Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sendai, Karuizawa - Japan


It was really a long shot, but I won it! On Thu, Oct 21, 6.18pm, I received a call from a gentlemen with a strong foreign accent, after awhile, I figured out he's likely a Japanese, and with just barely one day after JNTO's Discover East Japan via Haneda Itinerary Contest closed, what else? He couldn't be calling to say, "Thank you for your submission, we like your itinerary but you DIDN'T win" right?

As a matter of fact, I WON! I was simply delirious!

I struggled to understand what he was trying to say throughout much of our conversation (=.=)" Almost at the end of it, I stilll had no idea which of the three packages did I win, alas, my curiousity drove me to probe him directly. Ahem.. it seemed that he also struggled to recall for a while, before revealing I had won the 3 Days Explore East Japan by Rail via Haneda package! According to my itinerary, that means Sendai (仙台)and Karuizawa (軽井沢)! I had worked out 3 itineraries, one for each of the categories, namely, 3 Days Tokyo Jalan Jalan (meaning basically stuck within Tokyo) with $300 allowance, 3 Days Explore East Japan by Rail with $450, and 5 Days Japan Gateway with domestic air tickets and $600, all via Haneda. Maybe it would not be relevant now, but my Tokyo itinerary was basically shop and eat within Tokyo, and Kaihin-Makuhari (海濱幕張), a very outside chance at best, besides, this was a last minute submission, much of a half-hearted effort, I literally didn't pin much hope on this. My 5 Days Japan Gateway basically focused on Hokkaido, notably Obihiro, Sapporo, Otaru, Hakodate respectively. Out of these three, I was more confident the Hokkaido itinerary and East Japan itinerary stood a better chance to win.

I would be flying off on Oct 31 (Sun) and back on Nov 03 (Wed), so I was told (but it wasn't really accurate, as I found out later), be given a JR East Pass as well as S$450 spending money! Great deal! This is my only itinerary that could save me $, probably still have excess upon returning!

On Wed, Oct 27, 6pm, I was scheduled to meet the gentleman who contacted me, Mr Koshi Nikaido, as well as the other two winners, Huey Woon and Jaclyn, the respective winners for 5 Days Japan Gateway and 3 Days Tokyo Jalan Jalan. I was caught with a surprise during the briefing, when I found that the two girls' air tickets were ready but not for mine, not even the JR East Pass exchange coupon! It was kind of weird because SQ, being a local airline, took so much more time to issue ticket than JAL and ANA?? Ah, forgot to mention, Huey Woon & Jaclyn's air tickets were sponsored by ANA and JAL respectively, and mine's SQ. I really puzzled what was the intention getting me to the briefing, but fortunately, Mr Nikaido eventually got me the e-ticket from SQ the very next morning, as well as JR East Pass exchange coupon. I noted that my return flight was actually on Nov 4, 6.25am, meaning to say I probably have to stay the night at airport, if, as per normal international flights, at least two hours check-in is mandatory. Mr Nikaido tried to help me swopped for an earlier flight, but JNTO's local office manager, Miss Susan, explained that this would be the condition from SQ and there was nothing they could do. Very well, let's see what I can do then...

Anyway, during the briefing, JNTO's Singapore Executive Director, Mr Motonari Adachi, briefly remarked that my itinerary was very normal. Which made me wondered, what triggered them to select my entry in the first place? Was it because the rest of some 170s submissions were not up to the mark? Or had I done a fantastic brochure-liked itinerary? I guessed I was just been lucky ^_^ But then, it was a conservative draft, 3 days itinerary, no head no tail on the exact flight timings, how could I gonna fit more details inside? I mean, I did not want to insert too many fantastic itineraries and then later on, had to cancel some off the list if I subsequently found out, I would be on the morning flight out on the very 3rd day. They are Japanese, I understand it would not be so nice to 'con' them with too fantastic draft but eventually required to censored certain agenda from my list. But, I am that kind of person who would not like to disappoint, once the exact flight details are revealed, I would definitely try to improve on my itinerary, not exactly trying to please them, I wanted very much to optimise this opportunity personally too!

The next day, Thu, Oct 28, I was in for further shocked when I received Mr Nikaido's confirmation along with the e-ticket and JR East Pass exchange coupon! I was pretty certained I was told by them we would all be out on the night flights from Changi Airport on Oct 31, and then I discovered my outgoing flight, SQ634, was an afternoon flight! That means I would be reaching Tokyo at night, touching down at 11.05pm to be exact. Agh!! that probably means another night at the airport! I couldn't book accommodation because I won't know how long would the custom clearance take >.< I understand I have to take the inauguration flight out, but SQ could at least have given me the night flight back right? So, anyway, I knew there would be no point calling them, I dialled SQ's reservation hotline straightaway and tried changing the return flight, but there was nothing the respondent could do due to the class of my booking (K class), I would need to liaise through my 'secretary', so I was told. Fine, I wasn't at the end of my wit yet, not yet..:P

Day 0

So, on Oct 31 (Sun), I boarded a bus for Kallang MRT at 12.50pm, after taking my lunch - I need to emphasize here. By 2pm, I had checked-in, but before proceeding to custom, I went over to SQ's ticketing desk, and tried to change my returning flight again, but to no avail. However, the attendant advised me to try it at Haneda (羽田). Sure, but that means I need to be at the airport before the earlier flight, so that literally rules out staying at a hotel on my 3rd night, not that I planned to, more or less because of uncertainty.

I wasted no time hanging outside the restricted zone, and proceeded promptly to the duty free area inside. As usual, I did my windows shopping and foot massage before reluctantly proceeding to the boarding gate B5. I was told there would be a reception, and I anticipated some kind of cocktail reception. Gosh! How wrong was I! It was finger food buffet, and the quality were of top notch quality! Even SIA's outgoing CEO was there to give a speech, how bad can it go?!! I quickly went in, completed the last clearance check, but had only time for just one full round, partly because I had taken my lunch >.<, and partly was insufficient time. Boy, had I knew it would be this delicious, I'd do away with the shopping, massage, and most significantly, lunch!
The Satay, Chawamushi, Crab Sandwich and Brownies are my favourite!

Oh, and I was also given an inauguration flight souvenir, a pair of Japanese Cup~ It was considerably bulky, and eventually, I hand-carry it all the way throughout my trip. How I wish they could have safe-keep for me until I came back @_@

It was later that I learnt from the other winners, ANA was giving away some kind of Nike Slipper, and JAL gave a set of postcards plus a travel adaptor. But neither Japan airlines offered such a sumptous meal, at best, JAL gave a traditional Japanese performance. I guess the finger food more or less made up for me putting up a night at the airport subsequently~

In fact, I was so full that I even had a hard time finishing an otherwise fulfilling flight dinner @_@
SQ634 is flying Boeing 777-300ER, the front seat panel is well designed to include cup holder, remote bay, USB interface, and even AV port for viewing your laptop's on its LCD! I don't know what was that white knob on the left though. But most importantly, I found the seat slightly more spacious!

Flight SQ634 touched down Haneda International Terminal (officially, Tokyo International Airport) punctually at 11.05pm. I was utterly surprised to learn that, Haneda's efficiency was so much superior than Narita, in the sense that, I could have boarded a train for city at around 11.40pm! Nevertheless, I didn't make a hotel booking for the night, and I didn't want to try luck last minute and bore the risk of getting stranded there should there be no more vacancy. Sleeping inside airport is a much better option than sleeping inside hotel's main hall, if they even allow it in the first place! The last train from Haneda departs for city around midnight. With JR Yamanote line operating until after 1am, that basically means, so long as you managed to catch the last train out from Haneda, you could still reach most downtown destinations without the fear getting stranded, unless you hopelessly lost your way connecting trains! LOL!  Both JR's Tokyo Monorail and Keikyu Airport line doesn't go straight to Tokyo, a transfer at Hamamatsucho (濱松町) or Shinagawa (品川) respectively is all but necessary. But Keikyu Airport Line is cheaper getting to Tokyo station, both rail system take about the same time getting there (30 minutes). Anyway, I really hanged around and explored Haneda International Terminal like the title of the contest suggested, LOL! Slept at 1am at a cosy corner in the Departure Hall, woke up at around 4.30am by the noisy departing tourists taking the early flights out. Not very comfortable, I must admit, but that saved me some ¥7,000 for the night, and I got to set off the next day journey early!

