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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Dogo Onsen Honkan 道後温泉本館

Visited 21.11.2014 (Fri)


Inspiration for Spirited Away. Dogo Onsen is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan and by far the most accessible hot spring town I have ever been to - just hop onto the streetcar from Matsuyama JR Station (heading to Dogo Onsen) and alight at the terminus station. The most monumental and well-preserved building in this hot spring district has got to be Dogo Onsen Honkan, a public bathhouse which has been in operation for more than a century. Elaborate architectural features are exemplified in this traditional Japanese style 3 storey tall building. Spot the white heron watch tower (known as Shirokaku) on rooftop, white herons figurines on the fences and the symbol of Dogo Onsen, which depicts the bubbles that emerges from the hot spring waters, in different parts of the building. It was also said that the design of Yubaba's bathouse in Hayao Miyazaki's “Spirited Away” was inspired by this building. Being able to see this historic building in reality was indeed a dream come true for me and I more than ready to explore the interior further.

First try on Day 8 evening, but could not enter the building.
First try. After checking into our accommodation for the night, we made our way to Dogo Onsen Honkan to experience public bath just before dinner. To our dismay, we were informed by the ticket staff that they were not accepting any patrons as it was too crowded. At the same time, they could not foresee when this restriction would be lifted. Decided to try again the next morning. Realising that this is a popular place for both locals and tourists, we woke up at 5 am, packed out towels in the ratten basket provided by the hotel, braved the outside cold and arrived just before it opened its door for business. As expected, there was already a short queue formed outside the ticket counter, all like us eagerly wanting to enjoy the first soak of the day.

Came on Day 9 early morning just before it was opened for business.
Second try. The place felt like a maze - the rest area/hot spring to go to depends on which ticket you purchase. Bought the tickets for Kami no yu second floor (神の湯 二階席) which included snack and drink, served after the soak. Took off our shoes and locked them in the cabinets provided, showed our tickets to the staff, followed the signs to the second floor to the rest room where trays of yukata and seat cushions were arranged neatly in two rows on the tatami laid floor. After showing the tickets to the staff, we randomly selected our spots. Together with our valuables and towels, we made our way to the first floor where Kami no yu via another stairway from the rest room. There was a considerable size of people utilising the public bath (about 20 people and I believe that most of them were locals doing this as part of their morning routines) and this made the place felt very cramped, making it difficult to bath and enjoy the hot spring facility leisurely. Despite that, do pay attention to the interior of Kami no yu which is an art by itself - beautifully tiled with different shades of granite, a ceramic titled picture of two herons soaking/healing their legs in the hot spring waters and intricate engravings on the obelisk where temperature-regulated hot spring is continuously introduced into the pool. Headed back to the rest area where we sat down to enjoy our cup of green tea and biscuit, which also marked the end of my Dogo Onsen exploration.



Be mentally prepared. I can only say that the entire experience felt very hectic and rush. If only it was not so crowded (which I think is highly unlikely to happen), the public bath experience would have been much more enjoyable. Maybe I should go for the more expensive tier to see the difference next time?

Note: Towels and soap/showering gels are not provided in the premises - but can be rented/purchased at a fee.


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Dogo Onsen Honkan 道後温泉本館
松山道後湯之町5-6
Operating hours: 0600 - 2400 hrs (for Kami no yu ground floor 神の湯 階下); 0600 - 2200 hrs (for Kami no yu on second floor 神の湯 二階席, Rei no yu on second floor 霊の湯 二階席 and Rei no yu on third floor 霊の湯 三階個室)
http://www.dogo.or.jp/pc/about/

Admission fee:
Kami no yu ground floor 神の湯 階下 = 410 yen
Kami no yu on second floor 神の湯 二階席 = 840 yen, inclusive of snack and drink
Rei no yu on second floor 霊の湯 二階席 = 1,250 yen, inclusive of snack and drink
Rei no yu on third floor 霊の湯 三階個室 = 1,550 yen, inclusive of botchan dango and drink

How to get there?
From Matsuyama JR Station, board streetcar bound for Dogo Onsen (Route 5) and alight at the terminus station, Dogo Onsen. Walk under the covered walkway of Dogo Shopping Street (道後商店街) which leads all the way to Dogo Onsen Honkan.
Fare = 160 yen/trip.
Website: http://www.iyotetsu.co.jp/bus/global/en/


