Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Nagoya/Sapporo: 9th Feb 2016

As this trip was planned to cover winter illuminations, we thought it would be a waste if we missed the Sapporo Snow Festival, which was ongoing during the period when we were at Japan. Hence, we made the decision to purchase the domestic flight tickets by Vanilla Airlines to New Chitose Airport, Sapporo.

From JR Nagoya station, we made our way to Chubu International Airport via the uSky Limited Express train. It was about a 30min ride. Pretty short as compared to the train ride from Tokyo city centre to Narita Airport. It was our first time to Chubu International Airport and checkin was rapid and smooth that we have plenty of time exploring the airport.

So we had breakfast there and explored the observation deck which was an outdoor facility.. It was cool watching the planes ascend and descend on the runway with close proximity. Something that I do not get to see back at home. There were several photographers there deeply immersed in their passion in shooting the planes.

We took about 1.5h to reach New Chitose Airport. There was an 1h delay before we boarded the plane as our flight was delayed due to snowstorm at Hokkaido. Sounds pretty scary and we were worried this flight would be cancelled due to snow conditions. Fortunately, it went smooth and we landed safely at New Chitose. Initially, I made plans to reach our Sapporo Grand Hotel via limousine bus. However, due to bad weather conditions, all bus trips were cancelled. Train is the only way to reach the city centre. It was already snowing heavily and the temperature was really really cold as compared to Nagoya. We had to put on additional layers of clothes to keep warm.

This hotel was extremely convenient for exploring Sapporo city and Susukino area as it was smacked in the middle between these two places. The last time when I was at Sapporo, I remembered the Tsuchiura Ramen Shop at the Ramen Alley in Susukino was very tasty. So after checkin, we walked to the shop and had a very satisfying meal.

After dinner, we walked around Susukino and there were already many ice sculptures in the vicnity.
This was a different stretch from the ones near Odori Park and Sapporo TV Tower.

It was a very pleasant walk despite the chilly wind from Susukino to Odori Park. The entire city was filled with illuminations and dazzling lights.You could see everyone tucked in their warm winter suits and anti-slip boots while taking photos with the ice sculptures. I must say it was pretty slippery and you could really fall down hard if you are not careful!

Sapporo TV tower with Domokun

The sculptures at Odori Park kept us awed and impressed at their intricate details. There were also many food stalls selling BBQ food, and grilled oysters, king crabs.. mainly seafood. You cannot miss the chance to have seafood when in Sapporo! Topped it up with Sapporo Beer that tasted really good in this winter.

As this was our last night in Japan, we spent the entire time at Odori Park doing people watching and enjoy all parts of this festival. I must say the organization of this festival was really impressive that many locals and tourists flocked to Sapporo during this period. In fact, this is usually the peak period for travel to Sapporo city. So if you wanna visit the winter festival, you gotta book everything in advance including hotel!

A cold, wintry start for our Lunar Chinese New Year 2016!
But, we never regretted coming here. Although there was minimal CNY atmosphere in Japan since the Japanese celebrated new year on 1st Jan, we felt totally relaxed and a fulfilling trip thus far with all important winter illuminations visited!

Till then, more Japan adventures to come in future :D

Nagoya / Nabana no Sato: 8th Feb 2016

As Bic Camera was just nearby our hotel, we decided to do some shopping before making our way to Nabana no Sato for its winter illumination. If you are tech-freak, camera-freak, Japan-freak, then you've just gotta spend some time at these mega camera shops. Love it! Unfortunately, Dear couldn't find his ideal tripod for his videography, so he left empty-handed while I managed to grab something I like before leaving the shop =D.

After grabbing a bite at a nearby eatery which serves good ramen, we quickly made our way to Meitetsu Bus Center to take the designated bus to Nagashima Onsen Resort

There are several bus trips from JR Nagoya station. And you can purchase the tickets from the bus center. The journey took us about 1h to reach the Mitsui Outlet Shopping Park, located in this resort. As it was still early, shopping was definitely right to whilst the time away....

I couldn't remember what we purchased, but the variety of branded goods over there was good enough for us to spend 2-3h there! I remembered we left the place with very heavy loot from all the shopping hehe.. and we still have not explored Nabana no Sato such that we have to drag every to there.