There was nothing much spectacular about Haneda airport, but I was impressed by their toilet, notably the multi-purpose toilet for the disabled and visitors with special needs. Look at it, there's even a bed inside! Imagine this happening in China, I can safely presumed the needies would very certainly having next to no chance utilising it! Much as I was tempted to sleep inside, but I guessed I need to pay the authority some respect for their sincerity :P

One half of the Arrival Hall, it ain't that big really
Intuitive Shop Floor Display: The small lighted panels on the right indicated the outlets still in operation
Center Stage for mini performance, a rarity among airports
The secluded restaurant street after operating hour. Say, does this look like an airport at all?
Drizzling in the open-air viewing gallery
The most famous Japanese Ambassador, Her Excellency Hello! Kitty has a spot in Tokyo's new International Terminal too!
JAL's very own mascot, Shirotan! Kawaii ne~
Haneda International Terminal's sail-shaped roof top provides that sense of smooth journey feeling to travellers

Day 1

First Light @ Tokyo International Airport: I deliberately waited for the first light to take this!
The viewing gallery was also worth a mentioning, contrary to most other airports, Haneda has an open-air gallery beyond its indoor gallery. I prefer the outdoor one, but given Japan's high suicide rate, I really feared some desperate may use it controversially.

So, at around 6am, I left Haneda for Tokyo station on Keikyu Airport Line, with a transfer at Shinagawa, reaching Tokyo at about 6.45am. I spent quite sometime locating the JR Pass Exchange Office, it was hidden at a seclusive corner from the Yaesu exit. I reached there at 7am, and it was still a good 30 minutes away from opening hour. I had to be early, so as to catch the earlier Hayate 5 Shinkansen to Ichinoseki (一関) in Iwate (岩手縣). I would not make it had I stayed at a hotel for the night without compromising on the breakfast, and the ¥7,000 saved could very well cover my whole day expenses! As it turned up, before the exchange office opened, there was already a queue of about 5 persons forming. I was first one of course! I witnessed the two JR staffs casually preparing for the start of the day. Soon as they drew up the curtain, I couldn't wait to hand them my JR East Pass Special exchange coupon. But their immediate reaction awed me! The girl who attended to me, her expression upon seeing my exchange coupon, was in such bewilderness as if she had unbelievably strike lottery (Hey! Come on, I'm not Takuya Kimura, sorry, no autograph :P)! I ain't exaggerating, her counterpart's mouth opened just as wide, when she was shown my exchange coupon as well. I was certainly puzzled, and then the girl who attended to me began yelling, "Congratulations!"

Now I started to gather some hint as to why were they so surprised, but still I was quite in the dark and asked, "Oh, thank you, but how did you know?"

The girl exclaimed delightedly, "Because this coupon, only you have. Nobody has it!"

Ah! so-des-ne! I was wondering what kind of exchange coupon was that, without a serial number, just a plain powerpoint slide, very different from the usual JR Rail Pass I purchased, no wonder I could only exchange it at Tokyo station. And I was even thinking of re-circulating it in my subsequent visit! LOL! How evil am I~ muahaha! So, JR East specifically fabricated a unique coupon for me! I was really flattered!

The girl quickly digged out a pre-prepared JR East Pass Special for me, a 3 flexible days rail pass valid for unlimited travel on all JR East trains including Shinkansen. On it was a golden origami crane, she took it out from the clip cautiously, demonstrating to me how the wings of the crane flapped by pulling its head and tail together. I was fascinated! Next, she processed my reserved seat ticket for me, and took the trouble to write in kanji, the source and destination on the ticket. I was touched! Even as I left the office, she and her colleague couldn't stop congratulating me, and wishing me a smooth journey! Very spontaneous indeed! And, my trip to explore East Japan began on a delightful note!
Shinkansen Hayate 5

Frankly speaking, Ichinoseki was not really in my agenda, it was only included because I would like to take advantage of getting an Iwate souvenir from the station tourist office by showing them my JR East Pass. It was a Nanbu dyed cloth in limited quantity. Nothing expensive, but a nice FREE souvenir! Had I missed Hayate 5, I would have no choice but to give it a miss because the subsequent train timing would jeopardise my itinerary severely. There were 4 locations where this souvenir were available, Ichinoseki was the most convenient, followed by Hiraizumi (平泉), and Morioka (盛岡).

Drizzle welcomed me at Ichinoseki when I reached around 10.15am, the tourist office was just a small counter next to the station office. I showed the girl my JR East Pass Special, she promptly let me chose from a few design, how I hope I could asked, "Can I have one each? If not, I come back again tomorrow!" LOL!
Anyway, it's nothing expensive, as I reiterated, merely a souvenir for this memorable trip! The girl also shoved me some brochures about Iwate and Ichinoseki, erm, I felt like telling her honestly, that I would be on the next train out :P So, I went to the ticketing office next, booked myself the next ticket to Sendai, my actual destination. I had about 30 minutes to walk around before the train arrived. There was nothing impressive nearby, but I still recalled seeing the first koyo tree just outside Ichinoseki station, not red, but vibrant yellow.
My first koyo experience ^.^

Yamabiko 50 took me to Sendai by 11.20am.
Sendai Eki Locker: Ishinomori Shotaro's Cyborg 009

Sendai Eki

3 years was a long time, Sendai! I could still remember seeing a Date Masamune statue right inside the station in the August three years ago, but it wasn't there anymore this time round. I only saw many kiosk set up inside the station selling local specialties.
My accommodation for the night - Toyoko-Inn, well hidden beneath some taller buildings :(
 I made my way to the hotel braving the drizzle, carrying my heavy haversack and the SQ souvenir was considerably tedious. I took quite some time to locate Toyoko-Inn Sendai-eki Nishiguchi Hirose-dori. It was absolutely necessary for me to repack my luggage at the inn before leaving the buck of it to the concierge, and it was almost an hour later when I returned to Sendai station for Senseki line to Hon-Shiogama.
JR Hon-Shiogama Eki
Hon-Shiogama Ichiba

Marubun Kisen (丸文汽船)- Asuka
Economy Deck a.k.a. Lower Deck
The seagulls attending a briefing before joining me for the sail :P

The trip to Hon-Shiogama took me half an hour. I was surprised to find a special booth set up inside the station, offering Matsushima cruise ticket at 10% discount (¥1,260)! Even though the ojisan understood no English, I still managed to got the discounted Basho Cruise ticket from him, along with a detailed map to the jetty. The walk was going to take me 10 minutes, barely in time for the next cruise, but I chose the 1.30pm ferry without the need to rush. It was still raining by the way, even though such rain was considerably mild by Singapore's tropical standard, I didn't fancy rushing under the drizzle. In the end, I still managed to find time to look around the local seafood market next to the jetty before my cruise. As it turned out, I was the only passenger in the economy (lower) deck (Wow!), and so I had the busy luxury of running across from left to right, and vice versa, to snap pictures of the impressive islets skimming by from both sides of the ship. The generous Japanese passengers on the top deck apparently paid for some snacks for the seagulls, it was really fascinating to have the seagulls accompanying us throughout the entire journey from Hon-Shiogama to Matsushima Kaigan. To be frank, I didn't share Matsuo Basho's sentiment of Matsushima, I'd still prefer Itsukushima (儼島) Torii Gate in Miyajima (宮島) among the Nihon Sankei (日本三景: The Three Best Views of Japan), especially the free roaming deers in Miyajima, they were just too mild and cute! Anyway, just like the name implied (Matsu means 'Pine' in Japanese), there are many naturally grown pine tress on most of the islets, and I began to ponder, China made such a big deal of pine in Huangshan (黃山), if the Japanese were half as emphasize on these, Matsushima would definitely surpassed Huangshan's fame.

