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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Funaya ふなや

Stayed 20.11.2014 (Thu)
Booked thru' Rakuten.
- Annex Standard Garden View Semi Western Style Room = 55,080 yen (3 pax) + 450 yen (bathing tax, 150 yen/pax) = 55,530 yen

Top left: The beautifully decorated porcelain vase created by Yuki Hayama.
Chose to stay in Dogo Onsen for a night to experience the vibes in one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. However, its prominence and popularity have raised the prices of accommodation correspondingly as well. Finally landed on Funaya when I spotted a promotional price featured on one of the hotel reservation platforms. Funaya traces its origin all the way back to 1627 and has undergone several expansions/refurbishments to arrive at its current modern state. Location wise, it is also one of the hotels closest to the streetcar station (approx 3 minutes walk away) and about the same distance away from Dogo Onsen Honkan (道後温泉本館), the prominent landmark which most visitors would come here for. Overall, my stay in Funaya has been a pleasant one; meeting my expectation in most aspects.

Highlights:

An honour to stay in "blue" - an outcome of Hotel Horizontal Project.
I want this bathroom in my house!
Surrounded by art. Dogo Art Festival was first held in 2014 to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Dogo Onsen Honkan. As part of this festival, both local and foreign renowned artists would come together, get the creative juices flowing and transform various parts of Dogo Onsen into contrasting pieces of art works. An art project titled "Hotel Horizontal" is extended to guest rooms in 9 hotels and Funaya is one of them. Yuki Hayama (有木葉山), a well known local porcelain designer, was tasked to transform a two room space in Funaya and the outcome was stunning. Titled "blue", beautiful traditional gyosomon (fish in seaweed) designs were imprinted on the washi on the sliding doors and ceramic tiles on wall. Was unaware that we have been assigned to this themed room, only upon arrival. When the staff was leading us to our room, she also directed our attention to this exquisite porcelain vase designed by Yuki Hayama and has similar gyosomon patterns on it, placed at the lift lobby. To us, it was an honour to be surrounded by the artistic flair of the creator. The guest room is semi-western style with a small living room, two single beds and a corner laid with tatami mats which can occupy up to two futons. The toilet was surprisingly modern looking and posh for a traditional Japanese inn; definitely one I would like to have in my house. Other facilities in the hotel include a shop selling local souvenirs and a tea lounge, all located in the main building.  
http://www.dogoonsenart.com/artist/hayama-yuki/

Video: Behind the scene to create "blue" in Funaya.



Japanese portion of dinner course.
Western portion of dinner course.
Meals. Both Japanese and western elements were incorporated into dinner. Started off with a glass of ume wine (which made me slightly groggy), followed by a small sashimi platter, a fish head stewed with vegetables in sweet soy sauce, a potage soup, western main course of duck, beef or pork to choose from, a variety of tempura (pumpkin and fish), flavourful rice cooked together with mushroom and lastly ended in western style again with four different desserts accompanied with coffee/tea. I personally felt that the meat dish was very well executed especially for a Japanese inn. Chose the beef as my main course. It was very tender and cooked to the right medium well texture I wanted. On the following morning, we could choose either Japanese or western style breakfast course. Had the western course which compromised of salad, freshly baked bread, delicious and runny omelette with ham, and fruit platter. Overall, meals were quite satisfying on both occasions. 

Breakfast - Japanese and western style to choose from. 
Less crowded hot springs. Was glad with the decision to stay one night in Dogo Onsen. When we arrived at Dogo Onsen Honkan in the evening, it was packed with people and subsequent entry of visitors had to be disallowed. Though we managed to squeeze into this building early next morning, the experience was not particularly memorable as it was hard to enjoy a leisure soak in a rather cramped pool. Funaya has it own communal bathhouses, named Granite or Mikageishi 御影石 and Hinoki 檜), which are separated by gender and utilised the same hot spring source. Most importantly, the less crowded bathhouse never felt so welcoming and stress-free especially after we visited the Dogo Onsen Honkan. A footbath is also hidden in the Japanese style garden located just behind the main building.

Spacious lobby.
A showroom replicating the western style room which Emperor Showa stayed in when he visited Dogo Onsen in 1950.
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Funaya ふなや
〒790-0842 愛媛県松山市道後湯之町1-33
http://www.dogo-funaya.co.jp/

How to get there? 
3 minutes walk from Dogo Onsen streetcar station.



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Commemorative stamp: 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Matsuyama JR Station 松山駅, Iyotetsu Streetcar 伊予鉄道電車, Botchan Train 坊ちゃん列車


Matsuyama JR Station (Y55, U00) is located on the Yosan line.

Matsuyama is the capital city of Ehime Prefecture. Don't be surprise to see a lackluster mood after stepping out from the train station. Matsuyama JR Station is actually not located in the busiest district of the city and one would have to take the Iyo Railway streetcar to Matsuyama city station to experience the vitality of the crowd.

