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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Chugoku (Sanyo + San-in) 2015 日本中国 (山阴+山阳) - Mihara JR Station 三原駅, Setouchi Marine View 瀬戸内マリンビュー

Travelled 18.04.2015 (Sat)

Setouchi Marine View making a brief stop at Kure JR Station.
Long overdue review but train still in operation. I was extremely fascinated by the various themed trains offered by JR West while researching for my itinerary. On the day of arrival in Japan, I was able to secure seats for two of them - Setouchi Marine View and SL Yamaguchi. Despite this being a long overdue post (almost three years later), I have checked that both themed trains are currently still in operation.

Setouchi Marine View (瀬戸内マリンビュー), is a sightseeing train which commutes between Hiroshima (広島駅) and Mihara (三原駅) via Kure line (呉線). This train only operates on weekends and public holidays, with only one return trip made per day.
  • Setouchi Marine View 1: Hiroshima > Mihara
  • Setouchi Marine View 2: Mihara > Hiroshima
For the latest Setouchi Marine View operating schedule (till Jun 2018):
  • Setouchi Marine View 1: Hiroshima (1002 hrs) > Mihara (1226 hrs)
  • Setouchi Marine View 2: Mihara (1426 hrs) > Hiroshima (1704 hrs)


Mihara is an "octopus" town.
As Kure line runs alongside Seto Inland Sea, train journey is particularly well known for its panoramic view of the stretch of waterway separating Honshu from Shikoku. Apart from the terminus stations - Hiroshima (広島駅) and Mihara (三原駅), Setouchi Marine View train also stops at Tadanoumi (忠海駅), Takehara (竹原駅) and Kure (呉駅), located along Kure line.
  • Mihara (三原駅): At and around the train station, many pictorial representations and statues of octopus can be spotted. Waters around Mihara city are excellent breeding grounds for octopus and octopus fishing has flourished here since Edo Period. Apart from being known as an "octopus' town, the current train station also sits on the remains of Mihara Castle. After exiting from the Shinkansen ticket gates, you will see signages to an exit where visitors can see the remains of the castle foundation (which has been converted into a public park) and its surrounding moat. 
  • Tadanoumi (忠海駅): Tadanoumi Port is about 7 minutes walk away from the train station. Ferry departs from this port to Okunoshima (大久野島), which is famously known as the "rabbit" island. This small island, where rabbits are the primary inhabitant, has been on the limelight for quite some time and was featured on numerous travel programs. Other than cuddling with the furry adorable animals, visitors can also learn more about the role played by Okunoshima during WWII in the Poison Gas Museum (大久野島毒ガス資料館). Ferry schedule:
  • Takehara (竹原駅): About 15 minutes walk away from the train station is Takehara Preservation District of Important Historical Buildings (竹原町並み保存地区). Once flourished as a salt industry in the Edo Period, old buildings from the era have been retained as cultural property for future generation to appreciate. 
Imaging yourself cruising on the sea - the purpose of these portholes found in the train carriage.

Comfortable sofa seats. 
Cruise or train? Setouchi Marine View is made up of two train carriages. First carriage comprises of reserved seating while the second carriage is free-seating. For my trip, I sat on Setouchi Marine View 2 which departed from Mihara for Hiroshima. When the train pulled into the station, I was immediately attracted to its beautiful and luxurious looking exterior - blue and white outlook decorated with oars and life buoys on the front. Inside the train, the wood parquet flooring, sofa seats and cosy lighting created a strong resort ambience. What makes this train unique is that some of the windows are portholes, similar to those found on ships. As the train cruises along the perimeter of Seto Inland Sea, admiring the sea view through the portholes did make me feel like I was on a ship instead of train! I have to agree that the scenery of the Seto Inland Sea is particularly amazing on a good day; see how the sea glitters under the sun and a clear view of the nearby islands can be captured.