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Video: Scroll to 13:05 for the feature on Dogo Onsen Honten.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Chubu 2016 (Nagano & Niigata) 長野県と新潟県の旅 - Super Hotel Matsumoto Ekimae スーパーホテル松本駅前

Stayed 18.10.2016 (Tue)
Booked thru' Jalan.net
- Single Room = 6,080 yen
- Super Room = 8,700 yen


When it comes to searching for accommodation in a city area, my first choice normally goes out to Toyoko Inn because of its affordable rates and decent service. However, the branch in Matsumoto is located slightly further away from the train station; approximately 6 minutes walk required. Landed on Super Hotel eventually as it is comparatively nearer (maybe 1 minute closer) and prices are pretty competitive despite its strategic location. Having stayed in Super Hotel twice (first time was in Izumo), I have to concur that Super Hotel is better than Toyoko Inn, in terms of facilities and service. Based on my experience so far, I find that Super Hotel pays a lot of attention to ensure guests get the most rest and rejuvenation during their stay here.



Rejuvenation. Take the lift to the lobby located on the second floor. Check in procedure was a breeze and we were handed over a slip of paper indicating the room number and the passcode to input into the device attached to the doors to unlock the room - just like a safe box. Conventional key system does not exist here in Super Hotel. Female guests are also entitled to additional perks; upon checking in, the staff will lead them to a drawer filled with face masks, bath powder and other toiletries and they can choose up to five items! There is a coffee machine available for guests to bring complimentary coffee back into their rooms to enjoy. For those who are extremely particular about their pillow, you will be excited to see a shelf neatly arranged with various kinds of pillows catering to the needs of different people, all for the same objective to grab a good night sleep.


Sumptuous breakfast. No different from other business hotel chains, the rooms in Super Hotel are equipped with basic amenities. Both single and super room are 12 m2 in floor area, a size which is typical for many budget business hotels. The super room has a 140 cm wide bed and an upper deck single bed to hold up to three people. Complimentary breakfast was buffet style served in a spacious area, on the same level as the lobby, and a good variety of Japanese and western food options were available. Super Hotel even has its own line up of salad dressing, emphasizes on exclusion of chemical preservatives and ingredients which can create common food allergies. All ingredients you need to create a healthy and balanced breakfast are provided here - organic greens, grilled fish, stewed meat and root vegetables, local specialties, bread, cereals, fruit juices etc, were served on the following morning. All in all, very impressed and satisfied by the quality service extended by Super Hotel!

Left: Corner with brochures and reference materials to attractions nearby; Right: Ladies' corner where beauty items can be picked up.
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What's nearby?

(1) Matsumoto Ekimae Post Office 松本駅前郵便局, located on the other side of the road junction, diagonal to the hotel.
Operating hours: 0900 - 1700 hrs on weekdays
Website: http://map.japanpost.jp/p/search/dtl/300111280000/?&cond200=1&&his=ar,nm

Postcard collection. I am always on the lookout for post offices whenever I am in Japan, and especially when I visit a new prefecture on the map. After I discovered the existence of the regional exclusive postcards introduced by Posta Collect a couple of years ago, I have been an avid collector since then! What I like most about these postcards is their accurate representation of what each region is unique for - something that I can fondly remember the place for. For Nagano's version, prominent landmarks such as Zenkoji (善光寺) and Matsumoto Castle (松本城), natural landscape such as Kamikochi (上高地) and food such as Oyagi and apples were featured on these postcards on different years. It has gotten a bit additive for me to the point that I plan visits/detours to post offices, which are usually only open during weekdays, into my itinerary as well!
Tip: In fact, the true collectible items are the mini versions of these postcards which are not for sale. On rare occasions, the staff will give me a few to choose from, which I guess is subjected to availability as well. Glad to receive the mini versions of Matsumoto Castle and Zenkoji from this visit!
Nagano Prefecture's Posta Collect postcards: https://www.postacollect.com/gotochi/area17/

Matsumoto Castle was featured in 2010's series.
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Super Hotel Matsumoto Ekimae スーパーホテル松本駅前
長野県松本市中央1-1-7

How to get there?
Approx 5 minutes walk from Matsumoto JR Station East Exit.