Bottom left: Limited Express Shiokaze; Right: Meet Bari san, the lovable mascot of Imabari city.
Home to mascot celebrities! Ehime Prefecture has two famous mascots (or yurukyara) which have appeared at the top of the list in Yurukyara Grand Prix held annually in Japan.

- Bari san (バリィさん), a plump looking chicken wearing a crown depicting Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge (a bridge which links Hiroshima in Honshu island to Imabari city in Ehime Prefecture) and holding on to a ship. This mascot represents Imabari city, where ship building businesses flourishes and is famous for yakitori. Bari san won the Yurukyara Grand Prix title in 2012 and his popularity has created a wide range of merchandises which can be found in shops located in most tourist attractions in Ehime Prefecture.

- Mikyan (みきゃん), a orange coloured dog which has ears of Mikan leaves and a tail of Mikan flower. This mascot was created in 2011 and is inspired by Mikan or mandarin orange, a citrus fruit which Ehime Prefecture is well known for. Mikyan has participated in Yurukyara Grand Prix and is slowly catching up in terms of ranking - came in 3rd and 2nd in 2014 and 2015 edition, respectively.

Meet Mikyan, an orange coloured dog with mikan leaves ears and heart shaped nose!
Some limited express and special themed trains that serve Ehime JR Station:
(1) Limited Express Uwakai, which commutes between Matsuyama and Uwajima.
(2) Limited Express Ishizushi, which commutes between Takamatsu and Matsuyama, Uwajima.
(3) Limited Express Shiokaze, which commutes between Okayama, Matsuyama and Uwajima
(4) Iyonoda Monogatari (伊予灘ものがたり), a special themed train newly introduced in 2014, which commutes between Matsuyama to Iyo Ozu and Yawatahama via the sea route of Yosan line. 

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What's nearby?

A regular streetcar.
(1) Iyotetsu/Iyo Railway Streetcar 伊予鉄道電車
Streetcar is an important form of public transportation for both locals and tourists in Matsuyama city. The incentive of holding on to All Shikoku Rail Pass is that no additional train fares is charged while on board the streetcar.

There are a total of five routes serving Matsuyama city:
- Route 1: clockwise loop from Matsuyama city station to Okaido, Matsuyama JR Station and back to its starting point.
- Route 2: anti clockwise loop from Matsuyama city station, to Matusyama JR Station, Okaido and back to it starting point.
- Route 3: between Matsuyma city station and Dogo Onsen.
- Route 5: between Matsuyama JR Station and Dogo Onsen.
- Route 6: between Honmachi-6-chrome and Dogo Onsen.

Time seemed to have stopped at Dogo Onsen station.
Navigation: 
- For Matsuyama Castle 松山城: from Matsuyama JR Station, take Route 5 heading for Dogo Onsen, alight at Okaido 大街道 and walk to the ropeway/chairlift station.
- For Dogo Onsen 道後温泉: from Matsuyama JR Station, take Route 5 heading for Dogo Onsen and alight at the terminus station.
- For Matsuyama City Iyotetsu Station 松山市駅: from Matsuyama JR Station, take Route 1 and alight at the terminus station. Iyotetsu Takashimaya (いよてつ高島屋), a large scale departmental mall which contains Kinokuniya and Tokyu Hands, is connected to the train station.

Website: http://www.iyotetsu.co.jp/bus/global/en/

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Botchan Train 坊ちゃん列車



Nostalgia. This is a diesel powered replica of a steam locomotive train which once travelled along the streets of Matsuyama city over a century ago. The name "Botchan" came from title of this popular novel written by famous author, Natsume Soseki, back in 1906. As this steam locomotive train was mentioned in this novel, locals started to call this train by the name of "Botchan" affectionately. The train pulls along one to two wooden carriages and releases the whistling sound as it chugs along the common streetcar railroad, just like how the conventional train does! There are two sets of Botchan Train (No. 1 and 14) that take turns to transport passengers down the memory lane. For those who are unable to make it in time to board the train, one set is usually put up for display at the terminus station in Dogo Onsen. Many would also make it a point to visit Matsuyama city station to witness how the head of Botchan Train is reversed physically by operators after the train pulled into this terminus station.


Experience. Had the opportunity to board Botchan Train from Dogo Onsen (twice in fact) and the ride was amazing! Botchan Train felt so much smaller in size as compared to other steam locomotive trains which I have ridden before. Train conductors were smartly dressed in black coloured overalls, carrying a sling purse containing tickets and money, just like how they do in the older days. Throughout the entire journey, friendly conductor will pop in to introduce/explain the various features of the train (such as the wooden window blinds and overhead lamps which were kerosene operated in the past) and nearby surroundings, and even lend their hats to passengers for photo taking purposes. A ride on Botchan Train is definitely a must-do activity to be arranged in any first time visit to Matsuyama city.