After having some food, we left for Nabana no Sato (なばなの里) and it was already pitch dark. One thing good is that for every attraction, there are always coin lockers for us to place heavy belongings in a safe place! So, all our shopping loot entered the lockers while we explored the beauty of this park.

In preparation for the cherry blossom season

Everywhere was filled with mesmerizing lights with 
soothing music as accompaniment in the park

The Lake of Reflection

The  highlight of Nabana no Sato that keeps everyone thrilled and a must-photoshoot location within the tunnel! It was amazing how their creativity could flow with the use of these lightings in creating a wonderful travel memory for everyone who visited this place. And these lightings were up for a long time from October to March every year so that you can have more chance making a trip there!

After visiting Nabana no Sato, we were pretty tired out and was happy to catch the bus back to Nagoya station. A fruitful day spent! One more winter illumination to cover the following day!

Shirakawago/Takayama: 7th Feb 2016

We woke up pretty late today as our tour was to begin at 10am. We checked into Daiwa Roynet Hotel Nagoya-ekimae and I must say this is a very value-for-money hotel. It is much cheaper to stay in Nagoya than Tokyo for sure and the shopping over at Nagoya is no less comparable as compared to Tokyo, away from the big crowds that you may face in Shinjuku.

So at 10am, we assembled at the fountain in front of JR Nagoya station. Wow, there were many groups with Club Tourism Japan that day. Mostly heading to Shirakawago for its night illumination during winter. It was said that this illumination event happens every year for certain weeks on Saturday and Sunday in Jan and Feb. So there is bound to be many people visiting this quaint, if not touristy village, during these weekends. Visiting in different seasons gives a different feeling as well. We chose winter as our season to visit!

We took up this bus day tour with Club Tourism Japan. The price included all transport to and fro from Nagoya station and also entry fees and food. There were many foreigners on board for this tour.

And off we went on a bus to enjoy some Hida-beef in sukiyaki style.

A chance encounter with the wild at our lunch place within the mountains. Not sure where the location is, but the scenery around there was breathtaking.

Our first stop was to Takayama (高山), a quaint old town present within the Gifu Prefecture. It consists of many narrow streets that are lined with wooden shophouses dating back to Edo era.

It seems that the Hida-beef at this area is also very famous as within a few footsteps away, you will see shops selling this specialty. 

After an hour and a half exploring Takayama, we slowly made our way to Shirakawago (白川郷). This place was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. The farmhouses were built in a way similar to construction as hands in prayer. This style was known to be very hardy as it could withstand all challenges from the weather. Being located within the mountains, there will be heavy know and unpredictable weather. What was more fascinating was that these roofs of the houses were constructed without any nails!

Since it is in the winter, sunset happened early at 430pm. By the time we reach there, it is already sunset time. Temperature started to decline, I think it was near 0 degrees when we were there.

There were many many people. Probably all ready for the light illumination. You can enter some houses to view the interior at a charge. For instance, the Wada and the Kanda houses are open for visiting.

We didnt spend much time exploring the interior as I was busy finding spots to shoot the starry night sky with the houses in a frame. Finally I found one but it was filled with many photographers. So I have to squeeze my camera setup in a very small space, side by side with other photographers, awaiting for the illumination to begin!

The whole experience ended at about 8pm and we bade farewell to Shirakawago before taking our long bus trip back to Nagoya station. It was indeed a interesting and fulfilling trip to have visited Takayama and Shirakwago! Well worth to plan a trip to cover these two places as they are located in the same area :)

Shizuoka: 6th Feb 2016

After breakfast this morning, we finally met up with Hiro! It's been about 7 months since I last saw her and I remembered her hospitality and guidance during my solo travel at Shizuoka. I was very happy to see her and she provided me with many suggestions to enjoy a road trip at Shizuoka.

So, we went to Toyota car rental office at the hotel lobby to get our car. This time, we drove a Toyota Ractis for three of us. The comfort was good and there we went off, hoping to capture nice pictures of Mount Fuji in winter.

We went to Nippondaira Hotel to take a look. Unfortunately, Fujisan was shy and shrouded by thick clouds. We felt a little disappointed but it was ok. So we left and decided to visit the strawberry farm! This was one of the adventures that I felt excited for this trip!