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Ashizurimisaki 足摺岬

Visited 19.11.2014



Southernmost tip. Decided to hire a taxi to bring us from Nakamura to Tosa Shimizu (土佐清水), where Ashizurimisaki (otherwise known as Cape Ashizuri) is located. At this southernmost tip of Shikoku island, the terrain is made up of weathered granite cliffs, standing at 80 m high, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A 18 m tall lighthouse here has been in operation since 1914, and the strong illumination emitted from the structure can be seen as far as 38 km away. Was fortunate to be blessed with good weather on the day of our visit; greeted by the cooling sea breeze as we stood at the observation platform to admire the glittering blue waters and clear horizon. Being able to view this spectacular scenery made the long and winding journey worthwhile.

Marker for the southermost point of Shikoku island.
A statue of Nakahama Manjiro (中濱 万次郎) erected here at Cape Ashizuri, who played an important role being a translator to foreigners in the final years of Edo period. 
Ashizurimisaki is actually part of the larger Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park (足摺宇和海国立公園). Other attractions in the vicinity include:
- Kongofuku-ji (金剛福寺), the 38th temple of Shikoku Pilgrimage.
- Hakusan Domon (白山洞門), a well defined hole (16 m tall by 17 m wide) penetrating through a huge slab of granite cliff, created through prolonged erosion by seawaters. Wanted very much to visit this natural formation but did not manage to do so due to some miscommunication with the taxi driver. If you are taking the same bus from Nakamura Station heading for Ashizurimisaki, alight at Shirao Jinja (白皇神社) which is one bus stop prior the terminus at Ashizurimisaki. If it is too taxing on the body to climb all the way down to view Hakusan Domon, you can head down to Manjiro Ashiyu (万次郎足湯), which is an observatory equipped with footbath!
- In fact, Ashizuri is a hot spring town discovered more than 1,200 years ago. Apart from the above mentioned Manjiro Ashiyu, there are a handful of hotels with hot spring facilities established in this area.
Ashizuri Onsen: http://www.ashizuri-onsen.com/



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Ashizurimisaki 足摺岬
http://www.shimizu-kankou.com/diarypro02/archives/127.html

How to get there? 
(1) 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 Ashizurimisaki, and alight at the last stop. Bus journey takes 1 hr 40 mins and cost 1,900 yen.
Bus schedule: http://www.kochi-seinan.co.jp/obj/pdf/local_sukumo-simizu.pdf

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Anpanman Museum アンパンマンミュージアム

Visited 23.11.2014

Anpanman hiding on the rooftop!
Familiarity. Made a last minute decision to visit this place on the last day in Shikoku. Anpanman Museum definitely did not emerged top in my list of attractions to visit, even so for my parents who have not come across Anpanman before. Throughout our stay in Shikoku, the images of this adorable character and his friends have infiltrated into our lives subtly. On this island, we rode on a series of Anpanman themed trains, shopped for Anpanman related merchandises and ate bread depicting the characters in this popular anime. Subconsciously, I felt like I have known this character enough over the last few days and wanted very much to visit Anpanman Museum, located right in the place where the creator of Anpanman, Takashi Yanase, grew up in. The thought eventually gave rise to this late insertion into my itinerary.


Not only a museum but a themepark! As soon as I exited from Tosa Yamada JR Station, it felt like I have breezed into a Anpanman themepark. Kami city information center, which stood right outside the train station, was surrounded by Anpanman and his companions. I was warmly welcomed by the staff from the information center and she eagerly demonstrated to me the features of this melodious Anpanman clock hung on the wall. Even the buses which run the route to Anpanman Museum, are colourfully wrapped with the cartoon characters. That is not the end. More Anpanman can be found in the interior such as ceiling and seats, to accompany all passengers on the joyous journey to the museum.

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Highlights



Priceless gift. Anpanman Museum is located in Kami city, tucked away in the countryside, surrounded by hills. On a personal note, I felt that the location of Anpanman Museum is what makes this attraction worthy a visit. In front of the museum is a large open field with playground facilities for kids to run around tirelessly and happily. This is truly a wonderful place for parents to spend quality time together with their children while coming closer to nature. Hearing the infectious laughter of children is doubtlessly a priceless gift to all parents. There are two statues of Anpanman and Giant Dadandan (constructed in a way that they were in a fight) standing right outside the main building. Pay attention to the top right hand corner of the building and you may find Anpanman waving at you from there!  

Giant Dadandan statue.

