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Trip Report Crispy's Kyushu to Kanto Super Tour '18

Discussion in 'Japan' started by Crispy013, Feb 18, 2018.

  1. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    I apologise that it has taken so long to download the latest trip report since getting back from Nihon. It has been quite a busy couple of weeks slipping back into work and getting the home life back into swing. But anyways, here goes nothing.

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    Planning for this trip started pretty early back in 2017, where the Crispy's managed to lock away a great deal on flights via Singapore Airlines. Our inwards point into Japan was way down on the southern island of Kyushu (Fukuoka), and outbound 2 weeks later in Tokyo. This gave me almost a year to craft and perfect a pretty adventurous trip between Kyushu and Kanto, which on reflection I think I nailed. The overall structure of the trip was to spend the first week sightseeing between Kagoshima and Kyoto, before enjoying the final week based out of Hakuba to get our snow fix.

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    EPISODE 0 - TRANSIT: AUS - JPN
    Although quite a long journey in total (3 flights), the trip over on Singapore Airlines was very comfortable and fairly uneventful. Coming from Port Macquarie, the only bit of mess around was transiting from the domestic to the international terminal at Sydney with 2x snowboard bags. Anyways, we survived and the flight from Sydney left generally on time and was smooth sailing to Singapore. We had a quick stretch of the legs between arrival and departure gates at Changi, before almost walking straight onto the 1am flight bound for Fukuoka.

    I think we all managed to get a few good hours of sleep on the Signapore-Fukuoka flight too, which was practically empty. The air hostesses were almost directing us to take up a middle row to lie down...flat beds in economy - winning! :thumbs:

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    We arrive in Fukuoka fairly early in the morning, quite refreshed from the overnight flight, which was a good start to the trip. I think we managed to also sneak through customs and baggage delivery in all of 30 minutes which is a little bonus of using smaller airports.

    After picking up some yen, dropping the two board bags off to be sent to Hakuba, we made our way eventually around to the domestic terminal and down onto the local subway system that would take us to Fukuoka's main shinkansen terminal at Hakata. Even though in latitude we were quite south in Japan, there was certainly a distinct chill in the air as we caught wind of the outside air during our transit.

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    At Hakata station, we exchange and pick up our 14 day rail pass, ready for a big couple of weeks rocketing around this beautiful country on the JR network. First up though on this trip was a short stop in Kagoshima, to check out Japan's most southern major city.

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    EPISODE 1 - KAGOSHIMA
    The shinkansen from Hakata to Kagoshima was brilliant and after a touch over 2 hours we had arrived at Kagoshima-Chuo terminal. Upon arrival, this city reminded somewhat of Hiroshima, with a number of local tram lines dominating the central streets. In the background though, you can see the beautiful sights of Sakurajima island which constantly appears covered in cloud or smoke.

    We shuffle ourselves and gear onto the next tram service, headed downtown to check into our accommodation which was located just past the central Tenmonkan shopping area. Similar to Hiroshima, the city's tram service has a flat fare rate for each trip regardless of distance which was about Y120 or so.

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    We only had 1 night booked in the city and stayed at Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Kinseicho. I managed to somehow snare a bloody massive triple room (quite surprising for Japan) for all of Y15,000. Overall, this hotel was brilliant and I would stay again in a heartbeat. Great location, ginormous rooms, vending machines on all levels. :nerd:

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    After check-in, I managed to sneak away for a quick late afternoon run to get my bearings on the very pretty and compact city. From our accommodation, I take a fairly adventurous and brutal ascent straight up to check out the Shiroyama Park lookout. Although quite tough on the legs, the beautifully calming forest environment and lookout at the top was totally worth it. At about 4pm too, all of the little tourist shops had closed so I pretty much had the place to myself.

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    I completed the loop around the city, following the main river out to the nearby bay. Tomorrow's adventure around Sakurajima Island was always in sight, which made the run so enjoyable. Overall, first impressions of Kagoshima were very good.

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    Next up, we pick up some wheels and explore Sakurajima. More to come...
     
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  2. Melskius

    Melskius One of Us

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    Great trip report so far. Can't wait for more.
    We've booked a triple at the new Richmond hotel in yokohama. It opens on 20/2. I hope our room is as good as yours.
     
  3. Kuma

    Kuma First Runs

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    Nice work, and seems like you really nailed it, looking forward to more. Especially about Hakuba, I'm heading the Myoko!
     
  4. M_G

    M_G M_G_ = Make skiing great again Ski Pass: Gold

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    Always look forward to your annual reports!
     