We reached the farm and paid tickets to enter the strawberry farm to pick strawberries of course!

Boy, they were huge and tasted really juicy! We had an hour there to eat all we can... we start stuffing ourselves silly with yummy strawberries. Both of us agreed that this is the best strawberry we have ever eaten so far haha

After this wonderful strawberry feast, we made our way to S-Pulse Dream plaza at Shimizu, which had several interesting museums like Chibimaruko Museum, Sushi Museum. We spent some time walking around and were very lucky to see Maruko-chan in the house! And she was happily waving to us haha

We moved off shortly to go Satta pass, where you get to see a different scenery with Mount Fuji inside. A really scenic area. The weather was good and Mount Fuji revealed its beauty! Very nice place out of nowhere.. even GPS has issues locating it but we were glad to have found it. There were many people that day.

We were really hungry after Satta-pass and drove to a restaurant which Hiro has kindly offered to bring us and have cherry shrimp meal. Cherry shrimp is a yummy delicacy found in Suruga Bay surrounding Shizuoka. Suruga Bay is the deepest bay in Japan. With great abundance of seafood from the sea, it is real blessing to taste the rich flavors of seafood in that area.We were too hungry so I ate it up without taking any pictures..here is one from Google Image to show you how it looks nice..goes really good when eaten with rice.


After a hearty lunch, we drove to Fujinomiya Sengen Shrine, hoping to catch view of Fujisan with the shrine. However, weather was cloudy. 

We did explore around the shrine and did some prayers for blessing before bading farewell. The original plan was to go to Shibakawa Onsen but I wasnt feeling well that day, so we made our way to a nearby animal farm called Makaino Farm, hoping to see some animals haha...
However, this farm I felt was not as fantastic as Mother Farm which we had visited in July 2015.

A very long trip indeed but a fulfilling one! I was very glad that Hiro could make time for us to bring us around Shizuoka. She also sang Mount Fuji song during the trip and I must say she sang very well!
Great thanks to her for creating beautiful memories for this trip.
Me with Hiro

 After we returned the car, we said farewell to Hiro and started to make our 1h journey to Nagoya via bullet train!

Shizuoka: 5th Feb 2016

This trip was planned to coincide our visit with the night illumination at Shirakawago and also to enjoy the Snow Festival at Sapporo! I was very excited during the planning of this trip itinerary. The trip duration was very short at 6 days but we are to cover Shizuoka, Shirakawago and Sapporo!

We reached Narita Airport after a pleasant ANA flight in the afternoon. After collecting the pocket Wifi and purchased our train tickets, we boarded NEX train to Shinagawa before changing train to go Shizuoka.

Few months before, I have contacted Ms Hiroyo Aizawa, the very friendly guide who brought me around to see the beauty of Mount Fuji from Shizuoka. At that time, it was summer. Mount Fuji was not having the ice-cap. I always wanted to see the winter side of Mount Fuji, hence decided to meet up with Hiro again!

By the time we reached Shizuoka, it was already night as sunset was at 430pm. We checked into Hotel Associa Shizuoka, which is located directly at the north exit of JR Shizuoka station. It was a relief as after a long day of travel, all we hoped is to see the hotel immediately!

The hotel was spacious for a very comfortable stay and it has the Toyota Car Rental Outlet at its lobby, which makes self-drive arrangement easy. After placing our luggage, we decided to pamper ourselves with a big meal at Kani Honten. This is a restaurant specializing in crabs. Snow Crab, King Crab, Hairy Crab... There is one outlet near the Shizuoka station so we have to try it! Boy, having cold beer and crab feast was the best to enjoy in winter!

札幌かに本家 静岡駅前店
7-15 Koyamachi
       Aoi Ward, Shizuoka, Shizuoka Prefecture 420-0852
       Japan (1130am-10pm)

Shabu shabu in winter!

Hairy Crab

After dinner, we walked around the vicnity and saw Aoba Oden street. It is an interesting street lined with many odens stalls. Also very nice to enjoy some hot oden in winter time :) 

We called the day off and returned back to hotel for a much needed rest!Looking forward to our adventure with Hiro the next day!