It was 2.40pm when I reached Matsushima Kaigan. With Godaido just 5 minutes walk from the jetty, there's no reason I could give it a miss, particularly, it's free of charge! Godaido only opened its door to visitors every 33 years, the last time it opened was in 2006, which means, it would take the a generation to see its interior. Gosh, I spent 10 minutes in Godaido, and it was already much beyond lunch time, I had not even taken any bite at all, considering I only had biscuit for breakfast >.<

I walked to Matsushima's Sakana Ichiba (Sakana Market), didn't manage to find much stuff for lunch, but discover this Yaki-Kaki Hausu (House?) right in front of the Ichiba. Their operation hour was up to 3pm, hence, I asked them embarrassingly whether they would allow me try out their Oyster Buffet @ ¥2,000 for 45 minutes. After a while, the lady allowed me in, and then I endured through the awkward experience of piercing open the cooked (or half cooked, rawed, whatever) oysters! Seeing my clumsiness, the staffs were kind to help me met my 'quota'! Well actually, I didn't think I could finished so much oyster, and I really had a hard time sticking to the 45 minutes, lol!

So, it was already 3.45pm when I came out from Yaki-Kaki Hausu, quite full literally, after squeezing close to 50 oysters inside my stomach. Too lazy to dig out the information, I let my instinct brought me to the next destination, Fukuurajima, a mere 5 minutes walk away. After paying ¥200 entrance ticket then I realise, the colourful red bridge connecting the island to Matsushima Kaigan was undergoing a facelift :( Anyway, it was more or less just a natural walk, providing a closer view on two of Matsushima's islets, nothing particularly impressive. I left Fukuurajima at about 4.30pm.
View of Matsushima-Kaigan from Fuukurajima

It was autumn, and the sky's beginning to getting dark early. I took my time walking towards the direction of Entsuin, going to appreciate a night koyo session there. The night session began at 5.30pm, it was still a good half an hour to go. I bought my ticket from the souvenir shop next to it, and really had a hard time passing time there. The ticket price was ¥500, far more than its daytime entrance price of ¥300, but what to do? It was my hidden agenda and I rely on this to 'brighten' my 'normal' itinerary! Haha! The temple started to let patrons in slightly before 5.30pm, however, I found the session a bit overrated, as true red koyo was far and few, most of them were, at best, pink. Many of the leaves were still pretty green. Fortunately, I managed to capture the essence of those few red maple trees, the pictures easily beat those of my two other counterparts took elsewhere ^_^ One remarkable thing was that, there were performers dressed in traditional costume playing seasonal music blending in seamlessly with the atmosphere, and the flute player was playing probably the only Japanese folk song I familiar with, Moon Over the Deserted Castle (荒城の月: Kojo no Tsuki), that reminded me of my secondary school days when I was playing for the band. Come to think of it, I must say, playing in flute, this tune completely captured the sadness and aloofness within the song than whatever other instrument I imagined could do, simply brilliant! I wanted to take a picture of the artist, but the dim lighting would have rendered my attempt futile. By the way, the lyrics of the song was actually penned by Doi Bansui (土井晚翠), a Sendai native borned 1871. The song was composed by Taki Rentaro (瀧廉太郎). This is Japan's most famous song in history other than Sakura.
Road of Lanterns
The lantern consisted a light bulb, encased with a transparent plastic bottle, and was further wrapped with art paper on the outside.

By 6pm, I finished the night koyo visit, and was already leaving Matsushima Kaigan. I was pondering over visiting Mitsui Outlet Mall in Sendai Port, some 10 minutes walk from Nakanosakae (中野榮), located midway along the way back to Sendai, but eventually decided against it because I was beginning to feel exhausted, after a long day and insufficient sleep the night before. Particularly, I had yet to take dinner, and still need to visit AER Building for Sendai's night scene, and after that, Kokubun-cho. There were so many things I need to do at night before getting back to hotel to finish a mandatory blog for JNTO >.<
Zunda Saryo
Edamame Paste & Pudding
'Cross-section' of the Pudding ^_^

I reached Sendai around 6.35pm, searching around the station for a dessert strongly recommended by the guide book I borrowed - Zunda Saryo's Edamame paste dessert and pudding. I only managed to locate it after going few big rounds all over Sendai station =.=" I spent ¥861 on them. Oh my god! It's simply delicious! Nevermind the dinner, I was not hungry yet after the oyster buffet, and this dessert really impressed, worth the time finding it ^.^

This was the best night view I could savage without tripod
AER Building was just next to Sendai station, finding it was easy, although finding the correct lift to Level 31 took a while. I was somewhat disappointed at the scale of the viewing gallery, it was small, overseeing Sendai East and West on both ends of the building, but seriously, Sendai's night view was certainly not as impressive as Tokyo, nevertheless, in my opinion, it's still better than coming during the day. There were a few couples inside the respective ends of the viewing gallery, I was so afraid to startled them while I was taking the picture. And as I was pressing my camera close to the window to take shot, I could feel the trembling glass pane, imagine how harsh was the wind outside! Oh, but one interesting thing, I thought I saw two distant towers resembling Tokyo Tower, however, my picture ain't able to capture them clearly from such distance :(
Hapina Nakakecho

I was clearly feeling the exhaustion for these two days, but I thought I could still manage to take some picture to show that I had been to Kokubun-cho, so I made my way through Hapina Nakakecho, the sheltered shopping alley in front of Sendai station. Oh, and surprisingly, I found an outlet selling my favourite Japanese chocolate! Not Shiroi Koibito (白色戀人), but Denroku (でん六)Peanuts Choco Block Type, from a confectionery in Yamagata. It's pretty cheap, @  ¥105 per pack! I first tried it two years ago in Iwakuni (岩國),and after that, managed to find it in Roppongi (六本木) too! Was thinking of detouring to Roppongi to buy it on my way back, but glad I found it here! I found Shiroi Koibito too sweet, but Denroku Peanuts Choco was rich in milk with crunchy and fragrance peanuts, just the way I like chocolates! The best of all, it's very affordable! I bought a few packs back, but I ain't gonna give it away, how I'd like to filled my haversack full of it! :P...
My Chocolate harvest from Sendai ~ ^.^ ~ (Oh, exclude the French Milk from Morinaga, it was a token from JNTO from the post trip presentation)
Ah, let's get back to the main track, I managed to reach Kokubun-cho around 8.15pm, simply walked through, took a few pictures for the blog, as in going through the motion of it, before reaching the hotel checking in about 9pm (Room 409), in the process lost my way a little bit @_@

I didn't have a peaceful night, as I discovered my shirt was stained with oyster shell debris, and I had a hard time cleaning and washing it. After checking my mail and surf a little web, I entered a contest from, and eventually won a bottle of Penfolds wine! But while I finally had time for the blog, I found myself staring at my laptop but could barely came out one paragraph in an hour, I knew I couldn't get on anymore. Slept late but wake up very early the next morning to get on with the blog post and all the repacking >.<

My estimated expenses for the day: ¥6,300 (excluding accommodation)

Day 2

Ah! The familiar Toyoko-Inn Breakfast ^_^
Woke up something like 5am, hastily finished my blog (not this one lah, the one in JNTO) by 7.40am, rushed for the breakfast for a brief 10 minutes, and quickly back packing my belongings. I checked-out my room at 8.50am, deposited my luggage, and despite the train station being 5 minutes walk away, I still made it only just in time for Yamabiko 43 at Sendai station with barely minutes to spare! Phew...