Note: No additional train fare is charged with All Shikoku Rail Pass. Bocchan Train operates on both weekdays and weekends, but with different schedules. Therefore, do check out the schedule published on Iyotetsu website.

Website: http://www.iyotetsu.co.jp/botchan/

Video: 
Botchan Train was featured in Taiwan's travel program 爱玩志.

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Commemorative stamp:


Monday, September 12, 2016

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Hozumitei ほずみ亭

Visited 20.11.2014 (Thu)


Taste of traditional cuisine. After alighting from Tetsudo Hobby Train, we had slightly over an hour to spend in Uwajima before we hopped onto the next train heading for Matsuyama. Decided to settle our lunch here and began the search for a restaurant that serves traditional cuisine unique to Ehime Prefecture. Followed the travel guide book studiously and came to Hozumitei, a well known local restaurant which utilises the freshest catch from nearby Uwa Sea to whip up numerous traditional dishes that have passed through generations. Apart from the warm hospitality that the staff showered us with upon stepping into the restaurant, what amazed me was one of the lady staff, in her forties, was able to speak very fluent English (way much better than me). This was what I least expected from a quaint little town like Uwajima. Food ordering was a breeze, without the language barrier and because we heeded her advice to order the signature dishes offered by Hozumitei. Ordered Taimeshi (鯛めし) [980 yen], Satsuma meshi (さつまめし) [980 yen] and Tachiuo Chirimen don (太刀魚ちりめん丼) [980 yen] to fully experience the local fishermen's style of cuisine in the early days.

Counter seats.

Taimeshi - Simplicity at its best!
Soul food. After the Taimeshi was delivered to our table, I diligently followed the instructions given by the staff to enjoy it in the best way, the same way as what the locals do. First, mixed a raw egg, sweet soy sauce and kombu flakes together with thinly sliced raw seabream (otherwise known as "tai"). Next, scooped some cooked rice into a separate small bowl. Poured the mixture onto the rice and tucked in! The combination was amazingly appetising and makes one yearns for more. Within minutes, I gobbled up the first bowl of glittering rice and moved on the second and third serving, until my hunger was fully satisfied. Taimeshi is yet another local soul food; truly a true showcase of simplicity at its best. Had to add this to my list of food to recommend to others visiting Ehime Prefecture. 
 
Hard to resist Tachiuo chirimen don.

Newfound flavours. Our palate were also exposed to new flavours during this meal. Satsuma meshi (さつまめし) is another recipe created by fishermen who used to prepare this dish on board for a quick meal. The shredded meat of grilled fish is mixed with barley miso and broth, cooked using fish bones, to create this white coloured paste. Similar to Taimeshi, Satsuma meshi is eaten by dashing the paste onto a small portion of barley rice. The harvesting season for Tachiuo (or largehead hairtail fish) in Uwa Sea is from summer to late autumn, and it is also during this season, the meat is higher in fat and tastier. Tachiuo chirimen (太刀魚ちりめん) is made by rolling the meat over a bamboo stick. A flavourful dark sauce is swiped evenly over the meat and the meat is grilled carefully over charcoal fire till it becomes crispy and golden brown. 

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Hozumitei ほずみ亭
〒798-0035 愛媛県宇和島市新町2-3-8
Opening hrs: 1100 - 1330 hrs, 1700 - 2230 hrs (last order at 2130 hrs), closed on Sundays.
Approx 5 mins walk from Uwajima Station.
http://www.uwajima-hozumitei.com/

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Tetsudo Hobby Train 鉄道ホビートレイン

Travelled on 20.11.2014 (Thu)


Yodo Line Brothers. Yodo line connects Kubokawa in Kochi Prefecture to Uwajima in Ehime Prefecture, and a section of the railway line runs alongside the beautiful Shimanto River, which is referred to as Japan's last clear river as it has no dams. There are no express train service along Yodo line and the duration to commute from Kubokawa to Uwajima by local train takes more than 2 hours. Despite the long journey, many people (especially city dwellers) are still willing to embark on this slower mode of transportation to soak into the beautiful scenery of the rural areas of Shikoku. To introduce more visitors to the areas around the Yodo Line, JR Shikoku has also introduced three unique sightseeing trains from 2013 onward and gave them a rather amusing name of "3 brothers of Yodo Line" (予土線3兄弟)! For my trip, I boarded Tetsudo Hobby Train (鉄道ホビートレイン), of the 3 brothers, from Kubokawa Station at 1004 hrs and alighted at Uwajima Station at 1217 hrs.