Anpanman is everywhere!
There is plentiful details at different corners of Anpanman museum for visitors to uncover: 
- The glass storage room displaying an exhaustive range of Anpanman character goods/merchandises introduced over the years.
- Stay tuned for the hide-and-seek tree near the entrance; a huge mechanical wall clock in which Anpanman characters will appear from the tree hourly.
- Named Anpanman World (アンパンマンワールド), a miniature model replicating the world where Anpanman and his companion existed in is showcased in the basement floor. Visitors get to "sneak" into Uncle Jam's bakery too, where you can find a variety of bread replicas (which are in fact the "heads" of many superheroes that appeared in the popular anime). 

Top right: Hide-and-seek tree; Bottom right: Anpanman's world.
- My favourite spot goes to Yanase Takashi Gallery is located on the fourth floor. Huge paintings of Anpanman and his companions in various themes, precious draft versions of drawings and comic strips were displayed in this art gallery. The pictures were beautifully drawn and it is hard not to express excitement while deciphering the meaning behind these drawings. I like this particular drawing which depicted Anpanman sacrificing a small portion of his head to a hungry and stranded rabbit. Despite photo taking is allowed in the museum, it is hard to capture shots of these pictures/drawings because of the reflection created by the glass frames. If you like any of the pictures/drawings, do head down to the shop located on the first floor as the art works are available in postcard forms for visitors to send back home! Apart from that, there are also exclusive merchandises released by the museum sold in the shop here. 

Beautiful paintings of Anpanman characters in Yanase Takashi Gallery; Top right: Bought a postcard featuring my favourite drawing from the museum shop.
- The ticket includes entrance to Poem and Märchen Gallery (詩とメルヘン絵本館) housed in a separate building on the opposite road. This exhibition hall displays all of Yanase Takashi's artworks which were previously published in Shitomeruhen (Poem and Märchen) magazine.
- Stone statues of Anpanman characters are put up in various spots in surrounding compound as well, making them wonderful photo taking spots for kids.
- To my surprise, there is no cafe/restaurant within the museum. The nearest cafeteria is found in Nirounosato (韮生の里), a local product and souvenir shop located a stone throw away from the museum.

Nirounosato (韮生の里), located just in front of Anpanman Museum.
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Anpanman Museum アンパンマンミュージアム
〒781-4212 高知県香美市香北町美良布1224-2
http://anpanman-museum.net/
Opening hrs: 0930 - 1700 hrs; 0900 - 1700 hrs (20 Sep - 31 Aug). Last entry at 1630 hrs.
Admission fee: 700 yen (adult); 500 yen (child)

How to get there?

By bus. From Tosa Yamada JR Station (土佐山田駅), take JR Bus Ototi Line (JRバス大栃線) and alight at bus stop in front of Anpanman Museum (アンパンマン). Bus fee = 620 yen.
Bus schedule: http://www.jr-shikoku.co.jp/bus/businfo/rosen_tosa/tosa-ototi.htm


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Video: Anpanman Museum was featured in Go Go Japan. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Chubu 2016 (Nagano & Niigata) 長野県と新潟県の旅 - Nagano JR Station 長野駅, Nagaden Nagano Station 長電長野駅


Railway lines serving Nagano JR Station include:
(1) Hokuriku Shinkansen line (北陸新幹線) between Tokyo and Kanazawa, via Karuizawa, Nagano and Joetsu Myoko.
(2) Iiyama line (飯山線), from Nagano to Echigo Kawaguchi (越後川口) in Niigata Prefecture, via Iiyama (飯山) and Tokamachi (十日町).
(3) Shinano line (しなの線) which connects Karuizawa to Nagano, and Kitashinano line (北しなの線) which connects Nagano to Myoko Kogen (妙高高原); both lines are operated by Shinano Railway.


Shinkansen and limited express trains serving Nagano JR Station include:
(1) Kagayaki, is the fastest service on Hokuriku Shinkansen line as it makes the least number of stops during its journey between Tokyo and Kanazawa. From Tokyo, it only stops at major train stations such as Ueno, Omiya, Nagano, Toyama and Kanazawa.
(2) Hakutaka, commutes between Tokyo and Kanazawa on Hokuriku Shinkansen line.
(3) Asama, commutes between Tokyo and Nagano on Hokuriku Shinkansen line.
(4) Ltd Express Shinano, commutes between Nagoya and Nagano, via Matsumoto.

