. Even my son enjoys a good hot onsen bath soak. I am seriously considering to install a bath tub in my home after this.

 

 

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