Not a full fledged themed train. Overall, I was slightly disappointed by the train ride. There were not much to explore on board or keep guests entertained during the entire 2.5 hour train journey. I was surprised that there were no sale of food, drinks and merchandise on board. Though I love the theme of the train, I felt more could have been done to enhance the train ride experience.

Decorative items.

View of Seto Inland Sea captured from the train.

Setouchi Marine View #2 departed from Mihara JR Station. 

Commemorative stamp:

Mihara JR Station
Commemorative boarding ticket: 

Setouchi Marine View

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Chugoku (Sanyo + San-in) 2015 日本中国 (山阴+山阳) - Super Hotel Izumo Ekimae スーパーホテル出雲駅前

Stayed 20.04.2015 (Mon)
Reserved via
- Semi Double Bedroom (for one person) = 5,480 yen
- Super Room (for two person) = 8,980 yen

Right: Double bed on lower deck and single bed on upper deck.
Pleasant debut. This was my first time staying with Super Hotel. The main reason for choosing Super Hotel this time round was its strategic location to the train station. At the end of my stay here, I was pleasantly satisfied with various aspects of this hotel, to the point that there is nothing to nitpick about. One of the features I like to rave about Super Hotel is their extraordinary collection (in my opinion) of pillows to choose from at the front desk - catered to ensure hotel guests get a good night rest. Apart from that, their complimentary breakfast selection offered is one of the best when compared to equivalent budget business hotels in Japan. Have stayed in several Super Hotel after that (in Matsumoto and Osaka) and have experienced similar service standards in all these branches I have stayed in. Follow a separate post I have written for Super Hotel Matsumoto Ekimae.

Double deck bed. Similar to other competitors with same operating model, all basic amenities are well taken care of here. In Super Hotel, an electronic lock system is utilised for their guestrooms. Upon check-in, the staff will issue a slip of paper with a numerical password. Guest will have to key in the password on the number padlock found on the door of the assigned room in order to unlock it. Do carry this slip of paper when you leave the room or alternatively take a photo of the password as soon as you receive it. My parents stayed in the Super Room which can occupy up to two person. It comprises of two beds - a double bed which is 140 cm in width and a single bed on the upper deck. I did a quick check on their hotel website and realised that the maximum occupants per room has been reduced to two for this particular branch (I recalled for a Super Room in the past, it was able to hold up to three person). Therefore, do take note of this limitation when making the room reservation.


What's nearby?

(1) Izumo-shi JR Station 出雲市駅.

(2) Ichibata Dentetsu Izumo-shi 一畑電車電鉄出雲市駅, located on the North Exit of Izumo-shi JR Station.
From this starting station, board the train and alight at Kawato (川跡); transfer to another train heading for Izumo Taisha (出雲大社) if you want to visit one of the most prestigious landmarks of Shimane Prefecture. Otherwise continue your journey to the terminus station, Matsue Shinjiko Onsen (松江しんじ湖温泉).

(3) Ichibata Departmental Store 一畑百貨店出雲店
There is a small scale shopping centre (only one floor) located on the North Exit of Izumo-shi JR Station.
Operating hours: 1000 - 1830 hrs


Super Hotel Izumo Ekimae スーパーホテル出雲駅前
〒693-0008 島根県出雲市駅南町1丁目3番地3

How to get there?
A stone throw away from Izumo-shi JR Station South Exit (Minami Guchi).

Friday, March 9, 2018

Japan Autumn Nov 2017 一人で日本の旅 - Shimonomiya JR Station 下野宮駅, Tsukimachi no taki 月待の滝

Visited 07.11.2017. 

Shimonomiya JR Station.
Shimonomiya JR Station (下野宮駅), is an unmanned train station on Suigun line (水郡線) and closest to Tsukimachi no taki. The area around the train station is considered rural, sparsely populated in general. Upon exiting the train station, there is a post office (Daigo Shimonomiya Post Offfice) on the right. Upon reaching the first T-junction, turn left and continue walking straight following the signage which direct the way to Tsukimachi no taki. Unfortunately, there are neither no taxi stand nor bus stop outside the train station, travel by foot seemed to be the only option to get to Tsukimachi no taki at this point of time.