What's nearby?


Right: Nagano Station; Top left: local train; Bottom left: Snow Monkey Express Train.
(1) Nagaden Nagano Station 長電長野駅
Operated by Nagaden, trains commute on Nagano line between Nagano and Yudanaka (湯田中), via Obuse (小布施). This is an underground train station accessible via the basement of Midori, a shopping mall connected seamlessly to Nagano JR Station. Nagano line is the gateway to several attractions located on the outskirts of Nagano city. For my trip, I embarked on a day trip to visit two places served by Nagano line:
- Yudanaka (湯田中): From the terminus station, take a bus to Kanbayashi Onsen and walk to Snow Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen Koen 地獄谷野猿公園), whose photos have been famously circulated online. Here, visitors get to observe Japanese Macaques carrying out their daily routines - bathing/soaking comfortably in the hot spring, especially during the cold winter months.
- Obuse (小布施): A quaint town which is well known for its chestnuts and an art museum which exhibits original paintings left behind by a renowned ukiyo-e artist, Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) during the Edo period.
Website: http://www.nagaden-net.co.jp/info/station/nagano.php



Nagaden Free Pass (長電フリー乗車券)
Purchased a 1-day pass at the ticket counter of Nagaden Nagano Station for my day trip to visit Snow Monkey Park and Obuse. The pass, which is also available in 2-day version, only covers unlimited rides on normal/local trains and a top up fee of 100 yen is required for every rapid/express train service utilised. The additional rapid/express train service fee can be paid through the ticket machines in the train station (you will receive a ticket stub after the transaction is made).
- 1-day pass: 1,860 yen
- 2-day pass: 2,320 yen

My itinerary: 
Nagano > Yudanaka ---- 1,160 yen
Yudanaka > Obuse ---- 590 yen
Obuse > Nagano ---- 670 yen
Total = 2,420 yen
1 day pass = 1,860 yen
Savings = 560 yen (23%)

My original plan was to make use Snow Monkey Pass (スノーモンキーパス) offered by Nagaden to cover all transportation costs (both local and express trains, and bus) and admission fee to Snow Monkey Park. Upon checking with the staff at the tourist information center, I found out that the pass is only available during specific periods (Dec to Mar).
Snow Monkey Pass = 3,200 yen
Website: http://www.nagaden-net.co.jp/info/ticket/

Bus stop #1 for buses to Zenkoji.
(2) Bus stops, located outside Zenkoji Exit.
Bus stop #1: Hop onto any buses here if you are heading down to Zenkoji Temple (善光寺). [Fee = 150 yen]

(3) Tourist information center, a stone throw away from the ticket gates.

Spotted Arukuma, the mascot of Nagano in Midori! Wearing an apple hat because Nagano has bountiful apple orchards.
(4) Midori, a shopping mall part of the bigger train station building. Here, you can find familiar brands such as MUJI and Tokyu Hands, eateries and shops selling local specialties and souvenirs.
http://www.eki-midori.com/nagano/

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Commemorative stamps:

Nagano JR Station

Nagaden Nagano Station

Friday, January 20, 2017

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Makino Botanical Garden 牧野植物園

Visited 17.11.2014


In memory of Dr Tomitaro Makino. [Extract from "The Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden" brochure] Born in Sakawa, a rural village in the west of Kochi city, on 24 April 1862, Dr Tomitaro Makino (牧野富太郎 博士) devoted his lifetime to botany. He left behind a legacy in the field of botanic research - collected some 40,000 botanical specimens and named over 1,500 new species and sub species of plants during his life. In 1940, after his term as a lecturer at Tokyo University, he published his Illustrated Flora of Japan (牧野日本植物図鑑), a reference work which remains indispensable to professional botanists and enthusiasts today. After his demise in 1957, Makino Botanical Garden was opened to public on April 1958 to honour his phenomenal achievements.  