  5. Froff Life

    Froff Life A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    Love your annual TR's Crispy! :thumbs:
     
  6. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    EPISODE 2 - SAKURAJIMA
    The following day I get an early start and sneak back up near the main Shinkansen terminal to pick up our hire car for the day. For this part of the trip I rented through Budget, which was done very easily using their online booking engine. As we were eventually heading back to Fukuoka at day's close, I only had a 6hr hire period booked, but this was perfect for a day trip exploring the nearby Sakurajima Island. Cost was also under Y4,000, which was a bargain.

    Outside the Budget pick-up, there was also a beautiful little park where a large bunch of elderly Japanese were playing what looked like a cross between croquet and golf - quite amusing! Hadn't seen this before.

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    After picking up the car, I make my way back to the travelling party to load our gear up from the hotel and head down toward the port area. The ferry's over to the island are very regular and the journey itself is fairly quick. 20 minutes or so later we're disembarking onto the fairly intimidating Sakurajima Island.

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    Sakurajima Island, for anyone not familiar with it, is a large (and still quite active) volcano located close to the Kagoshima township. It used to be island, but when it last erupted in 1914 it subsequently has connected back to the mainland on the eastern side which was kind of interesting to find out.

    Upon arrival on the island, we head straight to the information centre to pick up a map and work out a plan of attack for the day. As we entered into the tourist centre we were snappled up by a lovely volunteer guide who was keen to show us a video about the history of Sakurajima. We happily obliged and sat through a 20 min or so film that was actually quite entertaining and informative. Kind of cool to have some context to what we'd eventually be driving around later that day.

    After a quick morning tea pit-stop at a nearby Lawson, we start our journey around the island heading generally anti-clockwise. First up we arrive at the lava trails and find our first lookout giving us a closer peak at the beautiful Sakurajima smoking summit. These trails were kind of cool to see the remnants of the lava flow intertwined with the subsequent pine tree vegetation growth. Views back to the coast were also very impressive.

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    We continue on from the trails and up to the highest look-out point called Yunohira. It wasn't until we got up to this vantage point that we could really experience the scale of the active volcano - very Modor like!

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    After soaking in the beauty of the old smoking beast, we head back down to the ring road that circles the island and continue heading around towards the Kurokami shrine which was on the opposite side to the ferry port. The drive was really scenic, and it was really cool to see how the landscape changed so dramatically around the island depending on what side you were on. There were points driving past the Arimura lookout point that I swear we could have been driving around in Croatia or Italy.

    We reached the far side of the island in about 30 minutes and eventually pulled into the Kurokami shrine. This is a famous tourist point because what remains is a bured torii gate that shows the aftermaths of the 1914 eruption and the amount of ash debris that encapsulated this part of the island. The gate itself is right next to a local school and the school kids take great pride in keeping the area swept clean of falling ash, which still falls quite consistently on the island.

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    Following the ring road around the island back towards the main port area gives you another perspective of the peak than you typically see from the front Kagoshima side. I actually preferred this aspect, because you could see right into the smoking Showa crater which was really cool.

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    The remaining drive around the northern side of the island is a little less interesting, mainly because you get back down to the water's edge and drive through a number of fairly standard townships.

    As we make it back to the ferry port, we detour up to check out the infamous dinosaur park. On first impressions, it probably wasn't what I had in my mind when I read 'Dinosaur Park' in the tourist guide. I guess I was kind of expecting it to be a managed attraction, but its actually just a large expansive kids park with a series of life sized dinosaurs and play equipment. Anyways, it was a neat little stop to stretch the legs and act like a couple of kids before we had to head back on the ferry.

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    We eventually venture back over to Kagoshima, but before handing the car back in, I made sure the rest of our crew got a chance to see the beautiful Shiroyama look-out over the city that I snuck in on yesterday's run. This time it was far busier, but still easy to find your spot to take some pictures. Similar to Sakurajima Island, there were a number of volunteers at the lookout keen to help with our photo shoot. Actually quite a cute experience as we got chatting to one elderly volunteer who was stoked to be able to practise his English with us. He took a pretty mean photo too with the help of a light reflector to get that 'Movie Star shot!' as he made sure to make a point of. Haha.

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    After a cool little experience up at the lookout, we venture back to Shinkansen station to organise our afternoon journey back to Fukuoka. I dropped the car off and reflected on what was a very cool start to the journey so far. Kagoshima is a stunningly beautiful part of the country and I'm sure there's tonnes more to explore with a car for future trips. I'll be back for sure.

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    Onwards to Fukuoka!
     
  7. Tanuki

    Tanuki A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    Nice, keep it coming.
     
  8. Donzah

    Donzah Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    The golf croquet thingy is called park golf.
    There are actually a few courses around Nagano . Which are buried under snow at the moment.
    It's pretty cool. I wanted to buy a set from sports depot.