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Highlights:

The front of the train for the trip from Kubokawa to Uwajima. 
A shorter version of Shinkansen? Tetsudo Hobby Train comprises of a single carriage with no reserved seats. The exterior is designed to look like the zero series Shinkansen, the very first high speed train commissioned way back in 1964, travelling along Tokaido line (between Tokyo and Shin Osaka). Similar white and blue coloured body and a structure is attached to one side of the train to model the streamlined head of a Shinkansen. On the trip from Kubokawa to Uwajima, the head becomes the back of the train giving the impression that the train is moving "backwards". This is because the train does not perform a U-turn as it reaches the terminus station since there are driver seats on either end of the train carriage.  

Bottom left: Exhibition of Shinkansen train models; Top right: Commemorative board; Bottom right: Train fare electronic board featuring train stations along Tokaido line.
Shinkansen Museum. The designer was able to make use of the limited space available in a single cabin to showcase Shinkansen, the fastest land transportation in Japan. There were display windows showcasing different generations of Shinkansen in miniature model forms. Four replicas of the seats used in the zero series Shinkansen were assembled here too. A commemorative board held above the seats facilitates photo-taking by passengers on board this unique themed train. Blue coloured curtains and seat covers were imprinted with pictures of trains and Shikoku island. Even the train fare electronic board has the names of all the train stations located along the Tokaido line (such as Tokyo, Odawara, Atami, Shizuoka, Nagoya, Kyoto and Shin Osaka). Kept myself occupied throughout the journey, scrutinising the details of the train, looking at the exhibits on display, peering out of the window to enjoy the outside scenery and counting down to the number of train stations till we reached our final destination. When the train made a brief stop at Yoshinobu Station (吉野生駅) for the opposite train to arrive, passengers used the time as a toilet break because there are no toilets available in the train.   



The other 2 brothers... 

- Kaiyodo Hobby Train (海洋堂ホビートレイン), a single carriage train with no reserved seats. Kaiyodo is a well known Japanese company that manufactures figurines and garage kits. Beautifully wrapped with pictures of some of the character figurines that the company produces, there are also display windows inside the train that showcased Kaiyodo's huge range of products. The main reason why Kaiyodo Hobby Train operates along Yodo line is that there is a Kaiyodo Hobby Museum (海洋堂ホビートレ館) located in Shimanto. The nearest train station, Utsuigawa Station (打井川駅), is about 6 km away from the museum and a bus operates between this train station and museum on Sundays and public holidays.
Kaiyodo Hobby Train: http://www.jr-eki.com/hobbytrain/
Kaiyodo Hobby Museum: http://ksmv.jp/hobbykan/

- Shiman Torocco (しまんトロッコ), a yellow coloured train train which requires seat reservation and only operates on weekends and public holidays. "Torocco" (or Torokko) is a Japanese word for truck and Shiman Torocco was actually converted from a truck train. The torocco section is towed by a conventional diesel car and the beauty of such torocco train is its open concept which allows passengers to enjoy the breeze and scenery of Shimanto River at the same time.
Shiman Torocco: http://www.jr-shikoku.co.jp/01_trainbus/event_train/simantorokko.html

Tip: If you plan to take all three trains within a day, do check the dates of operation of all three trains and refer to this useful guide provided by JR Shikoku.
Recommended course: http://www.jr-shikoku.co.jp/yodo3bros/pdf/modelcourse.pdf

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Commemorative stamp: 


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Sada Chinkabashi 佐田沈下橋

Visited 20.11.2014



Communication breakdown. My main objective in Shimanto was for Shimantogawa (Shimanto River). This 196 m long river stretches from the mountainous area to Pacific Ocean and is widely known as the last clear river in Japan because there are no dams constructed throughout its entire length. There are numerous ways to explore this river - through outdoor sports activities (such as kayaking), tour boats, cycling or driving alongside the river. Reached Shimanto on Day 7 and hired a sightseeing taxi to ferry us to the southernmost point of Shikoku - Ashizuri. Tried my best to communicate to my driver (in mixture of English, Japanese and hand gestures) to bring us to at least one "chinkabashi" (otherwise known as sinking bridge) along Shimanto River after visiting Cape Ashizuri. He did not understand my intent and brought us back to the hotel instead. By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was already close to sunset and I made a decision to hire the same taxi driver to fetch us from the hotel early next morning to visit Sada Chinkabashi before heading for Nakamura Station.


Short encounter. There are about 47 chinkabashi crossings scattered throughout Shimanto River. My first impression of these narrow features was that they looked unsafe without any parapets (low walls/railings at both sides of the road). In fact, they are designed not to have parapets to prevent them from being washed away when these bridges look like they have sunken during periods of high tide. Our taxi driver brought us to Sada, the chinkabashi nearest from the hotel (Nakamura Prince Hotel) and Nakamura Station and also the longest crossing (291.6 m) along Shimanto River. Spent a while to walk on the bridge, carefully sitting on the edge to observe the clear waters streaming past below the bridge, soaking myself entirely into the laidback, natural surroundings. Though it was a short encounter, the alluring and scenic landscape made me want to visit this place again. Most importantly, to allocate more time to uncover more chinkabashi by other means such as boat ride or cycling on my next visit to Shimanto River.