Statue of Dr Makino.
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Highlights

The botanical garden is way much bigger than I thought.
There are two gates to Makino Botanical Garden - visitors coming from Chikurin-ji will enter the garden via South Gate instead of Main Gate. The entire compound is divided into North and South Garden and made up of smaller parks/gardens with various themes such as Serpentine Park, Limestone Park, 50th Anniversary Garden, Canna and Rose Garden, Cherry and Azalea Garden and Garden of Medicinal Plants. The existing terrain is beautifully landscaped with water features and it felt very calming to stroll along the multiple pathways leading to different parts of the garden. Was expecting to see some autumn foliage here but most of the trees were already on the verge of becoming barren during my visit. Fortunately, I chanced upon the chrysanthemum festival here (normally held in Japan between October and November) and huge displays created using various kinds of chrysanthemum flowers, were put up for exhibition in the garden. There are cherry blossom trees scattered throughout the garden, making this a great place to visit during the flower blooming season from late March to April.

The conservatory with tropical plants.
A 17 m tall conservatory, renovated in 2010, stands right in front of you upon entrance via South Gate. In the conservatory, temperature is being regulated to create an environment similar to tropics. The entire place breeds familiarity since I grew up in a tropical country. The conservatory is filled with lush greenery, decorated with flowers - spotted numerous species of orchids being cultivated here. A visit to Makino Museum, located in the North Garden, is necessary in order to better understand Makino's devotion to botany throughout his lifetime. Visitors can see an interesting construction of his workplace here - a realistic wax figure of Makino hard at work, surrounded by huge piles of reference materials. The buildings here are also aesthetically appealing. Designed by local renowned architect Hiroshi Naito (内藤 廣), a shear amount of timber was utilised to create buildings that harmonised with the natural surroundings. As Makino Botanical Garden is strategically located on a hill (Godaisan), a scenic view of Kochi city can be admired at various spots in the garden too!

A glimpse of Kochi city.
Do allocate at least 2 hours of time in order to fully soak into the serenity of the garden at a leisure pace. There is also a restaurant/cafe (Arbre), housed within Makino Museum, for visitors to take a break and enjoy western cuisine created using local ingredients.

Bari-san for Imabari city of Ehime Prefecture.

Udon-no of Kagawa Prefecture, the region in Japan where Sanuki Udon originated from!

Sudachi-kun from Tokushima Prefecture. Sudachi is a green citrus fruit specialty of prefecture.

Shinjo-kun, from Susaki city of Kochi Prefecture. In fact, I just got to know that this adorable otter wearing a nabeyaki ramen hat (a specialty of Susaki city) came in first in Yura Kyara Grand Prix 2016 (a popularity contest for mascot held in Japan annually)! 
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Makino Botanical Garden 牧野植物園
〒781-8125 高知県高知市五台山4200-6
Operating hours: 0900 - 1700 hrs
Closed from 27 Dec to 1 Jan.
Admission fee = 720 yen
http://www.makino.or.jp/

How to get there? 
(1) MY Yu Bus (MY遊バス). At Kochi JR Station, board MY Yu Bus heading for Katsurahama and alight at Makino Botantical Garden (牧野植物園).
Kochi JR Station <> Katsurahama: 1 Day Pass = 1,000 yen
Kochi JR Station <> Chikurin-ji: Godaisan 1 Day Pass = 600 yen
MY Yu Bus: https://www.attaka.or.jp/kanko/kotsu_mybus.php

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Chubu 2016 (Nagano & Niigata) 長野県と新潟県の旅 - JR EAST Pass (Nagano, Niigata area)

Top: Hakutaka on Hokuriku Shinkansen line; Bottom: Toki on Joetsu Shinkansen line.
More value for money! In 2015, the original JR EAST Pass was split into two passes to make train travel in the eastern region of Japan more affordable (for foreign visitors). Same rule applies to both passes - pass holders get to enjoy unlimited rides on any 5 days out of 14 days period starting from the pass issue date. The starting date can be decided when you exchange your voucher for the pass at JR ticket counters upon arriving in Japan.
As compared to its previous version which cost 22,000 yen, the new passes are cheaper and its value can be better maximised since it is more area focused.
- Tohoku area; 19,000 yen (purchased outside Japan); + 1,000 yen if purchased in Japan. Pass covers train usage in all six prefectures of Tohoku region (Aomori, Akita, Yamagata, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima).
https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/eastpass_t/
- Nagano, Niigata area: 17,000 yen (purchased outside Japan); + 1,000 yen if purchased in Japan
http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/eastpass_n/
In fact, the introduction of the subdivided rail passes was the catalyst for me to explore Nagano and Niigata on my next trip to Japan. 
Side note: If only the subdivided rail passes were introduced earlier, I would be able to enjoy an additional 3,000 yen saving during my trip to Tohoku in Oct 2015. 

