Kansai/ Shikoku/ Chugoku Early Spring 2018 – Day 3

This was the day we left Takamatsu for Dogo Onsen, a 3-hour drive. Since we were still in the home of udon (basically the whole Takamatsu surrounding area), we stopped by Marugame for an udon brunch.

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Nakamura Udon was about 40-min’s drive from the hotel in Takamatsu, it’s a small handmade udon restaurant only opens 10am to 2pm, or earlier if the udon is sold out. We were again driving through some roads that didn’t look like it was leading to any restaurants, until a point where there were quite a few restaurants with handmade udon as their speciality.

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My cold udon

Arriving at Nakamura Udon only 45 minutes after the hotel breakfast, we opted for differents sizes of udon bowls. It’s a self-service restaurant, queue up outside and ordered, then stayed in the queue for the udon. It was really good udon.

The drive from Marugame to Dogo would mainly be on the motorway. It’s a 2-hour drive there. One thing that we always do when driving on motorways in Japan is stopping at rest areas known as “Service Area (SA)” or “Parking Area (PA)” – SA’s are generally bigger with more facilities than PA’s. GPS will generally show the location and facilities of the rest areas. Stores and restaurants at rest areas always sell the local specialties, so it’s always fun to visit.

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Ladies toilet at the SA even shows you which cubicle is available

After almost ¾’s of the drive we stopped at Mount Ishizuchi SA. It was still quite early and we decided to stay at this rest area a bit longer – better to arrive at the hotel at Dogo Onsen around 3pm check-in time. We managed to time our trip well and got to the hotel – Hotel Tsubakikan, sometime after 3pm.

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Dogo Onsen is an old and famous hot spring. The main bath house is beautiful. Around the bath house there are shops, sightseeing spots and foot bath. Our hotel location is approximately 5-min’s walk away from all these so first thing we did was to stroll around.

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My black sesame snack, hot and yummy

After a relaxing foot bath right next to the automation clock at Dogo station, time to return to the hotel. We booked the accommodation package with dinner and buffet breakfast. Dinner was Japanese seasonal set, in March it was sea breams and prawns.

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Dogo Onsen area hospitality business should be quite competitive, there was a Taiko show at the hotel lobby at 9pm every night. By 8.45pm the lobby was packed with audience. It was a energetic, intense and entertaining show.

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Kansai/ Shikoku/ Chugoku Early Spring 2018 – Day 2

Second day of our trip we visited the Benesse Art Site on Naoshima (直島) – a place that I had been longing to visit. Naoshima as an art site is very much unlike other traditional art exhibiting establishments. Art installations are randomly (or maybe calculated, anyway) placed at different spots on the small island in Setouchi Inland Sea (瀬戸内海). The whole island itself is a museum. Reminder – the art facilities on Naoshima are closed on Mondays.

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Sculptures on the way to the ferry pier

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More art installations at the ferry pier

From Takamatsu we hopped on a ferry to get to Miyanoura Port at Naoshima, the ferry ride took an hour. Best to check theferry timetable as they run on an infrequent schedule.

The hour’s ride on the ferry was comfortable, there were normal rows of seats on board, and bigger groups could choose seating area with sofa and coffee table. There were TV and wifi. Or the upper deck, which was extremely windy in March – should be fantastic in May.

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On our way to Naoshima

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Ferry decorated with dots, the signature of Yayoi Kusama

Right next to the ferry terminal at Naoshima was the Red Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, this sculpture was really popular. Artist wonderfully transforms her hallucinations with dots into art that everyone enjoys. There’s also the Bunraku Puppet by Jose de Guimaraes and the Naoshima Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto, all located near the ferry pier.

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Red Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama

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Naoshima Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto

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Bunraku Puppet by Jose de Guimaraes

Our route was to head towards Ando Museum at Honmura Area, then visit Benesse House Museum (and have lunch there) and Chichu Art Museum. One way of touring around the island would be cycling which we did not opt for (windy and hilly). We took the Town Bus (again, check timetables first).

Ando Museum is like a shrine for the Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The building itself is a small traditional Japanese wooden house, with the interiors redesigned and renovated by Ando. The entrance is not easy to notice, a metal plate closed to the ground telling you “this is the museum”. It’s not a big museum, but it’s a good starting point for the island, as it displays the sketches and models of Ando’s work, including the museums on Naoshima. You get to see how the Naoshima art site and museums are conceptualised and developed.

 

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Ando Museum

After Ando Museum and a stroll around the area, we hopped back to the bus for our next stop, Benesse House Museum. The Town Bus terminates at Tsutsuji-so, where visitors will need to take the free shuttle bus from there to the Benesse House Area where Benesse House and Chichu Art Museum are located.

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Waiting space for bus and ferry also an art installation

Benesse House Museum houses many interesting pieces of contemporary art, like Jonathan Borofsky’s Three Chattering Men and Yukinori Yanagi’s The World Flag Ant Farm. The building itself, work of Ando, is part of the exhibition. No pictures here as photography is strictly forbidden inside the museum.