Other Chinkabashi:

- Iwama Chinkabashi (岩間沈下橋). About 1 hour drive away/3 hours by cycling from Nakamura Station, this 120 m long bridge is frequently spotted in posters featuring Shimanto River.

- Katsuma Chinkabashi (勝間沈下橋). About 45 mins drive away/2 hours by cycling from Nakamura Station.

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Sada Chinkabashi 佐田沈下橋
20 mins drive away/50 mins by cycling from Nakamura Station.
Shimanto City Tourist Association Website: http://www.shimanto-kankou.com/
- Bicycles can be rented from Shimanto City Tourist Association Information Center.
- Boat rides, canoeing or kayaking: http://www.shimanto-kankou.com/doc/fune/fune.html
- Sightseeing bus (四万十川バス) operates between Nakamura Station and Ekawasaki Station on certain dates (typically on Fridays, weekends and public holidays). Refer to Shimanto City Tourist Association Website for more information. 


Shimanto City Tourist Association Information Center:

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Video: Scroll to 20:08 for feature of Shimanto River in 玩乐志.

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Day 8 Shimanto River 四万十川, Dogo Onsen 道後温泉

Day 8: 20.11.2014
* Day 5 of 5 days All Shikoku Rail Pass

Dogo Onsen Main Building
Breakfast: Nakamura Prince Hotel 中村プリンスホテル

Visited Sada Chinkabashi 佐田沈下橋.

Nakamura Station 中村駅 (0924 hrs) > Kubokawa JR 窪川駅 (1002 hrs)
by Ltd Express Nanpu 12.

Kubokawa JR 窪川駅 (1004 hrs) > Uwajima JR 宇和島駅 (1217 hrs)
by Tetsudo Hobby Train 鉄道ホビートレイン.

Lunch: Hozumitei ほずみ亭

Uwajima JR Station 宇和島駅 (1359 hrs) > Matsuyama JR Station 松山駅 (1520 hrs)
by Ltd Express Uwakai 16.

Matsuyama ekimae 松山駅前 > Dogo Onsen 道後温泉駅
by Iyotetsu streetcar.

Check in: Funaya ふなや

Visited Dogo Shopping Street, Hojo Park and Dogo Onsen Honkan 道後温泉本館.

DinnerFunaya ふなや

- End of Day 8 - 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Kisetsu Ryori Taniguchi 季節料理 たにぐち

Visited 19.11.2014 


Gourmet search. Apart from being the last clear river in Japan, Shimanto River is also a habitat for many marine life. These "treasures" of the river are eventually transformed to simple yet delicious gourmet dishes that the locals are proud of. In Shimanto, freshness is guaranteed, since it is harvested from the nearby river, and this is also the key element that brings out the best flavour of the food. There are many restaurants here offering local specialty dishes; dropped by Taniguchi as it was located near our hotel stay for the night (Nakamura Prince Hotel). Taniguchi is a family operated restaurant with a homely atmosphere that can felt almost immediately upon stepping in. Was handed over a Japanese menu but the waitress quickly passed us an English one after she knew that we were foreigners. Food ordering was effortless because pictures with descriptions were made available  in the menu too.

Top left: Deep fried river shrimps; Bottom left: Tempura seaweed; Bottom right: Deep fried goby fishes.
So what is the cuisine created from the freshest ingredients harvested from Shimanto River? Ordered a variety of dishes to find out:

  • Deep fried river shrimps (800 yen). These river shrimps have long arms, which reminded me of those we see in indoor prawn catching pools back at home. Shrimps are deep fried until crispy red to lock in and enhance the natural sweet flavours of the shrimps. Recommended for those who are fans of prawns like me. This was the first dish served and was great start to dinner.
  • Deep fried goby fish (800 yen). It was my first time eating goby fish. Did not find this dish particularly outstanding because I could not really make out the flavours of this ikan bilis sized fish in my mouth. Restaurant also served goby fishes cooked in other style such as soy sauce broiled, simmered with egg and vinegar marinated. In fact, the best time to savour goby fishes is in March when the goby fishing season starts. 
  • Tempura seaweed (750 yen). Known as Hitoegusa (ヒトエグサ), this type of seaweed is hand picked at the river mouth where fresh and salt waters merge. Cooked in the tempura style, I like the crunchy yet fluffy texture of the seaweed. Remember to soak the seaweed in the light dipping sauce which will help get rid some of the oiliness. Highly recommended for all to try!
  • Salt grilled ayu or sweet fish (1,500 yen). I have never eaten a failed salt grilled ayu fish so far in Japan. This is actually very good: salt rubbed and grilled till crispy golden brown; sweetness of the meat can be tasted with every bite.    
  • Grilled wild eel/unagi. Found this overly priced but decided to give it a try nevertheless. To me, what makes a good grilled eel is to ensure the right amount of time is given to disintegrate the fatty portion of the meat but not too overly done till the moisture of the meat is lost and the savory sauce that is swiped onto the meat during the process of grilling. This grilled unagi met my expectations in all aspects.  