30 minutes walk from Shimonomiya JR Station to Tsukimachi no taki.

Greeted by rural scenery as soon as you exit from the train station. While waiting for my train to arrive, I dropped by the post office (on the right) and had a unexpectedly pleasant casual conversation with the staff! Yet again, touched by the friendliness of the locals. 
Boarded the train and made my way to Fukuroda next.

Tsukimachi no taki (月待の滝)

In a much more secluded spot than Fukuroda no taki is Tsukimachi no taki (月待の滝), where visitors can go behind the water curtain to capture a different view of this natural landscape. 
Tsukimachi no taki is very much more secluded in location and less touristy than Fukuroda no taki. Standing at 17 m tall and 12 m wide, Tsukimachi no taki comprises of three waterfalls. Only two of them are seen on all occasions; the third and smaller one will appear when there is a huge influx of water from the nearby Kuji River (久慈川). One unique feature of this waterfall is visitors are able to go behind the water curtain to capture a completely different view of this waterfall! This was my first encounter of such waterfall and I was extremely excited about it. Autumn is a good season (in November) to visit Tsukimachi no taki because the surrounding is decorated by mesmerising autumn foliage, making it an excellent photo-taking spot. Prior to this visit, the most vivid memory I have for waterfalls in Japan were the ones found along Oirase Keiryu (奥入瀬渓流) in Aomori Prefecture. Both Tsukimachi no taki and Fukuroda no taki are equally appealing, yet under-rated in my opinion. These are two attractions which I will highly recommend to pay a visit to while staying in Ibaraki Prefecture.

If you plan to extend your stay till lunch hours, there is a small eatery (Momiji-en もみじ苑) that overlooks the beautiful waterfall and serves Hitachi Aki Soba, a specialty of Ibaraki Prefecture.

Third and smallest waterfall appeared on the day of my visit!

Sneaked behind the water curtain!


How to get there?

(1) By train and walk.
From Mito JR Station (水戸駅), board the northbound local train via Suigun line (水郡線) heading towards Fukuroda (袋田駅), Hitachi Daigo (常陸大子駅) and Koriyama (郡山駅). Alight at Shimonomiya JR Station and walk for another 30 minutes. The entire train journey takes slightly less than two hours.

Note: As direct train services between Mito and Shimonomiya are infrequent, it is prudent to check train schedule and plan your trip in advance. For my trip, I visited both Tsukimachi no taki and Fukuroda no taki on the same day. I started my day early and made my way to Tsukimachi no taki first. Spent approximately two hours, inclusive of one hour of travelling time between Shimonomiya JR Station and Tsukimachi no taki, in both directions. Hopped onto the train again and stopped at Fukuroda to visit Fukuroda no taki. As compared to the former, there are more train services between Mito and Fukuroda (still not ideal; about one per hour or one every two hours), therefore allowing travel to be more tolerable and flexible.
Train schedule (via hyperdia):

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Japan Autumn Nov 2017 一人で日本の旅 - Mito JR Station 水戸駅

Ticket gates.
Mito is the capital city of Ibaraki Prefecture. As the train station is served by several railway lines, Mito is an excellent pit stop for exploring nearby cities within Ibaraki Prefecture.

Some of the railway lines serving Mito JR Station include:
(1) Joban line (常磐線): connects Tokyo to Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture.
from Mito,
- train commutes southwards to Tsuchiura, Toride, Ushiku and Tokyo.
- train commutes northwards to Hitachi and Takahagi, and eventually to Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture.
Both Tokiwa (ときわ) and Hitachi (ひたち) are limited express trains commuting along Joban line and there are about two limited express trains operated every hour.