We had lunch at the cafe there, sadly the squid ink curry with rice was already sold out, settled for the pasta instead, quite nice… Actually there were quite a few cafes in the Honmura Area but too small for our group, so we chose to eat at the museum cafe.

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Naoshima cat

Next stop – Chichu Art Museum. We missed the shuttle bus from Benesse House Museum so we took a 20-min-downhill-and-uphill-walk there. After reaching the entrance building and paid for entry, the walk to the museum itself took another 5-10 minutes (as they courtesy bus broke down). “Chichu” literally means inside the ground, the museum was mostly underground with a lot of skylight. This museum houses works by Claude Monet, Walter De Maria, and James Turrell, and of course Tadao Ando’s concrete architecture is also a part. James Turrell’s Open Field was fascinating. (again, no pictures, photography not allowed)

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Chichu Art Museum (地中美術館)

To catch the last ferry at 5pm from Miyanoura Port for Takamatsu, we had to take the 4pm shuttle bus from Chichu Art Museum and changed to the 4.13pm Town Bus from Tsutsuji-so. We were in a bit of hurry so we missed some of the outdoor art installations, including the famous Pumpkin (the yellow one) by Yayoi Kusama, we caught a glimpse from the shuttle bus though.

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Famous Yellow Pumpkin viewed from the shuttle bus

My health app told me that I walked over 16,000 steps on the island. So rest time then dinner near the hotel. We found a bigger izakaya (informal Japanese tapas restaurant) near the shopping street area opposite the hotel.

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Dinner

Kansai/ Shikoku/ Chugoku Early Spring 2018 – Day 1

After a short stay in Osaka doing the regular shopping and eating and city wandering, the real trip started on a Tuesday morning for Awaji (淡路), around an hour’s drive from Namba, Osaka, via the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge (明石海峡大橋), the longest suspension bridge in the world at the moment.

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Our first stop: Lunch at Kaisenkan (海千館), a self-service sashimi/seafood rice restaurant. Compare to Osaka, this place is cheaper. We tried the grilled oysters which was 600yen for 5 pieces, not those huge oysters that we have had but ok in size and they were fresh.

There’s more to this place – location. It’s right next to the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge on Awaji Island, with a magnificent view of the bridge and the Akashi Strait.

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Awaji Island is a smaller island in between Honshu (Japan’s main island) and Shikoku. After having lunch at the north tip of the island, we headed towards the south end for the Naruto Whirlpools (鳴門の渦潮). The Naruto Whirlpools are tidal whirlpools, happen twice a day at different times, so best to check the tidal calendar before visiting. The time window for whirlpool viewing is approximately an hour before and after the stated time. (The translation on the webpage is weird… red denotes most serious tide.)

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There are a few options for viewing the whirlpool, join a cruise, or view from Awaji Island (I wonder if this really works), or view from Uzu-no-michi (渦の道, literally transalates as whirlpool road), all located at different spots.

We went for the Uzu-no-michi, which is right underneath the vehicular road on the Ōnaruto Bridge (大鳴門橋), crossed the bridge and there’s the entrance, around 5-10 minutes’ walk from the parking area.

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At Uzu-no-michi, we were basically above the whirlpool location, and one way to view the sea was through the glass panes on the ground. We happened to choose a small whirlpool day, viewing from afar, the whirlpool looked less grandeur than my washer, hmmm hmmmm. Still it’s pretty amazing to see the waves flowing in all directions.

Whirlpool passed, time for udon (Japanese thick wheat flour noodle). You can find udon everywhere at the home of udon – Sanuki, Takamatsu, Marugame. We went to the main Yamada-ya udon restaurant (うどん本陣山田家本店) that is located in Takamatsu, just passed Sanuki, around an hour’s drive from the whirlpool. A beautiful place with lantern-lit courtyard seating. Location is really off the grid, didn’t look like we were on the right track on the way to a restaurant, more like we were visiting someone living at a distant suburb, until we started to see the orange signs put on lampposts directing our way. We arrived around 6pm for an early udon dinner, noted that this place closes at 8pm.

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Entrance

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My cold udon with tempura, nice

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Udon with seafood hotpot

Our final stop that day was our hotel in Takamatsu – Dormy Inn Takamatsu. It was our first time visiting Takamatsu and happy to learn that the hotel is located very conveniently with shops and restaurants nearby. The only inconvenience was that the car park was unable to accommodate our 2 rental cars – taller than the height limit.

Kansai/ Shikoku/ Chugoku Early Spring 2018 – Introduction

Here we are, in Japan again, in early Spring 2018. From Osaka, we drove to Awaji Island 淡路 then to Shikoku, stayed 2 nights in Takamatsu 高松, a city busier than I had expected. After a relaxing onsen night at Dogo 道後溫泉, we drove back to the main island for Hiroshima 廣島, which we stayed 2 nights. The final night of the trip was another relaxing onsen stay at Ako 赤穗.

 

Osaka Late Winter/Early Spring 2016 Part 2 – Nara

One day trip to Nara (奈良), and one day trip to Arashiyama(嵐山).