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JR EAST Pass (Nagano, Niigata area)


Pass coverage/features
(1) Unlimited rides using reserved seats on Shinkansen, limited express, express and local trains on JR EAST train lines in Nagano, Niigata, Gunma, Tokyo, Saitama, Yamanashi, Kanagawa, Tochigi and Shizuoka (on Izu Peninsula) such as
- Joetsu Shinkansen (上越新幹線) from Tokyo to Niigata, via Echigo Yuzawa.
- Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線) from Tokyo to Joetsu Myoko, via Karuizawa and Nagano.
- Tokyo Monorail between Haneda Airport and Hamamatsucho.
- Narita Express between Narita Airport to Tokyo.
- Seats onboard seasonal sightseeing trains, such as Koshino Shu*Kura (越乃 Shu*Kura) and Genbi Shinkansen (現美新幹線), can be reserved without any additional charges.

(2) Hokuhoku line ほくほく線 (operated by Hokuetsu Express) between Echigo Yuzawa and Naoetsu, via Tokamachi.
http://hokuhoku-line.jp/

(3) Echigo Tokimeki Railway line えちごトキめき鉄道 between Naoetsu and Arai.
https://www.echigo-tokimeki.co.jp/

(4) Izu Kyuko line 伊豆急行 in Shizuoka Prefecture between Ito and Izukyu Shimoda.
http://www.izukyu.co.jp/

(5) Tobu Direct Limited Express "Nikko", "Kinugawa" and "SPACIA Kinugawa" trains.
http://www.tobu.co.jp/foreign/en/

Note 1: Nagaden 長野電鉄 (runs between Nagano and Yudanaka, via Obuse) is not covered. Nagaden offers other rail and bus passes such as 1-Day Snow Monkey Pass (スノーモンキーパス) and 1 or 2-Day Free Pass (長電フリー乗車券). I utilised the 1-Day Free Pass (1,860 yen) to cover a day trip to Snow Monkey Park and Obuse.
http://www.nagaden-net.co.jp/info/ticket/
Note 2: Kamikochi line between Matsumoto and Shin Shimashima (新島々駅) operated by Matsumoto Dentetsu 松本電鉄 is not covered. I utilised Kamikochi/Norikura 2 Days Free Pass (6,000 yen) which covers buses in Matsumoto city, buses from Shin Shimashima to Kamikochi, Norikura and Shirahone Onsen and rail service on Kamikochi line.
http://www.alpico.co.jp/access/ticket/

Exclusive Shinkansen badges collected from Nagano and Niigata JR Stations.
Seasonal perks! Apart from discounted train fares, pass holders are entitled to other incentives too. Till 31 Mar 2017, you can redeem JR EAST Shinkansen badges exclusive to the region you are visiting, when you flash your pass at designated tourist information centres/counters located at/adjacent to major train stations! For example, E6 Akita Shinkansen badge can only be redeemed from Kakunodate and Akita, which are train stations found along Akita Shinkansen line. There are a total of five badges, E7 Hokuriku, E4 Joetsu, E3 Yamagata, E6 Akita and E5 Tohoku Shinkansen, to collect from. Collected two badges - Hokuriku and Joetsu Shinkansen from this trip and would love to collect the complete set.
Shinkansen badge campaign (till 31 Mar 2017): https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/promotion/app_campaign/

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My itinerary
Did my homework to plan out the transportation routes undertaken over 9 days, search online for the fares for all the routes, tweak the itinerary to maximise railway usage on certain days and eventually derive a strategy to maximise the usage of JR EAST Pass. I have to admit that this entire churn of work is a tedious process but trust me, the outcome can be quite fulfilling especially when the amount of savings derived is extremely significant!
Hyperdia: http://www.hyperdia.com/

JR EAST Pass (Nagano, Niigata area) = 17,000 yen
Total train fare = 36,750 yen
Savings = 19,750 yen (54% discount)


Monday, January 2, 2017

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Nichiyoubi shi (Sunday Market) 日曜市

Visited 23.11.2014 (Sun)


Pasar Pagi. Whenever I visit my grandmother in Gemencheh (a small town in Negri Sembilan, Malaysia) over a weekend, Pasar Pagi (means morning market) which are held on Sundays, is one place we will head down to after breakfast. I am always roused by the high energy levels of locals bustling throughout the entire stretch of road lined with makeshift stalls selling fresh produce, cooked food, etc. Even though we went home empty handed most of the time, participating in this routine morning activity brings me closer to the local culture/way of life. Therefore, I was intrigued to visit Kochi's version of morning market upon hearing about it. To meet this objective, I made plans to return back to Kochi city on a Saturday in order to visit the morning market on the following day.