Remember... Overall, the dining experience was pleasant. Apart from the delicious local cuisine, we received warm hospitality from the folks of Taniguchi throughout our stay. Despite the language barrier, they still maintained the same level of service and even tried to engage in a simple conversation with me just before we left. Sometimes, it is these simple acts of gesture that make you forget that you are in foreign country and a good reminder to myself to remain humble and sincere to people around me.

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Kisetsu Ryori Taniguchi 季節料理 たにぐち
高知県四万十市中村大橋通4-50
Opening hrs: 1130 - 1300 hrs, 1700 - 2200 hrs. Closed on Sundays.

How to get there?
(1) 15 mins walk from Nakamura Station
(2) 5 mins walk from Nakamura Prince Hotel

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Nakamura Prince Hotel 中村プリンスホテル

Stayed 19.11.2014 (Wed)
Booked thru' Jalan.net.
- Twin Room = 10,300 yen
- Single Room = 5,600 yen


Challenge. Searched through various hotel booking portals but did not come across any familiar or popular business hotel chain in this rural town. Wanted to stay close to Shimanto River since that was my main objective here in Nakamura. Finally landed on Nakamura Prince Hotel as it met my criteria, both in terms of location and price. 

View of Shimanto River and Red Iron Bridge from room.
Twin sharing rooms from the 5th floor and above can enjoy a scenic view of Shimanto River and the symbolic Red Iron Bridge (赤鉄橋) right out of their windows. Just before dinner, we did an evening stroll from the hotel to the Red Iron Bridge to capture the tranquility of Shimanto River at sunset. Though not a subsidiary of an established brand, Nakamura Prince Hotel follows the typical business hotel model both in terms of service provided and facilities available. Selected the package without breakfast, but after scrutinizing the nearby area for possible eateries that open for business in the day, I could not find any except for a 24 hours operation convenience store (Lawson) on the opposite side of the hotel. Decided to opt for the buffet breakfast service available in the hotel on the following day. Overall, Nakamura Prince Hotel is comparable to most budget business hotels I have bunked in before in bigger cities. Though I did encountered a hiccup during check out (only found out that I was over-charged after I left the hotel and had to return to get my money back), I will not mind returning to this hotel because of its convenient location.    

What's nearby? 

Evening stroll along Red Iron Bridge (赤鉄橋).
Calm waters in Shimanto River.
(1) Shimanto River and Red Iron Bridge (赤鉄橋). About 2 mins walk away from the hotel.

(2) Lawson convenience store, just opposite to the hotel. As it was still early after dinner, I decided to explore the area by walking from the hotel to Nakamura Station. It was slightly after 7 pm and the streets of Shimanto city was already very empty and quiet - was a bit wary as it seemed like I was the only pedestrian walking on the street. Glad that Lawson was there to satisfy my late night snack and drink needs!

(3) Eateries. Was afraid that I could not find any good eateries in the surrounding area but my worry was unnecessary. Managed to gather a handful of options, within walking distance, with pretty decent online reviews. On that night, we had a delicious array of Shimanto specialties for dinner in Taniguchi (季節料理たにぐち), which was just 5 minutes walk away from the hotel.

A quiet and pleasant Shimanto city. 
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Nakamura Prince Hotel 中村プリンスホテル
〒787-0034 高知県四万十市中村弥生町4-1
http://www.np-h.com/

How to get there?
(1) Walk. 20 - 30 mins walk from Nakamura Station.

(2) Kochi Seinan Bus. From Nakamura Station (中村駅), take the Nakamura/Shimizu/Ashizuri/Sukumo line (中村・清水・足摺・宿毛線) bus heading for Sukumo (宿毛). Alight at Obashidori-nichome (大橋通二丁目), bus stop is just in front of the hotel. Bus journey takes 5 mins.
Bus schedule: http://www.kochi-seinan.co.jp/obj/pdf/local_sukumo-simizu.pdf

(3) Taxi. About 5 mins drive away from Nakamura Station.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Nakamura Station 中村駅


Nakamura Station (TK40) on Nakamura/Sukumo line.
Alight here to visit Shimanto River, the longest river in Shikoku is also referred as the last clear river in Japan because there are no dams constructed along the entire river.

