Sagano Scenic Train ride (Torroko Train)
Managed to book this highly popular scenic train ride from Arashiyama to Kameoka 1 month in advance.
The train station was filled with visitors, most are in tour groups. While we were seated on the right, in the beginning the koyo scenes on the left bank of the Hozugawa (stream) were more photogenic.
Torroko train arriving at Arashiyama
Train at Kameoka ready to return
boat ride on Hozugawa
headed up to the Observatory. Nice views of Arashiyama and Hozugawa.
Lunch in Kyo-Suiran
Suiran is a luxurious ryokan in Arashiyama – have not stayed though. Reserved for lunch and strolled around its garden with nice views of Hozugawa.
Lunch was delicious apart from nice service. The dining room was fully occupied.
A few days later this ryokan was featured in a local TV program, showing its Presidential Suite.
garden with nice views of Hozugawa
garden view from our table
Steamed Tai fish
Myoshin-ji / Taizo-in (妙心寺 / 退藏院)
Before calling it a day, we visited Taizo-in in Myoshin-ji, which is a large complex consisting of many subtemples.
Taizo-in is a relatively small landscape garden. However, it has rock gardens, mini-rapids, a pond and a hollowed bamboo for listening to water music – from water droplets. It was serene and we sat down for 15 min before leaving.
Entrance to Myoshinji
Entrance to Taizon-in
water music that can be listened to
===> Part 3 ===>
Stayed in Tateshina Tokyu Hotel for 2 nights. Located at about 1300m in a forest with golf courses, tennis courts and other facilities for families to spend in summer and winter months.
Almost perfect reflections in the pond in front of the hotel.
view from room
Shirakoma-ike (白 駒 池)
Drove up to 2100m for this pond which is famous for koyo (fall foliage) in end September. There was no koyo yet (as expected) though we trekked past a primitive forest in about 30min.
A turquoise pond on the roadside with wonderful reflections on clear calm days. It attracted big crowds who were ferried in by coaches.
“Virgin” waterfall and Tateshina Kogen (highland) lookout.
Tateshina Kogen lookout
Returned car in Chino on the next day and travelled back to Tokyo by JR Chuo express train. Stayed in Tokyo/Shibuya over the weekend before returning to Hong Kong.
After checking out from Karuizawa, drove uphill to the highlands in Nagano Prefecture. It was a sunny day after typhoon #21 had passed.
Followed the Japan Romantic Road to Komoro to visit Kaikoen (懐古園) – a park famous for sakura.
Utsukushigahara Plateau Museum of Art (美ヶ原高原)
Followed the Venus Road and arrived at Utsukushigahra at 2000m where there is an open-air museum, akin to the one in Hakone Gora.
Before arriving at hotel in Tateshina Kogen, passed by Kurama-kogen @1600, Shirakaba-ko @1400m.
highest point at Utsukushigahra Kogen
Kiri-no-eki road station
3rd visit to this onsen town though first time by car. Drove about 1 hour+ uphill.
Symbol of Kusatsu onsen with a flow of 5000 litres per minute.
Sainokawara Kōen (西の河原公園)
Went to the huge rotenburo in Sainokawara park for daytime onsen again. It could easily accommodate 100+ people. We hardly visit daytime onsens as we usually stay in onsen hotels/ryokans in each trip but this is not to be missed.
Admission fee is JPY600 per adult. We brought towels from hotel.
Sainokawara Koen rotenburo
#1 onsen in Japan for 15 consecutive years
A traditional method to cool down Kusatsu onsen without diluting it by stirring it with large wooden paddles. The performance includes folk songs and dancing by the ladies. Visitors were invited to join the stirring before it ended in about 30 min.
On the way back to Karuizawa, dropped by two waterfalls – Asama and Uotome in Mt Asama.
Visited the countryside of Nagano Prefecture along parts of the Romantic Road for few days. Rented a car to visit Karuizawa, Kusatsu onsen, Komoro, the highland areas including Utsukushigahara-kogen, Kuramayama-kogen, Shirakaba-ko, Tateshina-kogen etc.
Returned car in Chino and took JR Chuo express train back to Tokyo.
Stayed in Karuizawa Prince Hotel East Wing with free access to onsen for few nights.
Before typhoon #21 hit Japan, we drove uphill to visit Kusatsu onsen town as a day trip.
On the next day, we drove around Karuizawa while it started to drizzle and turn into heavier rain during the day.