Nara is a tourist magnet. There are the deer, Todaiji (東大寺) – a Buddhist temple, and Kasuga Taisha (春日大社) – a Shinto shrine. Deer looked different from my last trip there may years ago in a summer – weather’s cold and they got a layer of fur. Couldn’t see the white spots clearly.

Winter deer

Winter deer

Getting to Nara from Osaka was easy. Since we were staying at Namba, we took Kintetsu Railway, took around 40 minutes to get there. Another way to get to Nara is by JR train, which operates from JR Osaka Station.

We did all the touristy things, i.e. visited the deer park and Todaiji in the morning, had lunch, and visited KasugaTaisha in the afternoon.

Todaiji - huge Buddhist temple

Todaiji – huge Buddhist temple

Huge Buddha inside

Huge Buddha inside

Simple lunch in Nara

Simple lunch in Nara

Kasuga Taisha

Kasuga Taisha

Evening - time to leave Nara

Evening – time to leave Nara

Osaka Late Winter/Early Spring 2016 Part 1 – Osaka

Took this trip early 2016, I was basically “tourguiding” an enthusiastic shopper to Osaka. Most of the time was shopping at different department stores and shopping centres. There were some sightseeing and of course eating. Shoppers still have the need to eat.

Out of the restaurants we went to, there were two which I liked the most.

手羽先の羽 (Te-ba-saki-no-hane) was one of them. I won’t say that this is the best yakitori restaurants I visited, food was nice and the price (of food and especially beer) was good. It’s a short walk from Nankai-Namba station (south-most of all the Namba train stations).

edamame and beer~

edamame and beer~

Skewers, yum---

Skewers, yum—

Chicken wings

Chicken wings

Karaage (Fried chicken)

Karaage (Fried chicken)

 

Another one was 大衆酒場 まる和  (Tai-shuu-saka-ba-ma-ru-kazu). It’s located on the right of Namba station where LOTS of small restaurants were. Lots of food and drinks to choose from. Menu only in Japanese which maybe a bit difficult for visitors though… perhaps Google translate can help with ordering.

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My favourite fish

My favourite fish Hokke

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Apart from eating, onsen is a must especially in the winter. I left the shopper at a department store (twice) and went to a Sentō (銭湯) – public hot bath house where people pay to enter. Most of the sento’s provide the basics, this one- 湯源郷 太平のゆ – located at 木津市場 Osaka-Kizu Wholesale Market was really nice. There were indoor and outdoor hot baths and Jacuzzis. Weekday late afternoons would be my recommended soaking time. Weekends a bit too crowded. Remember to follow the onsen etiquette! (This etiquette guide is quite comprehensive http://www.sentoguide.info/etiquette)

Sento entrance

Sento entrance

There were also a few restaurants at the wholesale market where the sento located. We visited 2 of them. One was a curry-udon restaurant (大和), only open for breakfast and lunch (0500-1400), the set meals were gigantic… It was just breakfast…

Huge beef omelette on udon with bowl of rice, enough for 3 people...

Huge beef omelette on udon with bowl of rice, enough for 3 people…

Outside the udon restaurant

Outside the udon restaurant

The other was right outside of the market under the flyover, 板前居酒屋 ゆうや Izakaya Yuuya we had the sashimi rice (for breakfast), quite nice and cheap~~

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Sashimi rice~~

Sashimi rice~~

Spring 2015 trip to Tokyo/Kusatsu Part 6

And it comes to the last day of the trip. Holidays always short.

Our plan was to ride a bus from Kusatsu to Karuizawa, then Shinkansen (high-speed train) to Ueno (in Tokyo), then airport train to Narita International Airport. Turned out ok but quite expensive.

The hotel took us to the bus terminus next to the onsen street in Kusatsu, then we bought very interesting bus tickets.

Bus ticket size is A4

Bus ticket size is A4

Karuizawa is a town north of Tokyo, very popular summer escapade for Tokyoers. Even in summer temperature averages at 20 degree Celcius. In winter, people come here to ski.

Karuizawa Station

Karuizawa Station

A lake in the middle of the outlet, with a view of the ski resort at the back

A lake in the middle of the outlet, with a view of the ski resort at the back

It would only be a brief stop here for us – but as there’s an outlet, shopping became unavoidable, even for a short period of time!

Shops shops shops

Shops shops shops, not for us though.

After walking past all the labels and had a quick lunch, we headed to the train station for train to Ueno. The train ride took about an hour.

Shinkansen. Haven't rode on one of these for over 10 years.

Shinkansen. Haven’t rode on one of these for over 10 years.

We were approximately 2 weeks ahead of the sakura season, but Ueno was getting ready – 2 huge fake sakura trees was placed at the entrance of Ueno Park (上野公園), the renowned park for viewing sakura. For us, Ueno was the spot for our last-minute shopping. There’re all sorts of shops there.

Fake sakura trees...........

Fake sakura trees………..

And that was the end of our Spring trip to Japan in 2015.