JR Shikoku or Tosa Kuroshio Railway? Even though both Nakamura and Sukumo line are operated by Tosa Kuroshio Railway, limited express trains owned by JR Shikoku also serve the train stations along both lines. When these trains arrived at Kubokawa station, the interchange station between Dosan and Nakamura lines, there is a changeover of service crew between JR Shikoku and Tosa Kuroshio Railway. It is interesting to see a complete change in train conductor, dressed in a different uniform, and hear a different voice over the PA system after the train moves off from this station.


Award wining train station. Nakamura Station undergone a major renovation in 2010. The team (nextstations) behind this project wanted to redefine people's impression of a train station in a rural area. The interior was revitalised with a modern concept, using wood as the core material of construction. A sense of warmth, created by both the yellow lighting and natural lighting that shines in through the huge glass panels, can be felt in the waiting area. Such small interventions within an existing structure has expanded the space for people's movement, making it more passenger-friendly. The team has also won numerous design related awards for this project. This award winning design was featured in many magazines and the high recognition has attracted people to pay this train station a visit.

Apart from local trains, the following limited express trains serve Nakamura station.
(1) Limited Express Shimanto, which commutes between Takamatsu and Kochi, Nakamura and Sukumo.
(2) Limited Express Nanpu, which commutes between Okayama, Kochi and Nakamura.
(3) Limited Express Ashizuri, which commutes between Kochi, Nakamura and Sukumo.

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What's nearby?

(1) Bus stop, located in front of train station.
Board the bus covering Nakamura/Shimizu/Ashizuri/Sukumo route (中村・清水・足摺・宿毛線)
to visit Cape Ashizuri (足摺岬). Bus journey takes about 1 hr 40 mins.
Bus schedule: http://www.kochi-seinan.co.jp/local/

(2) Tourist Information Center (Shimanto City Tourism Association), about 5 minutes walk from train station.
Walked to the tourist information center to arrange a sightseeing taxi to cover Cape Ashizuri with the assistance rendered by the staff on duty. One of the best way to explore Shimanto River and its bridges is by bicycles and the tourist information center here provides rental services as well.
Website: http://www.shimanto-kankou.com/ 


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Commemorative stamp:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Day 7 Ashizurimisaki 足摺岬, Shimanto 四万十

Day 7: 19.11.2014
* Day 4 of 5 days All Shikoku Rail Pass

Ashizurimisaki
Breakfast: Iya Onsen Wanoyado 和の宿ホテル祖谷温泉

Iya Onsen Wanoyado 和の宿ホテル祖谷温泉 > Oboke JR 大歩危駅
by hotel free shuttle service

Oboke JR 大歩危駅 (1037 hrs) > Nakamura Station 中村駅 (1324 hrs)
by Ltd Express Nanpu 3

Lunch: Ekiben, on board train

Visited Shimanto Tourist Information Centre to arrange 3 hours sightseeing taxi.

Ohki Beach
Visited:
(1) Ohki Beach 大岐の浜
(2) Ashizurimisaki 足摺岬
(3) Kongofuku-ji 金刚福寺

Check in: Nakamura Prince Hotel 中村プリンスホテル
http://www.np-h.com/

DinnerKisetsu Ryori Taniguchi 季節料理 たにぐち

- End of Day 7 -

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Iya Onsen Wanoyado 祖谷温泉和の宿, Hi no Ji ひの字 ("Hi" Valley)

Stayed 18.11.2014 (Tue)
Booked thru' Rurubu.
- Japanese style room = 58,320 yen (3 pax) + 450 yen (bathing tax, 150 yen/pax) = 58,770 yen SGD/pax

Can you spot the hotel? 
We hopped onto the hotel complimentary pick up service which waited for us (and other guests) at Michi no eki Oboke (道の駅 大歩危), which was also the last stop of the one day Oboke/Iya sightseeing bonnet bus trip. This seamless transfer was kindly arranged by Shikoku Kotsu, the company that operates Oboke/Iya sightseeing bus route. We were asked whether we would be staying overnight in Iya Onsen when we were reserving the seats for the sightseeing tour over the phone (with the help provided by the staff from the tourist information center in Tokushima JR Station). Kudos to Shikoku Kotsu for providing this additional service to link up with the local hotels!

"Hi no Ji" Valley.
Hi no Ji. Though it was a short 10 - 15 mins bus journey, the driver acted as a temporary tour guide and introduced us to several features that came into our view along the way. First he stopped at a spot where the beautiful "Hi no Ji (ひの字)" valley can be best viewed and he even allowed us to alight from the bus to capture photos! The name came from the unique shape of the stream which resembled the hiragana character "ひ". Next he brought our attention to this small building located on the slope of the valley. It was Wanoyado, the hotel which we would be staying for the night, strategically positioned to overlook at the meandering stream of Iya valley. I have to admit that the rather daunting location of the hotel did make me worry for a while but soon got over it as my eyes were drawn to the spectacular surrounding terrain and scenery.