Boarded Limited Express Tokiwa from Ueno Station heading for Mito.
(2) Suigun line (水郡線): from Mito, trains commute northwards to Fukuroda and Shimonomiya.
- Alight at Fukuroda for Fukuroda no taki (袋田の滝).
- Alight at Shimonomiya (下野宮駅) for Tsukimachi no taki (月待の滝).

(3) Mito line (水戸線): from Mito, trains commute westwards to Tomobe and Kasama.
- Alight at Kasama for Kasama Inari Shrine (笠間稲荷神社).


What's nearby?

South Exit of Mito JR Station. Building on the left is OPA while the right one is Excel Minami.
(1) Shopping malls, fast food chains and restaurants
There are a couple of shopping facilities connected seamlessly to the train station.
  • Excel and Excel Minami: Anchor tenants include Bic Camera, MUJI and local bookstore chain, Kawamata Books (川又書店). Yoshinoya, MacDonalds and Soup Stock Tokyo are located on the same floor as the ticket gates. 
  • Mito OPA (水戸オーパ) located outside the South Exit of train station. Can Do (¥100 shop) can be found on on 5F while restaurants are located from 8F to 10F. 
  • Marui Mito (丸井水戸店) located outside the North Exit of train station. ABC Mart and Daiso can be found on 5F while restaurants are located on 10F. 

(2) Tourist Information Center (水戸観光案内所), situated just outside the ticket gates.
Visited the information center on two occasions and was extremely grateful for the assistance rendered and advice provided by the approachable staff. It has been a routine ritual for me to drop by here whenever I reached a new place on the map. Followed their recommendations to explore Mito city by rental bicycle and also to try out several local specialties such as Hitachiaki Soba (常陸秋そば) and Stamina Ramen (スタミナラーメン).

(3) South Exit Rental Bicycles (水戸駅北口レンタサイクル), a minute walk away from the South Exit of train station.
If you are able to ride a bicycle, I will highly recommend utilising it to commute to nearby attractions especially when the rental cost is not too pricey. Rented a bicycle here and moved in an clockwise direction, covering Lake Senba (千波湖), which has a wide circumferential track catered for both cyclists and pedestrians, Kairaku-en (偕楽園) and Koudoukan (弘道館). Inclusive of lunch, it took me about 6 hours to cover the entire itinerary mentioned.
Operating hours: 0900 - 1800 hrs
Cost: 500 yen/day (only conventional bicycles; no battery operated ones)
Location (Point 1 on the map):

North Exit of Mito JR Station.

Mito city.

Commemorative stamp:

Friday, February 9, 2018

Japan Autumn Nov 2017 一人で日本の旅 Okayama 岡山県 - Day 15: Takahashi-shi 高梁市, Okayama-shi 岡山市

Day 15: 20.11.2017 (Mon)

Breakfast: Toyoko Inn Okayama Eki Nishi-guchi Hiroba 東横INN岡山駅西口広場

Okayama JR 岡山駅 (0804 hrs) > Bicchu Takahashi JR 備中高梁駅 (0839 hrs)
🚆 by Limited Express Yakumo やくも 3. [1,560 yen]

Bicchu Takahashi JR 備中高梁駅 (0950 hrs) > Fuigo Touge ふいご峠
🚖 by shared taxi. [500 yen]

Visited Bicchu Matsuyama Castle 備中松山城. [300 yen]

Fuigo Touge ふいご峠 (1140 hrs) > Raikyuji 頼久寺
🚖 by shared taxi. [500 yen]

Visited Raikyuji 頼久寺. [300 yen]

Visited Takahashi City Library 高梁市図書館.

Bicchu Takahashi JR 備中高梁駅 (1301 hrs) > Okayama JR 岡山駅 (1338 hrs)
🚆 by Limited Express Yakumo やくも 14. [1,560 yen]

Lunch: Cafe Honmachi 喫茶 ほんまち

Okayama JR Station West Exit Bus Stop 21 (1540 hrs) > Okayama Airport 岡山空港 (1610 hrs)
🚍 by bus. [760 yen]

Okayama Airport 岡山空港 (1830 hrs) > Haneda Airport Terminal 1 羽田空港第1ビル (1940 hrs)
✈ by JL242.