I actually reshuffled my whole schedule to squeeze in this, Naruko Gorge (鳴子峽). As I mentioned earlier, it wasn't in my initial plan because I wasn't in control of the arrival timing in Sendai, should I touch down Haneda yesterday morning instead of the night before, I might not have time for this. And as things turned out smoothly, nevermind the whole program been too congested, I was able to savage some 4 hours for Naruko Gorge, including the 2 hours return train journey. If something screw up during this segment, then I'd find myself having supper in Tokyo instead of dinner.

Yamabiko 43 waiting...

So, as things went, I managed to catch the 9.02am Yamabiko 43 to Furukawa (古川), it's just one Shinkansen stop away from Sendai or simply 13 minutes. If I were to take Tohoku Main Line (東北本綫) for a transfer at Kumata (小牛田) instead, I would have easily required an hour for this! It appeared that the connecting Rikuu-tou line (陸羽東綫) was in fine synchronisation with Shinkansen, I didn't have to wait long, before boarding the 9.23am train to Naruko Onsen (鳴子溫泉) station. The train was rather congested with lots of old folks apparently heading for the same destination as me, fortunately I managed to grab a seat and took a short nap on board before waking up shortly prior to arrival. I guessed I brought over previous days' lethergy :(

This picture really could not depict the true colours I saw
The train reached Naruko Onsen at 10.06am, while the whole flock of tourists jammed the exit, I paid a little appreciation to the scenery within. I was wondering whether to take the Rinji bus for the gorge, but decided against it upon seeing the masses crowded the bus. In any case, walking there would allow me a closer appreciation of the scenery along the way, it might well turn out to be a decision I regret later on, because I ran out of time! Haha! Anyway, I did savour the few pink koyo trees along the way, as well as passing by a few kokeishi doll workshops and outlets! Again, I lost my way a little initially, but my navigational skill almost always found the correct way eventually, as far as I could remember, the only exception been two years ago, in Fukuoka, I lost my way because it was late at night, and I could not use shadow as a directional guide! lol! Naruko Onsen was unique from other hot spring village, including Arima Onsen (有馬溫泉), because you can see kokeishi dolls everywhere, as a road post, decorations etc. And Naruko was one of the places laying claim to kokeishi doll's origin. It took me some 45 minutes walk since reaching Naruko, by then, I already had a feeling, I might have to sacrifice some of my agenda... Naruko Gorge was one of Japan's top 10 spots for appreciating koyo front, only upon reaching Naruko that I realised, the picturesque bridge that appeared in most Naruko Gorge posters was closer to Nakayamadaira Onsen (中山平溫泉) station, by the name Oofukasawa-hashi (大深沢橋), anyway, I won't have sufficient time for that definitely :(
Naruko Onsen Eki
Opposite Narko Onsen eki, the road to the gorge.
Free Hot Park Ashiyu (foot bath) near train station
A Kokeishi Doll outlet within the town
Onsen Jinsha along the way to the gorge
The scenic road
Pomegranate ^_^
A Kokeishi workshop along the road
Sign of Autumn
It was still cooling at 12C, but it dropped to 8C on my way back under heavy rain.. chilling!
Another Kokeishi Shop cum workshop, I witnessed rainbow on my way back here!
Finally reached entrance of the gorge after a long walk =.="
The colours of the gorge was apparently not entirely into season yet, probably still a couple of weeks away
Gorge Side Entrance to Kokeishi Kan

My primary objective was to stroll along the gorge until the Kokeishi-Kan (museum). However, when I reached its entrance by the gorge side, I found it sealed due to a landslide, by then, it was simply too late to back track via the main road. I was pondering whether to continue the route towards Ouya Kannon (大谷觀音), but given my slow progress, I reckoned that I would have to run on my way back if I do @_@. Alas, it was beginning to rain heavily, I had little alternative but to make my way back. However, as I reached a Kokeishi workshop along the main road, I witnessed a nature beauty so awesome, that I couldn't help stopping to admire!
Anyway, here's a video of how a Kokeishi doll is made, I hope you'll appreciate the effort in how a seemingly simple doll is made behind painstaking effort.

I think this is my 1st time witnessing rainbow ^.^ I guess this was due consolation after braving two days of drizzle and seeing a somewhat disappointing koyo front thus far.
Very tempted to have lunch here.. but out of time >.<
The rainbow lasted for a little less than 10 minutes, and then it gradually faded away. At least there was some great memory for my visit here! As I walked back towards Naruko Onsen station, I had to acknowledge the fact that I was rapidly losing time, I won't have time for onsen definitely. All I could do, was perhaps had a free ashiyu (foot bath) near the station. And then I got to catch the 12.03pm train to Furukawa, for a transfer back to Sendai. Which I did exactly. When I was back at Naruko Onsen station, I naturally crossed the platform for the returning train towards Furukawa, it was then that I observed something strange, I was the only passenger crossing the platform, which was weird! I smelled something fishy, and hurried back to the station office, asked the warden in my broken Japanese, and confirmed my doubt was true! The approaching train from Furukawa, was terminating at Naruko Onsen, as a matter of fact, it didn't bother to do a cross over to the other track, but simply making a turn-around. Therefore, passengers need not crossed the platform for the returning journey! Lucky me, if not, I need to wait another hour for the next train! =.="
Large pumpkins sighted @ Furukawa eki :)

Like the morning journey, the return trip to Sendai was a smooth coordination between Rikuu-tou line and Shinkansen, and Yamabiko 54 brought me to Sendai by 1.20pm. I was wondering whether I shall take lunch before continuing my journey to Aoba-jo, but reckoned my itinerary probably only allowed some 15 minutes, guessed I would just bear with the packet of chocolate I carried.
This trip was an absolute rush, I was over ambitious to load it full of itineraries at the expense of meals.. it's tough even though with the help of Shinkansen, but to squeeze in all my agenda in Miyagi within what eventually turned out to be 30 hours, including approximately 5 hours of sleep, it's only natural some sacrifices had to be made. But Sendai has many more food to offer other than what I managed to put on display in this blog entry, notably Gyu-tan (ox tongue). OK, I don't take beef, but for those who do, Gyu-tan is a special Sendai delicacy that travelers shouldn't miss. And I'll just show a few pictures of what I had missed due to my punishing schedule:
Gyu-tan (ox tongue).. wonder how come it's so large??
Some of the delicacies found at Sendai, which has a fresh range of seafood, beef, and vegetables.. oh and miso too!

I paid ¥600 for Loople Sendai 1 Day pass, and boarded the 1.40pm for Aoba-jo (青葉城). I fell asleep on the trolley and woke up to find my pass lost. It turned out the passenger next to me found my card and passed it to the driver. When I told the driver I lost my pass, even though he probably couldn't understand any English, he promptly passed me the found ticket spontaneously. I was grateful to recover it of course, otherwise, I might have to fork out another ¥600 >.<

I was so tired that I missed seeing the ruins of the castle fort, when I woke up, I was already at the trolley stop beneath Aoba-jo :(

I catered 20 minutes for Aoba-jo, just in time to catch the next Loople, should be sufficient to snap a few pictures of Masamune-san & the city skyline from Aoba-jo. And then I'd have to head for Jozenji-dori. Anyway, apart from Date Masamune's statue, I found a red koyo tree there, this was the first red tree I spotted within Sendai city!