Top right: Woke up to this beautiful view in the morning! Bottom right: Communal indoor bathhouse located on first level of main building.
Rooms and facilities. If I remember correctly, there are no lifts in the hotel (not that I was aware of). Wanoyado is not very big, comprised of six storeys with 29 guest rooms. Entrance and main restaurant (Keikoku no sato) are located on the fourth level. We were assigned to a Japanese style room on the new wing, which was connected to the main building on the fifth level. Room was spacious (22 m2) enough to occupy up to three persons and was also equipped with a massage chair and a BOSE CD player. There is a shop selling locally produced souvenirs on the same level as the lobby. Wanoyado is also proud of their exclusive range of toiletries which is made of local spring water and can be purchased at their shop.


Onsen with a view. Wanoyado is a member of Japan's hidden hot spring association also referred to as Nihon Hitou (日本秘湯). Ryokan/hotels which are part of this association are typically located in much secluded areas surrounded by well preserved natural landscape. Accessibility to these accommodation is not ideal as they are normally situated in mountainous region, but this is what makes them appealing to many travellers, especially for city dwellers to come closer to diminishing nature in this era. One unique feature of Wanoyado is that guests have to descend 170 m via cable car to reach the rotenburo, or open air bath, located right at the bottom of the valley! During the five minutes cable car ride, we were enthralled by the beautiful autumn foliage wrapped onto the slopes of the valley. Both rotenburo (separated by gender) were built alongside the Iya river. Never felt so close to nature before as I get to soak into the therapeutic hot waters while marveling at the panoramic mountainous scenery. When cable car operation ceased at night, guests can still utilise the communal indoor bathhouse located on the first level in the main building. Hot spring waters is cloudy in appearance due to the presence of white mineral deposits and leaves a smooth sensation on your skin. 

Clockwise from top left: Salad sticks; Grilled amego; Shiitake mushroom tea pot soup; Vegetable tempura; Appetisers; Iya soba.
Local food. Dinner started off with a small glass of yama momo red wine. Appetiser comprised of seven different small dishes, such as fried ginko nuts on sticks and chestnuts, were artistically arranged in a rattan basket. Was surprised to see a western dish (洋皿) in the menu but it was simply just vegetable sticks accompanied with several dipping sauces such as spicy miso, tomato and toro yuba (トロ湯葉). Toro yuba is the layer of silken tofu skin that is formed on the surface of heated soymilk. Liked the flavour of the shiitake mushroom teapot soup, drank together with a squeeze of lime. Assorted vegetables such as pumpkin and eggplant were served in tempura style. Local specialties and ingredients were featured extensively in this autumn inspired kaiseki course such as sobasubeshi (そばすべし) which is a type of thick vegetable soup; grilled amego fish, caught from Iya valley, served together with dried persimmon; Awa pork (阿波ポーク) hot pot and the well known Iya soba made from locally cultivated buckwheat. Ended the dinner with a refreshing yuzu sherbet and juicy kyoho grapes. Overall, it was a very fulfilling dinner - though my nose was being lured away by the sizzling Awa beef on hot plate relished by other patrons. 


More local food were introduced during breakfast on the following day such as Ishi tofu (石豆腐), translated literally as "stone tofu", is a type of dense and firm beancurd and Sobagomezosui (そば米雑炊), a soup containing shelled buckwheat kernel, carrot and tofu. Entered the restaurant and was welcomed by an unobstructed and breathtaking view of Iya valley. The beauty and contrast of autumn foliage were further elevated by rays from the sun. Being able to enjoy a hearty breakfast surrounded by stunning natural landscape was truly a one of a kind experience that I would remember Shikoku for.


Conclusion. Iya Onsen is definitely the most secluded and inaccessible hot spring town I have ever visited in Japan. Overall, the stay in Wanoyado was very revitalising and satisfying. I can only say if there is one place I will want to return to in Shikoku, Iya Onsen will definitely be on the top of my list!

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Iya Onsen Wanoyado 祖谷温泉和の宿
〒778-0165 徳島県三好市池田町松尾松本367-2
http://www.iyaonsen.co.jp/

How to get there? 

(1) Complimentary pick up service to/fro Oboke JR Station (大歩危駅). Reservation is required to utilise this pick up service.
- From Oboke JR Station, bus leaves for hotel at 1610 hrs.
- From hotel, bus leaves for Oboke JR Station at 0940 hrs.

(2) Bus
From Awa Ikeda JR Station (阿波池田駅), take Shikoku Kotsu (四国交通) bus heading for Kazurabashi (かずら橋)  via Deai (出合) and alight at Iya Onsen Mae (祖谷温泉前). Do note that there are only three buses to Iya Onsen per day (0716, 1026, 1246 hrs).
Bus schedule: http://yonkoh.co.jp/pdf/timetable/110.pdf



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