Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Japan Day 3: Yokohama & Hakone

We departed for Yokohama and Hakone. The plan was to board the Shinkansen to Yokohama and then the Odakyu line to Hakone.

Again, we woke up a bit too early for the shops. The only option was Yoshinoya, which is a somewhat fastfood place. Well, at least you get a hot breakfast at around 500 yen. And in Jess's words, 'a big bowl of rice'!

In the breakfast set I ordered there was natto! I don't know what it is but it appeared very often in Crayon Shin Chan and Shin Chan seems to love it and if Shin Chan does, then I should as well. But, wrong move. It wasn't horrible, just a bit too weird for my conservative taste buds.

Guess which one is my bowl and which one is Jess's?

Do you know that you have to buy two tickets for Shinkansen? One for the seat and one for the ride. A bit confusing, but we bought both.

And do you know that you have to validate both tickets together at the entry gate? A bit confusing, but we did that . . . all the while looking a bit 'kampung' in the face.

In Shinkansen, our feeling of 'kampung-ness' was totally replaced by the feeling of 'coolness'. I mean, we were on the bullet train, fastest train ever (or is it??), that should boost our cool factor a bit!

The trains are all exceptionally clean.

The snacks we intended to have during the journey were all put into action before the train even moved.

Advertorial. This here is the best mochi ever. We bought it from one of the stalls in Tokyo Station and failed to find it after that because it was always sold out by the time we got there. So if anyone is going to Japan :-) A big mochi smile to you!

Then the Shinkansen started to move, oh gosh. . . . . eek we are there already. . . ? True. Too fast, so fast that we reached Yokohama after only 20+ minutes. Bye bye Shinkansen.

Upon reaching Yokohama, we realised how sucky our Yokohama map was. Okay, I 'guessed' it was sucky the night before due to the over-simplified squarish everything on the map but I never expected it to be that sucky. Luckily there are information offices in most train stations and we got ourselves a proper map.

Then we realised how big Yokohama is. Hmm, it didn't seem that big the night before (stupid map of mine). Burnt were all my 'walking distance' plans.

The main place we wanted to go to in Yokohama was the Ramen Museum. I read great things about this modest sounding place from the internet. After all, ramen is everywhere and nowadays you can have it as instant as you want it to be. Bet you are thinking of either Ajisen or Nissin noodles right now.

Paid 300 yen. Stepped in. A souvenir shop selling everything ramen - mascot, keychains. A small corner exhibiting an actual ramen cook station with explanation in pure Japanese. Hmm. Then I saw some people walking towards what looked like a small stairway, remember the 'people-go-you-go-cause-there-must-be-something-good' campaign, so I followed.

Ray said, "That is the toilet!"

But boy was the man wrong wrong wrong.
We were transported to a totally different dimension (basement haha) of what looked like old Tokyo complete with the workers in old time outfits, ice-cream sticks, neon lights and cinemas with old movie billboards.

Within the Ramen Museum, there are 8 ramen stores which are hand-picked from all around Japan. Some of these stores have been run by the same family for years! From the picture you can see the long lines of people waiting for their turn outside the stores! When I heard of the term Food Amusement Park, with the Ramen Museum being one, I never imagined there to be really people lining up for 20-30 minutes waiting to eat ramen (go one a ride!).

Truth to be told, I never really appreciated ramen until I tried the ramen there. Before this, ramen to me is noodles in soup but just Japanese-fied. However, the ramen over there is amazing. The main difference is the soup - the soup is much thicker, flavourful, oilier (I usually don't like oiliness but this rocked big time). The noodles - much chewier and smoother. Although by the admission price to the museum is cheap at 300 yen, you will have to spend at least 500-1000 yen for ramen inside. But don't worry, all the stores have mini ramen to cater to those of us who are greedy enough to want to try all the flavours! And by us, I didn't mean me as I tried only two!

After a heavy lunch, we went to Sankeien Garden. I really really enjoyed this amazing garden. We dared to take a taxi from the train station to the garden which was relatively near. It all happened like this:

Me: We tried trains, buses and walking (a bit too much) here. How about a taxi ride?

Jess: Will it be expensive?

Me: It is quite a short distance I believe.

Jess: Then what about walking?

Me: It should take longer as . . . (took out my over-simplified map)

Jess: Taxi!