Aoba-jo was very much unchanged since my last visit, this time round, I didn't have so much time to wonder around, in fact, I was even thinking of skipping this altogether, merely using the old photos I took three years ago 3:) But since I could squeeze it in, might as well pay Aoba-jo a visit, in case there might be some view changes :P

Likewise, Jozenji-dori was very much the same. I was slightly disappointed because it didn't seem the season had knocked in on the koyo front here yet. Nevertheless, some picture for the JNTO blog is all but necessary, I felt.

I made this a very swift stop, however, the next Loople came so late and ate into my time for my next destination, making me pondering whether to make the trip or simply do some shopping within Sendai city. I would be leaving for Ueno, Tokyo, later in the evening, and I had not even the time to shop in Sendai yet, this time as well as 3 years ago. Alas, I felt skipping Mitsui Outlet Mall in Sendai Port could be a regret, although I might be 30 minutes late per schedule, I hoped that shouldn't impact my dinner (I already missed lunch, remember?). The next Loople came 8 minutes late, making me missed that train around 3.35pm. Just as I thought it might take another 30 minutes for the next, I was surprised to find one at 3.49pm, when I realised I did my research based on Matsushima-Kaigan, however, there are more frequent trains which stopped at Higashi-Shiogama! Great, at least savaged some little time.
Nakanosakae Eki

Nakanosakae was somewhere inbetween Sendai and Matsushima Kaigan, the train trip took about 20 minutes. I had to admit it was a bit difficult to orientate the direction once alighted from Nakanosakae. But my instinct told me that, since the outlet mall was at Sendai Port (Sendai Shinko), it should naturally be somewhere not so populated, or some spot with big opening, so I headed for the direction where I saw a ferris-wheel, it turned out to be absolutely correct! It took me some 10 minutes to walk there, where apart from the outlet mall, I saw many large buildings, which I later realised to be some homemakers' stores. I only managed to dedicate something less than an hour in Sendai port, regrettably, I didn't really have time to explore around :(
熊出沒注意??Haha! No, It's Mont Bell's mascot~
Ooh~ Her Excellency Hello! Kitty... KAWAII ne!!!

In the end, I only spent some 25 minutes in Mitsui Outlet Mall, before heading back to Nakanosakae station. The discount wasn't rock bottom, and the high Japanese ¥ made it less impressive, particularly comparing to Hong Kong's Citygate Outlet Mall, which I just went a month ago. As it turned out, I was back at Nakanosakae station and boarded the train for Sendai by 5.06pm.

Reaching Sendai 5.23pm, the first thing I did, was to book the trip on Hayate 26 to Ueno, at 6.26pm. Hayate Shinkansen was one of my favourite! Much as I was tempted to take the double-decker Max-Yamabiko, but it stopped over at more stations and easily took half an hour more! I reckoned an hour should be sufficient for collecting luggage from hotel and a brief dinner. But all those niggle things along the way ate into the time (I still need to repack my luggage, for example), and I found myself left with little less than half an hour, which could be a bit risky should the restaurant queue be too long, I won't know the orders queue, patrons were all seated. I couldn't skip dinner this time, hungry as if my tummy could fill an elephant, well, ok, I was a bit exaggerated. I had little choice but to settle for fast food, right after collected and repacked my luggage, at least I bought Japanese styled KFC for ¥640, lol! Teriyaki chicken Sandwich meal, with really large fries and Qoo Orange drink. The Japanese were really pro, even for the KFC attendant, who nicely packed my orders so that the drink won't rock inside the carrier, these little things do touched me!

I managed to return to Sendai station with 15 minutes to spare. When I saw a bento outlet inside the station, I was very tempted to splurge another ¥840 for a eki-don, I saw scallop and salmon inside, ah, my cup of tea! As expected, Hayate 26 picked me up at Sendai punctually and I reached Ueno at 8.05pm. I was so hungry that I finished my 2 sets of meal consecutively as soon as I boarded the train!

My accommodation for the night was at Uguisudani, in Japanese, 鶯之谷, one stop away from Ueno station. I tried to reserve my next morning train ticket to Karuizawa, but was surprised my preferred schedule Asama 509 at 8.46am was fully booked @_@ (I didn't want to take free seating section, might have to stand all the way) The subsequent train will certainly eat into my time, as for the train an hour earlier.. I don't know reaching Karuizawa at such an early hour, would I find anything interesting.. Moreover, it could be very rush after breakfast >.<

Fortunately, the counter staff offered me Asama 563 (a seasonal train that only operates on special days such as holidays) at 8.22am, 30 minutes earlier, reaching Karuizawa 9.24am, well, I could probably walked around the station taking photos if the bicycle shops were yet to open! Very well, half an hour earlier still quite manageable! I didn't want to book the return trip because I wasn't sure how long was I gonna spent in Karuizawa. After that, I was wondering whether to pay Hard Rock shop in Ueno-eki a visit, but decided against it with my heavy luggage on. So I boarded the JR local line to Uguisudani, from where, it would be a 2 minutes walk to my hotel, Toyoko-Inn Uguisudani. After alighted at Uguisudani, while crossing the bridge to the hotel, I suddenly felt a sharp pain on the right side of my right knee, out of sudden, I had difficulty bending it! So, I took more than 5 minutes for the short walk to the hotel. I began to appreciate selecting a hotel so conveniently located to a train station, couldn't imagine if I found a hotel that required a longer walk, would I have to bear the walking distance for the next few trips.

Checking-in at the hotel at around 8.30pm (the ¥6,980 accommodation was more expensive than Sendai, and the room's slightly smaller, but the location is superb!), then I realised, perhaps there was some pun in the name 鶯之谷, the first word, might mean prostitute in Chinese! Because I saw some Japanese signboard stating something like 'No entry for prostituting business' which I don't normally found in other Toyoko-Inn. I don't understand the full context, but merely guessing from the few kanji that I thought I probably understood! So.. I landed myself in red light district unknowingly! lol!

That night, I thought I was simply too tired (again!) for further outing, and also my knee still hurt, so I showered, repacked, surf a bit net, and sleep. What blog? Tomorrow morning lah! Sigh... Throughout my trip, I haven't yet had the opportunity for a bath! >.<

Ooh! There's something worth mentioning! When I checked email, I found I won movie tickets for The Housemaid and RED for the subsequent week! I really like the feeling of winning something, and getting to be informed when I checked email oversea made it extra special! I had a similar experience while in HK too!

Estimated expenses for the day: ¥2,980 (excluding accommodation, but included confectionery souvenirs, unbelievably low huh?)

Day 3

'Standard' Toyoko breakfast.. this time have sausage & bread!
Again, woke up at 5am and quickly wrote a blog for JNTO. Although Mr Nikaido reiterated the main objective was to enjoy the trip, and he won't pressured us into adhering closely to the daily blogging requirement, I still felt obliged to write (Hey! Hey! I also didn't want to give them a reason to onhold my $450 allowance~ hahaha!). By 7.45am, I miraculously managed to submit my post and repacked my luggage for a brief breakfast.