Kumoba-ike (雲 場 池)
about 5-10 min drive from town.
strolled around shops and small stream
St Paul Catholic Church
Teppanyaki dinner by hotel main chef
Blue Pond and Shirahige falls
After late lunch we dropped by the blue pond again. As it was a calm and sunny day, reflections were almost perfect. While it was as crowded as in a large open market, we returned to our onsen resort in Naka-Furano soon afterwards.
Hokuryu Himawari (sunflower) festival
On the next morning, after checking out from the Nakafurano onsen resort, we drove to Hokuryu for its sunflower festival. On the way, we dropped by a small mount near Fukagawa where there was a Tottoro bus.
As the sunflowers were less than impressive (compared to our trip in Oct 2009 in Biei), we did not stay long and head back to Sapporo for lunch.
Mt Tokachi range from room
viewed from Kami-Furano
Tottoro bus in the wild
Hokuryu sunflower festival
Back in Sapporo
While this kaiten-sushi shop in JR Tower Sapporo is often crowded with long line, its shop in southern Sapporo has free parking. When we arrived it had plenty of vacant seats.
In the evening, we went for dinner in Mikuni – the French restaurant of JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo.
Kaiten-sushi with parking
French dinner course using local produce
6th stay in onsen hotel. Extended fireworks after dinner.
dusk view from room
morning view from room
Dropped by Muroran – a seaport and coastal landscapes for the first time.
Arrived at Shikotsu-ko for 5th stay. Locals were having water sports along the Chitose stream and in the lake.
Picked a cosy onsen hotel on the lakeside with only 10 rooms. There are 2 rotenburo shared by the staying guests on a first-come-first-served basis. View from our room was serene with a green garden, lake and mountains beyond. The Italian dinner was very delicious and sourced from seasonal produce in Hokkaido.
lakeview from room
We rarely visit Japan in summer due to heat and humidity. However, the main goal of this trip is to visit lavender farms and other summer flowers in Biei/Furano, where we have stayed 5 or 6 times in Spring and Autumn before. This was also our 11th visit to Hokkaido, excluding 5 ski trips.
7-day Itin – Sapporo > Shakotan Peninsula > Toya-ko > Shikotsu-ko via Muroran > Biei/Furano > Sapporo. Rental car was picked up and returned in Sapporo.
checked in Sapporo hotel almost at 6pm and headed to local izakaya connected by underground walkway beneath the Sapporo station. This izakaya imports most seafood from Nemuro in the far eastern corner of Hokkaido, where Akeshi oysters and other shellfish are famous.
On next morning, picked up rental car and drove to Shakotan Peninsula, dropped by Otaru Shukutsu for a break.
Evening performance in underground walkway in Sapporo
from Otaru Shukutsu Observatory Deck
Second visit since 2008. Due to quite heavy road traffic (on Sat) from Otaru, we arrived after 12 noon and had to queue for parking space.
Queued up for the only restaurant in Shimamui-kaikan serving uni (sea-urchin) while in season. Due to local tourist groups ferried in by coaches, the queue was long and took almost 90 min before we were served. (When we visited in Oct 2008, uni was out of season and there were a few diners).
After lunch we descended down to the rocky beach in about 15-20min.
Nikka Yoichi Distillery
Dropped by this local whisky distillery in Yoichi while driving en route to Toya-ko onsen hotel.
Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse
The former warehouse was transformed into shops, cafes and restaurants on the harbourside.
Osanbashi cruise terminal
Strolled back to hotel in Sakuragicho via the World Porters and Canal Park at dusk.
Harbour view day and night from hotel room
This is the end of our sakura and spring flower trip in Honshu and Hokkaido in 25 days.
After checkout from Hatake onsen, I drove uphill to Fuji Shibazakura Park via Asakiri Kogen in about 1 hour.
With drizzles and rain clouds Mt Fuji was completely shrouded as if it had disappeared.
As it was chilly cold and less impressive than similar parks in Hokkaido – despite being reported as full bloom on its website few days earlier, we strolled around for 40 min, drove back to Mishima for lunch, returned car and took Shinkansen to Yokohama.
Delicious Unagi-don in Mishima old shop filled with locals. We were much warmer after lunch. My Tokyo friend was very jealous of it.
On the way back to Hatake onsen on the previous day, we dropped by Mishima Taisha. Did not visit the museum as we were cold so rather dipped into onsen asap.