Good morning Kochi! After our breakfast at 7 Days Hotel, we did a leisure stroll to Otesuji (追手筋) where Nichiyobi shi is held. A 1.3 km long road from Otesuji 1-chome to Otemon of Kochi Castle is cordoned off and about 430 stalls lined both sides of the road every Sunday. Felt like a child all over again; excited and fascinated by the huge variety of goods on sale; lots of crisp greens, neatly arranged juicy fruits, surprisingly fragrant preserved/dried goods, fresh fishes, colourful potted plants, daily necessities and list goes on. Along the way, high spirited stall owners would exchange greetings with patrons, shout out catchy slogans to promote the products that they were selling. Keep a lookout for snack stalls selling Kochi's very own aisukurin アイスクリン (not the same katakana for ice-cream アイスクリーム) which tastes closer to flavoured shaved ice, freshly fried imoten いも天 (sweet potatoes), piping hot steamed buns, freshly squeezed yuzu drinks and many many more. Stopped by the stalls every now and then, curious to see what was in store, with hands full of snacks even though I was still full from breakfast. There were also many occasions when we contemplated grabbing some vegetables/fruits back home because they all looked so fresh and good. Eventually my parents could not resist the temptation and lug back a big bag of sweet potatoes! Though it proved to be feat for us as we had to carry the bulky bag from the market to our next two attractions (Anpanman Museum and Kochi Castle) before returning to hotel to retrieve our luggage, my parents gave their proud thumbs up for the taste. If you are visiting Kochi city on a Sunday, you should not give this a miss!

Have to try fried sweet potatoes (imoten), a soul food for the locals here in Kochi.

Sakamoto Ryoma vs Anpanman!
Let's visit the markets everyday! 
In fact, there are equivalent makeshift markets but much smaller in scale held on other days at different locations in Kochi city.

- Tuesdays (火曜市): held along Kamimachi 4-chome to 5-chome (上町4丁目・5丁目).
Operating hours: 0600 hrs to 1 hour before sunset
How to get there? Take Tosaden streetcar and alight at Kamimachi 4 chome station (上町4丁目駅).
- Thursdays (木曜市): held in front of Kochi city Government Building (高知県庁前).
Operating hours: Sunrise to 1 hour before sunset
How to get there? Take Tosaden streetcar and alight at Kencho mae station (県庁前駅).
- Fridays (金曜市): held along Atagomachi 1-chome (愛宕町1丁目).
Operating hours: Sunrise to 1 hour before sunset
How to get there? Approx 15 mins walk from Kochi JR Station.
Website (in Japanese): http://www.city.kochi.kochi.jp/soshiki/40/gairoitigaid.html

- Saturdays: Organic Market (オーガニックマーケット), first started in 2008, is held at Ike Koen (池公園). Got to know about this market from the owner of Terzo Tempo.
Operating hours: 0800 - 1400 hrs on Saturdays
How to get there? At Kochi JR Station, board MY Yu Bus (MY遊バス) heading for Katsurahama and alight at Sumiyoshi ike mae (住吉池前).
Website (in Japanese): http://kochiom.web.fc2.com/info.html
MY Yu Bus: https://www.attaka.or.jp/kanko/kotsu_mybus.php

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Nichiyoubi shi (Sunday Market) 日曜市 
Operating hours: 0500 - 1800 hrs on Sundays
Market starts from Otesuji (追手筋) 1-chome and ends at Otemon (追手門) of Kochi Castle.
http://www.city.kochi.kochi.jp/soshiki/39/nichiyouichi.html

How to get there?

(1) By foot. 10 - 15 minutes walk from Kochi JR Station.
(2) By streetcar. Alight at Hasuikemachidori Station 蓮池町通駅; Otesuji 1-chome (追手筋) is less than 5 minutes walk away.



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Video. Fast forward to 2:20 for Go Go Japan's feature on Nichiyoubi shi.