Karuizawa Eki Kitaguchi
Somehow, managed to nicked it again! By 8am, I was already checking out, and in 7 minute's time, boarded a train for Ueno, reaching Ueno a further 4 minutes later. By 8.22am, I was already onboard Asama 563 for Karuizawa. Did I mention Karuizawa was actually my backup plan? I did not want to spend the whole 3 days in Sendai, for the last day, I wanted to stay nearer to Tokyo in case of an earlier flight, and notably, Japan is also prone to natural disaster, such as typhoon, earthquake etc (touch wood!). In fact, typhoon Chaba just skimmed through Tokyo on the day of my arrival. So, if I am nearer Tokyo (notably the airport) on the day of my departure, I would find it easier manageable. Another thing was that, I was supposed to blog daily, staying the previous night in Tokyo also meant I would have time to send in a post before heading for the airport at night. I was actually toggling the idea between selecting Karuizawa or Kusatsu Onsen (草津溫泉)while I was drafting the itinerary, eventually settling for Karuizawa because it is much nearer, with more regular train schedule, not so rush comparing to Kusatsu. And I really made an excellent choice in this, as I found out during my trip there, it's the icing on the cake of my entire journey! What a grand finale!
Karuizawa Eki Minamiguchi
Karuizawa Eki Minamiguchi
Karuizawa Eki Minamiguchi
Karuizawa Eki Watermelon Paperweight ^_^
Karuizawa Eki Miso Shop
Karuizawa Eki Kitaguchi
Karuizawa Eki Kitaguchi
Karuizawa Eki Kitaguchi
Komeitei Soba @ Karuizawa Eki Kitaguchi
Karuizawa is turning Pink!

Anyway, I reached Karuizawa at 9.24am, and I was glad I actually reached Karuizawa earlier, because I was able to execute my itinerary earlier, and it turned out later on, I didn't have sufficient time here. Following the advice from certain bloggers, I walked along the north exit of Karuizawa station, and found this Ichimura Bicycle shop (市村輪店) at the 2nd junction, rented a bicycle with speed regulator and front basket @ ¥500 per day. The rational in selecting a bicycle shop was that, the further away from the station, the cheaper was the rate. Quite true! Of course, there was no need to walk all the way to Kyu-Karuizawa to find something like ¥300 per day (I don't know whether there exist in the first place :P), do remember after you returned your bicycle, you still need to walk back to the train station, and Kyu-Karuizawa is 30 minutes walk away! lol! The shop owner @ Ichimura was quite helpful, providing me with cycling map and discount vouchers, despite me struggling to communicate with him in my kindergarten level Japanese. And he was very kind to tell me, pay when I returned the bicycle, and absolutely no deposit necessary! I was very tempted to ask, so what if someone took his bicycles and didn't return? Perhaps that's the nice nature of the Japanese, they have trust in you! Visitors with luggage can leave your belonging there free of charge, and apart from normal bicycle, motorised bicycles were also available! I guessed, if you are renting for a prolonged period, say, a few days, you might even able to negotiate for a more reasonable price, provided he can understand you, of course! ^_^
Pretty in Red!

As I had just taken breakfast, and not getting hungry yet, I decided to leave Kyu-Karuizawa later in my itinerary and began my trip towards Uchimura Kanzo Memorial Stone Church in Naka-Karuizawa's Hoshino area! Mr Ichimura told me the trip to Naka-Karuizawa takes about 45 minutes, I took much longer because I constantly stopped and took pictures of the awesome view of Karuizawa. As it turned out, Karuizawa had moved into the Koyo front ahead of Sendai! And the best part, there is no rain but sunshine all the way in Karuizawa~~~!!!
Along the way towards Naka-Karuizawa, I came across this Matsuya Supermarket which sells products from (and outside as well) Nagano at very reasonable prices! It's a good place for benchmarking before you made your purchases at Kyu-Karuizawa later on. And in supermarket, no need to wary about marked-up prices. I thought of returning in the evening, so I only bought a bottle of milk tea there and I really glad I bought that, because my subsequent trip from Kumoba Pond all the way until Kyu-Karuizawa, I couldn't find a single eatery, and yes, I missed my lunch again =.=" Fortunately, the milk tea kept my hunger at bay, at least temporarily.
The scenic ride

It took me about 80 minutes before I reached Hoshino Area, a small collection of shops and eateries, including Maruyama Cafe, where its owner, Mr Kentaro Maruyama, brewed great coffee off beans that he frequently acquired from auctions worldwide. In 2008, he launched a bid for the highest ever auction price on coffee bean, which literally means, for some premium price, coffee lovers can virtually taste the best coffee in the world at his cafe here! ^.^

Hoshino Area
Pure Milk Gelato
Pure Milk Gelato
Maruyama Cafe
Hoshino Area
Hoshino Area
 The entrance to Stone Church was just a few hundred meters ahead, when the sign for Hotel Bleston Court can be observed, just turn left and climb up the slope, it's a couple of minutes ride away, provided you are not, like me, pushing the bicycle up! LOL!

Apart from Stone Church, there is also Karuizawa Kogen Church, although less impressive, but was still cute, I thought.

The slope up Beston Court
Kogen Church

Stone Church

When I reached Stone Church, I was halted from entering, a lady told me there was wedding ceremony ongoing, and I had to wait 30 minutes. Very well, afterall, I had cycled all the way here, leaving without seeing would be a big regret! The area on top was nothing big to explore around, I soon found myself bored in the wilderness. When 30 minutes was up, I walked back to Stone Church, but was told to wait another 30 minutes! I was furious, but tried very hard to suppress my frustration, I explained to the lady, I couldn't wait on forever, definitely not 30 minutes followed by another 30 minutes without concrete timing. The lady apologised, but told me, perhaps I can see the exterior of the church. I understand I cannot disturb the wedding, but really, I should have been offered to view the church exterior in the first place, no need for 30 minutes wait! Sigh... What to do, today was Japan's national holiday, and wedding schedule were expected to be congested.

The narrow road to Kumoba Pond

It was already 12.30pm when I left Stone Church, I wasn't hungry yet, and so I rode all the way to Kumoba Pond (云場池). Riding downhill was definitely a much more enjoyable experience, even though I lost my way a little cutting in from Hanareyama (離山) junction, I still managed to reach Kumoba Pond at around 1.10pm. This was considerably fast, by Mr Ichimura's standard! hahaha! I was awed by the number of visitors there when I reached Kumoba Pond, an apparent sign that Kumoba Pond is a worthwhile attraction! True Indeed, the koyo trees in Kumoba was the best I had seen thus far, much exceeded my expectation, to be absolutely honest! I had anticipated to see the best of the koyo in Sendai, but Karuizawa turned out to be the surprise in the bag. There was a strong contrast between opposite banks of Kumoba Pond, with flourishing red on the left versus a vibrant coordination of symphonising colors on the right, I could only hope my camera came with the panorama function to take a wide landscape picture of it! Walking around the pond took me 30 minutes, I circled the pond clockwise, and I only noticed that it was contrary to almost every other tourists did upon completing about a third of the perimeter. Did I take the wrong direction??
Kumoba Pond, a.k.a. Swan Lake
Along the hike, I saw Mandarin ducks swimming leisurely all over the pond, looks like not only human being knows the mean in appreciating this seamless beauty! Granted, the water in the pond was not very clear, but the awesome view, somewhat made me wondered, what more can this do to be rendered one of Japan's best views? Nevermind, Japan has too many great views! In fact, in my humble opinion, apart from scenic Europe, Japan is arguably the best in the world, sorry China, stand aside!

The other bank
I really hope I could have more time here, or even stayed here for a night (There's no accommodation here, btw :P). I knew Kyoto is famous for cherry blossom and koyo front, but I couldn't imagine finding a comparable location in Kyoto. The koyo, the pond, the Mandarin Ducks, the clear blue sky, such fantastic combination, made me forgot I am an Earthing!

I spent about half an hour here, by 1.40pm, I had to leave. I was beginning to feel hungry, and still had a couple of itineraries on my list before I hit Kyu-Karuizawa. I had came here in the right season, at the right time, for probably the best view here throughout the entire year, I wasn't sure if I would come again some other time? Will I catch such scenic view again? But I didn't forget to bring back my most treasured memories here throughout this whole trip!
Even a Pig also enjoying day out at Kumoba! Hey, wait a minute... Did I just say Pig???