Taking a taxi in Japan is super expensive. Before that, we based all our expectations on the fact that a 60km distance from the airport to Tokyo city will cost approximately AUD250 (heard it from someone). After our taxi experience, we learnt that it is actually 720 yen (~ AUD 9) for the first 2 kms and 90 yen (~ AUD 1.10) for every additional 300 m. I still remember our heart skipping beats (almost stopping) once the numbers started jumping on the taxi meter.

Luckily the garden really was near.

Sankeien Garden is a traditional Japanese garden. Most of the buildings there are historically significant structures bought by the designer and builder of the garden, Tomitaro Hara, from all over Japan. Lucky to all of us, this garden was restored to its pre-war condition despite being badly damaged during the wars.

The view there was further beautified by the various shades of yellow, red and brown of the autumn leaves. Pictures!

With the days being a lot shorter, the sky darkens by about 4-5pm. That means, we missed out on Chinatown in Yokohama. Major disappointment.

But!! No time for that, we had to rush our way to Hakone in order to make it by 7 pm for our pre-ordered dinner at Ichinoyu Honkan, then onsen resort we were going to spend the night relaxing at! (Where is the relaxation part in that previous statement?!)

Travelling in Hakone becomes mighty easy and economical with the Odakyu Hakone Free Pass. With a 2-day pass priced at 3900 yen (~ AUD 50), you can use most of the public transports including train, cable cars, ropeways and a cruise within Hakone.

Okay cut back to the nerve wrecking part, the trains were extremely slow (we were used to superfast by the minute trains in Tokyo!) and no views to relax ourselves with due to it being too dark! So I was super nervous. I mean, what if we missed our dinner? Apparently we were supposed to have a huge braised fish (read from a blog). If we missed it. . . ?

We reached Tonosawa Station by 6.40 pm. The station was located in the middle of a . . . forest? Upon closer observation with minimal streetlamps, oh there was ONE small stairway. We followed the stony path (it was the only path so how could we get lost!) until we saw a sign with the word 'Ichinoyu' in kanji. Relieved, we walked slowly there (actually it was really steep so we had no choice but to walk slow).

Then we realised that was actually Ichinoyu Shinkan and not Honkan! I went crazy inside when I heard that. Luckily the attendant made a call to inform their other branch that we arrived and gave us directions to Honkan. We made our way through the stony path again, this time with extra speed, and made it to Ichinoyu Honkan at 7 pm on the dot!

So much for relaxation in the onsen district.

Dinner was amazing. Until today, we all stict reminisce about the rice there. Mmmm. We had some chicken meatball for entree (I think) and a shabu shabu meal.

We were stuffed by Ray still insisted that we were going to get a huge fish. So we mentally convinced ourselves that we were not full. . . at all.

Then this 'fish' came.

After eating this we were even more stuffed but Ray still insisted we were going to get a huge fish. So we mentally convinced ourselves again that we were not full.


Dessert came. Yuzu (mandarin-like) ice-cream which was heavenly.

After eating the ice cream, Ray still asked, "Where is our huge fish?"

We all just mentally convinced ourselves that, 'he must be joking'. But his eyes showed sincerity and plain longing for a huge fish. Sigh. Men and food.

We also had hot sake and plum wine (my favourite!)

After dinner, I went to the public bath. Woot. The last time I went to Japan, I did not go to a public bath due to my shyness (unlike my sister, well she had 'the body' back then). This time, after paying that much and a year of exhaustion and stress, no one is stopping me from going!

A few rules in using the onsen:

1) You must undress prior to entering the onsen area.

2) You must not take/wear anything other than a small hand towel into the onsen area.

3) You must wash you body thoroughly before entering the onsen.

4) You must not let your hand towel touch the onsen water.

5) You must dry your body well before exiting the onsen area.

The onsen is pretty hot. Especially when you first dip in. But after awhile, it feels truly relaxing as you feel every joint in your body loosening up. The onsen we were at had a river nearby so imagine relaxing yourself in the onsen while listening to the sound of the water flowing.

After onsen, everyone was in a 'drunken' state. Haha, in the sense that we were high on relaxation after a few days of intensity around the city of Tokyo.

So we just kicked back and nested in the room with some good ol' convenience store sake and games of Big 2.

0 Hikari*fications!:

Post a Comment

Got Hikari*-fied?