Haneda International Airport 羽田空港 (0005 hrs) > Singapore Changi Airport シンガポール・チャンギ国際空港 (0645 hrs)
✈ by JL35.

- End of Japan Nov 2017 trip - 

Japan Autumn Nov 2017 一人で日本の旅 Tottori 鳥取県, Shimane 島根県 - Day 14: Hokuei-cho 北栄町, Hoki-cho 北栄町, Matsue-shi 松江市

Day 14: 19.11.2017 (Sun)
* Day 14 of 14 Days Japan Rail Pass

Breakfast: Toyoko Inn Yonago Ekimae 東横INN米子駅前

Yonago JR 米子駅 (0839 hrs) > Yura JR 由良駅 (0921 hrs)
🚆 by local train.

Returned to Hokuei Town Tourist Information Office to collect stamp rally completion sticker!

Yura JR 由良駅 (0933 hrs) > Yonago JR 米子駅 (1042 hrs)
🚆 by local train.

Yonago JR 米子駅 > Shoji Ueda Photography Museum 植田正治写真美術館
🚖 by taxi. [2,000 yen]

Visited Shoji Ueda Photography Museum 植田正治写真美術館.

Shoji Ueda Photography Museum 植田正治写真美術館 > Yonago JR 米子駅
🚖 by taxi. [2,000 yen]

Yonago JR 米子駅 (1318 hrs) > Matsue JR 松江駅 (1339 hrs)
🚆 by Limited Express Yakumo やくも 9.

Matsue Ekimae Bus Stop 7 松江駅前 > Matsue Castle 松江城
🚍 by Lakeline Bus レイクラインバス. [200 yen]

Visited Matsue Castle 松江城. [280 yen, discount for foreigners]

Matsue Castle 松江城 > Matsue Ekimae 松江駅前
🚍 by Lakeline Bus レイクラインバス. [200 yen]

Dinner: Kakeru Ramen かけるラーメン, Matsue JR Station

Matsue JR 松江駅 (1854 hrs) > Okayama JR 岡山駅 (2136 hrs)
🚆 by Limited Express Yakumo やくも 30.

Checked in: Toyoko Inn Okayama Eki Nishi-guchi Hiroba 東横INN岡山駅西口広場

- End of Day 14 -

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Japan Autumn Nov 2017 一人で日本の旅 Tottori 鳥取県 - Day 13: Tottori-shi 鳥取市, Hokuei-cho 北栄町

Day 13: 18.11.2017 (Sat)
* Day 13 of 14 Days Japan Rail Pass

Breakfast: Toyoko Inn Yonago Ekimae 東横INN米子駅前

Yonago JR 米子駅 (0659 hrs) > Tottori JR 鳥取駅前 (0803 hrs)
🚆 by Limited Express Matsukaze まつかぜ 2.

Tottori Ekimae 鳥取駅前 (0955 hrs) > Hakuto Jinja 白兎神社 (1035 hrs)
🚍 by Nihomaru Bus 日ノ丸バス, Shikano line 鹿野線. [600 yen]

Visited Hakuto Jinja 白兎神社.

Hakuto Jinja 白兎神社 (1155 hrs) > Tottori Ekimae 鳥取駅前 (1234 hrs)
🚍 by Nihomaru Bus 日ノ丸バス, Shikano line 鹿野線. [600 yen]

Lunch: Cafe Source カフェソース

Tottori JR 鳥取駅 (1402 hrs) > Yura JR 由良駅 (1503 hrs)
🚆 by local train.

Visited Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory 青山剛昌ふるさと館. [700 yen 600 yen for foreigners]

Yura JR 由良駅 (1725 hrs) > Yonago JR 米子駅 (1826 hrs)
🚆 by local train.

Dinner: Genmai Cafe Hibinokate 玄米カフェ日々の糧

- End of Day 13 -