Awesome huh?
Natural light work!
The next agenda on my itinerary was a hard ball, in fact, come to think of it now, I sort of regret visiting there, I mean, I could have visited some other notable places given the time and effort getting there. As it turned out, Kyu-Mikasa Hotel (旧三笠飯店) was my next destination. I was misled by a signpost while getting there, and cycled all the way uphill, taken probably 20 minutes off the track and my precious time up a tough rocky path, pushing my bicycle up most of the way before realising my mistake >.<. Even when I eventually found the right track, it was another daunting (longer) up slope although the road was more manageable. Yet, still, I found myself pushing bicycle most of the way. The whole trip from Kumoba to Kyu-Mikasa Hotel took almost one hour, so, anyone keen for a dieting exercise?? lol!

I finally reached Kyu-Mikasa Hotel at 2.40pm! I finished off the last of my milk tea and I really need food fast... The first sight of Kyu-Mikasa Hotel was obstructed by a load of mainlanders, not a very pleasant sight, but fortunately, they did not misbehave like those I read from the papers. The entrance fee was ¥400, but there was no way I was going to pay that! But wait, there was a plaque hanging outside the main gate, from what I made of the fragment of kanji I understood, it should be free of charge today due to today being Japan's Cultural Day!
Great! Otherwise I was thinking of merely snapping a couple of pictures outside! Perhaps I will just include some pictures of what you can expect to see inside, and then whoever keen can make your own judgement for all the trouble getting here!

Basically, it is a museum now, with collection of old and well-maintained furniture that probably had seen better times. There were also old ledgers and records of patrons staying there, but I don't foresee these could arise much interest in paying ¥400 for the entrance fee.
So, save for those who have special taste or who might regard this as an exercising trip, otherwise, I felt it would be better saving the time and effort for something else. There are many other itineraries to be savour in Karuizawa, and as I learnt, one day is barely sufficient!
Within 15 minutes, I was already back to my bicycle and heading the direction of Kyu-Karuizawa with one major thing in mind, you guessed it, FOOD!

The returning trip was an absolute pleasure, down slope all the way, and I hardly need to pedal! Being a responsible rider, the random times I stepped on the brake was upon spotting some approaching pedestrian, but otherwise, it took me just 15 minutes to reach St Paul's Catholic Church, just one street from Kyu-Karuizawa!

Due to its origin, Karuizawa is very much about churches, having been rejuvenated by a Canadian missionary Alexander Croft Shaw. To date, his church and lodging still remains but regrettably (no thanks to Kyu-Mikasa Hotel), I could not squeeze out time for it >.< But anyway, I visited St Paul's Catholic Church enroute to Kyu-Karuizawa. It probably wasn't as well known as Shaw's Memorial Chapel, but I found it small and delightful, the wooden ceiling was so nostalgic! Look at the benches, really made good use of what Karuizawa wouldn't scarce of.. timber! Simple but elegant!

Opposite St Paul's, Church Street Shopping Outlet

My hungry tummy only allowed me 5 minutes appreciating this beauty, it was already 3.15pm and I really need to search for stuff that would keep me moving! It's a good thing Kyu-Karuizawa was just around the corner! I took some time figuring out where to park my bicycle, and desperately searching for FOOD! @_@
Here it is! Kyu-Karuizawa Junction!
I think this is Kyu-Karuizawa eki hostel..
The congested Kyu-Karuizawa during Japan's Bunka no Hi (Culture Day)

I parked my bicycle at the back of some shops, where I found an ice-cream shop. I read about Karuizawa's ice cream is exceptionally delicious, and couldn't resist trying one! In fact, I probably couldn't resist any food now! lol! I didn't know how to ask for mocha favour, in the end, my forefinger anyhow point, got me an ice-cream croissant for ¥350. It was milk vanilla, somewhat richer in milk taste than McDonald's (gee.. I spent so much more, it had better be!), but the croissant didn't taste like one, in fact, I thought I was eating a crispy donut!
After finishing the ice-cream, I found one irritating fact in Kyu-Karuizawa, I couldn't find any rubbish chute for the used serviette. And later on, I found this a general fact across Kyu-Karuizawa!
Not only that, toilet (particularly the free one, if any) in Kyu-Karuizawa is a rarity, the one I knew inside the tourist office charge ¥100 per entry, even more expensive than the one I tried at Zaanse Schans (€0.50) in Netherlands! I learnt that this was due to Kyu-Karuizawa having a vintage drainage system, the charge was to discourage usage so as to alleviate the processing.
Anyway, although I took some 10 minutes to finish this ice-cream donut (whatever), don't even think there's any chance this could satisfy my hunger! I continued my search for the next recommended dish in Paomu's Pudding. And I found it, duly, on the main road along Kyu-Karuizawa!

At ¥473, I found Paomu's pudding somewhat expensive. But having won 2006 Brutus Magazine's Best Japan souvenir, Pudding section, I guessed the price can more or less be justified. I bought the traditional flavour, with a top layer of cheese masquerading the core layer of egg pudding inside, covering a further layer of caramel underneath. To say it was delicious was simply an understatement! I would very much like to purchase some home, but not sure how long it can be kept under room temperature, not to mention I wasn't even sure whether can switch to the earlier flight at 12.30am tomorrow.

Asama Kogen Farm Jam Tasting
Jam tasting next! Now you know why I placed so much emphasis on Kyu-Karuizawa even before coming here! Hee.. Hee.. Food, glorious food! And what better than free sample tasting? Yeah, you can find sample tasting everywhere, but the sampling stores I tried here never pester you to make purchases no matter how long you tried. OK, maybe they'd curse you deep inside, I don't know, but they don't go to such extent as to embarrass you. And to try them while I was hungry, everything simply tasted like nectar! The first one, Asama Kogen Farm (淺間高原農場), offered sample tasting on provided crackers. Not all jam flavours were available on sampling, but I believe those available were probably their more popular or better flavours. The varieties ranged from the more normal fruit jam to Miso jam, and some that I could not tell from the Japanese Katakana. Asama Kogen Farm not only selling jam, there were also some Shinshu specialties available. After tasting, I merely walked out as if nothing happened, lol!

Nakayama's Jam was a much smaller outfit, but they have a long history. Unlike Asama Kogen Farm, they offered bread chunk as sampling media, but with lesser varieties, at a small corner at the front. I found it quite normal, to be honest. I'm not saying it was inferior, but maybe their sampling varieties wasn't as much. Afterall, taste can be rather subjective!

I wasn't filled yet, but I had finished the different types of jam samples. So I set for my next 'victim', honey tasting~ LOL!

There were also a number of honey shops in Kyu-Karuizawa, but I was particularly pleased with Tenguya (天狗屋養蜂店), who set up a small booth in front of their shop, with a few samples in canisters and provided spoons for sampling. Before I stepped near, there was not much people crowding around, I wasn't sure whether was it because I stayed a little long, which made some obasan thought that it might be something nice (it sure was!), and they started to gather over (I ain't exaggerating). I must admit the taste on those samples were exceptionally good, the taste were quite different from the conventional honey from China and Australia I tried back home. Most importantly, they don't pester customers to purchase after tasting!

Mikado Coffee
Shinshu Apple Cake
Post Office.. and the van in front is the mobile post office
Asanoya Bakery
Creek Garden Restaurant Wedding Hotel

Cute huh? But Made in China... =.="
Church Street, leading to St Paul's Catholic Church

Of course, Kyu-Karuizawa was more than free sampling, Karuizawa itself was very much influenced by Western culture and architecture, such as the Tourist Office on the right, which was just another fine example of western-styled wooden architecture with triangular roof top. The whole street at Kyu-Karuizawa was a very pleasant walking experience, the crowd at Karuizawa today was considerably dense comparing to Orchard Road back home. All in all, I was quietly pleased with today's visit, I hoped I could have more time, to visit Shaw Memorial Chapel particularly. Unfortunately, I needed to return bicycle to the shop by 5pm, and I barely left with 30 minutes to go. Somehow I wondered, I didn't pay any deposit at all, doesn't the shop owner concern if I rode his bicycle away. Well, perhaps like I heard about Disneyland, nobody would take any baby trolley left unattended there. Such was Japanese' integrity.
Anyway, I promptly got back to the parking area to collect my bike, and rode all the way downhill towards Ichimura Bicycle shop, when I reached there about 4.50pm, Mr Ichimura was already starting to wind down business for the day, it does seem he doesn't care whether all the bicycle are in?? I paid him ¥500 for the rental, and thank him before making my way towards the train station. It was just 5pm and the sky's beginning to dim. I booked the returned train ticket for Asama 582 for 6.20pm, a decision I quite regret later on (I should have book the 6pm =.="), before heading towards the other side of Karuizawa station, for Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza.

Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza
Out of all the outlet mall I have ever been to, Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza should be the best in my opinion. It has the distinction of having a small lake on an open field, and the design was very unique, the long stretch along the lake are mostly international brand, and the mall-liked are more casual or sport related. Toilets are well-concealed, I had a hard time searching for one, but free of charge nevertheless. However, the temperature was so cold at night that, even with a long-sleeve shirt within a wool sweater, underneath a jacket, I still feel the stale cold of the highland, so cold that I had to utilise the wool scarf I bought from Scotland some 13 years ago, and that still wasn't enough, even though it wasn't as bad as while I was in New York. I guessed it was around 5°C, with strong wind. Just like Sendai Port's Mitsui Outlet, I didn't capture any bargain here. I checked out an outdated soccer jersey, the price was even higher than what I could find at Singapore! Blame it on the high Japanese ¥.
So, within 40 minutes, I finished shopping and eager to go back Tokyo. There's still another 40 minutes before my train arrived, hence I really regret didn't go for the earlier Asama 542 at 6.02pm. I searched around for dinner, but couldn't find anything pleasing. Not because of price, I was willing to splurge on the last day of my trip, and when I eventually went back to Komeitei Soba restaurant on the other side of the station, I was left with some 30 minutes, I was afraid they would take long to process my order. In the end, I ended up paying ¥350 for a bowl of plain soba at a small food kiosk inside train station. At least I know, this station outlet won't go through unnecessary tedious procedure to come out a soba. I don't mind paying more for a tempura soba, but I couldn't read their Japanese menu, and I only saw some customer eating don't know what kind of soba. I won't call it delicious, but at least, it warmed my heart!
I was early on the platform for Asama 582, knocking into the same batch of students I saw in the morning, apparently coming for some sort of tournament, because I saw the same Japanese and some Korean contestants too. Anyway, I was just glad I don't have to share the same row of seats as I did in the morning.

Asama 582 reached Tokyo station at 7.32pm. It was still early, and I didn't plan to collect luggage yet. I wanted to take a few Tokyo night scene starting at Shin-Marouchi Building. I walked over to Level 7, Garden Walk, Shin-Marouchi Building, wanted to shoot night picture of Tokyo station. However, Tokyo station was undergoing a major facelift, and the best I could get out of there, was this. Nothing too spectacular huh? Let's hope my next destination at Caretta Shiodome can yield better result.
I barely stayed more than 5 minutes at Shin-Marouchi, and headed for Shinbashi on Keihin-Tohoku line. I mistook Shiodome City Center as my destination, and cannot find level 46 there. I took the lift to the sky restaurant there, and found views from all direction blocked. I realised I must had got to the wrong building then. I went down and checked the map, before gathering Caretta was the next building with illuminated high-speed lifts. To get to level 46, I need to board the lift at level B2, the restaurant level, because ground level was sealed off after office hour. I saw the opening on one side of the building facing Odaiba. I wasn't alone, there were a few visitors already appreciating the beautiful view when I arrived. I mounted my mini-tripod and took these:
Can't help with the reflection, it was too bright inside

Look at the rather even skyline, pretty huh?
It was about 8.50pm when I left Caretta Shiodome when I discovered a McDonald's at level B2. I wasn't hungry, but each of my trip to Japan, I never failed to eat McDonald's. So I got my usual order, a McPork, a Milk shake, and a Shaka Shaka Chicken with Black Pepper, these are all at an amazing price of ¥105 each. Cheap huh? I would be heading for Haneda Airport later without the slightest idea whether I can change to an earlier flight, I thought if I couldn't at least I get myself full with a supper now.
McPork can still be found in Hong Kong & Macau, but Shaka Shaka is unique to Japan!
Back at Ueno, didn't forget to drop by my favourite Hard Rock Shop ^_^
By 9.15pm, I was already on JR's Yamanote line for Ueno, I wanted to get some souvenir from Hard Rock Cafe Rock Shop before leaving Tokyo. I got myself a limited edition Hello Kitty pin @ ¥1,600, considered it a souvenir from JNTO, I thought, after having saved quite considerably for this entire trip.

I was back at Toyoko-Inn Uguisudani by 9.50pm, collected luggage, and printed out my boarding pass. Repacked my luggage, and left by the 10.26pm Yamanote line. I connected Tokyo Monorail at Hamamatsucho station and reached Haneda Airport Building at 11.06pm.
Tokyo Monorail

I walked over to SQ's check-in counter and asked if I could switch to the 12.30am SQ633 for Singapore. I had some difficulty communicating with some of the attendants there at first, but was glad there was one lady leader who can speak pretty good English helped me on my request. It took a while and she kindly let me checked-in for SQ633, without charge! I reckoned this can be done, because I noted that my ticket was a full fare ticket at $1500. This being the case, so long as there is vacancy, usually they would allow the switch. The scenario could be very different if I was holding a discounted air ticket. Anyway, the flight was pretty empty, I retained the same seat as in flight SQ635 and had three seats all to myself, sleeping all the way back to Singapore, lying flat! LOL!

Estimated Expenses for the day: ¥2,850

At the end of this traveling account, I must say I was particularly pleased with my JNTO blog, I managed to garnered 130 'likes' despite my itinerary being 'normal', the best Huey Woon managed to get for her 5-Day Kansai/Hokkaido trip was 94, and Jaclyn was further behind at 75 for her Tokyo experience (I need to say her itinerary was very nice! Something I couldn't make up). And I didn't manipulate this, none of them 'liked' mine was a friend in anyway! I have to admit, I did not bother to make this post as interesting as my JNTO blog due to time constraint. Pardon my arrogance, but I suppose since I won 2 major itinerary-based contest this year (including the Macau trip via Jetstar), I can more or less regard myself as one of the best itinerary planner in Singapore! Even though just an amateur one ^_________^

Oh, if I tallied the worth of this prize, it's $1500 air ticket, with $262.10 tax borned by JNTO (I supposed), ¥10,000 JR East Pass, $450 allowance, plus the $200 Isetan voucher (token of appreciation) for making the presentation, this prize is worth a total $2572.10 (¥100 = $1.60)! @_@

I just received my credit card statement for the accommodation, and was charged S$ 196.35, so, adding in the 3 days total expenses of $194.08... = $ 390.43!!! ^____________^

But the $450 allowance, I only receive the cheque on Thursday, Jan 06, 2011 >.<

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I stumbled upon your blog and saw a lovely photo that you have on Sendai. My friends and I are trying to put together a coffeetable book on beautiful Sendai to pay tribute for the terrible disasters that happened last week. Will you be able to allow us to use your photo for our book?

    Thanks. I look forward to your reply soon.

    Take good care.

    With love,
    Fanny Tham from Singapore
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