    Keep up the cool TR
     
  9. M_G

    M_G M_G_ = Make skiing great again Ski Pass: Gold

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  10. PMG

    PMG One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Recommend you do make a return visit. We did last year after making a brief visit there in 2012. You've really only scratched the surface of what there is to see around the area.
    Sengan-en Garden which is on the shoreline to the north of Dolphin Port. Beautiful garden with great views over to Sakurajima.
    Chiran to the south which is one of the most impressively preserved samurai villages in Japan. The Chiran Peace Museum dedicated to killed ww2 pilots is also a sobering experience. Kaimondake volcano and nearby outdoor onsens with awesome views of the ocean to the south and the volcano itself.
    To the north Kirishima Onsen, Kirishima Shrine and Ebino Plateau with its great hikes and more volcanos.
    Not to mention some of the coastline on the Pacific and Sea of Japan sides.
    Plus much more. Great part of Japan.
     
    #10 PMG, Feb 25, 2018
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2018
    M_G likes this.
  11. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    EPISODE 3 - BEPPU
    Following a quick fire trip exploring the far southern extents of Kyushu, it was back on the Shinkansen system to eventually make our way towards the next major destination on the journey - Beppu. This town, which is very famous for its onsens, is located around the north-eastern part of the prefecture and we used a quick stop over in Fukuoka to break the journey up fairly well.

    Considering the big day we'd just had navigating Sakurajima and Kagoshima, we had a pretty subdued pit-stop in Fukuoka for the night. Accommodation this time was at Hotel Resol Hakata, which I have to say was almost the pick of hotels on the whole trip. Modern, big rooms, centrally located and came with free access to the roof top onsen. An incredible end to the long day overlooking the sun going down in Fukuoka. Snagged a triple too for about Y16,000.

    After refreshing our bodies in the onsen, we decided to head down to the Yatai stalls along the nearby canals that Fukuoka is fairly renown for. I forgot too how little English is spoken around here and it made for a pretty interesting ordering process. Anyways, some finger pointing all got us a delicious meal.

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    Following dinner, we continued along the canals and ended the night checking out the shopping delights of the Canal City complex. Tomorrow was another big one, so we called it quits quite early and made sure to get back to our room for some well deserved rest.

    We were up bright and early the next day and made our way back to the main Hakata station to organise our seat reservations for the day. Getting to Beppu from Fukuoka was pretty straight forward and required only 1 major change, with the shinkansen taking us as far north as Kokura, before we switched onto the Sonic express bound for Oita.

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    The journey from Fukuoka takes roughy 2 or so hours, with the slowest (and probably bumpiest) part being the section on the Sonic. Nonetheless, we arrive in Beppu on a fairly dreary and overcast morning ready to explore this rugerous part of the country. From the station, its a short stroll literally across the road to pick up our car for the next 24hrs which I picked up through Times Rental Car for roughly Y7,000. Considering we'd be exploring over a mountain pass to nearby Yufuin, I was sure to get a 4wd just in case of snowy conditions.

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    With the car loaded, we input Yufuin into the navigation system and set off to spend the rest of the day exploring the local area. The coastal city of Beppu is surrounded on most sides by huge mountains, so the drive from Beppu over the pass to neighbouring Yufuin was pretty slow going. After a number of switch backs on the outskirts of the town we eventually pulled into the Mt Tsurami ropeway and decided to give it go to scope out the view and town below.

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    The journey up to the top station is quick and gives you some serious elevation in the process. At the top, what was intermittent rain drops at sea level had changed to snow flurries in the fairly bleak conditions. From the top station, there is a small series of trails that take you round to a pretty cool little look-out over the gorgeous Beppu Bay below.

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    Considering the inclement and cold conditions, we only spent about 30 minutes up here, but it was a beautiful experience. I'm sure on a clear day you'd have a stunning view out into the bay.

    We regrouped back down at the base of the ropeway and then continued our drive over the pass and down into Yufuin. The drive from Beppu is roughly 45mins or so, but it was surprising to see the dramatic change in landscape as we straddled the snowy mountain pass of Mt Yufu - could have sworn we were back in NZ!

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    Yufuin was kind of a bizarre experience on reflection. In my head, I was kind of expecting a trendy little rural town (which it sort of is), but it just feels a little rough around the edges. We pulled in and parked the car down near the train station before spending the next hour or so strolling up the main drag of shops and food stalls. In spots it reminded me somewhat of the Higashiyama streets in Kyoto, but in others, it was like we'd stumbled off the main drag of a desolate Japanese rural town.

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    Anyways, we slowly made our way up to the Kinrin lake at the end of the walk, which again was pretty underwhelming. Overall that probably summed up our experience of Yufuin - just felt so mix matched, heaps of animal themed stores (??) and basic tourist directions very inconsistent. We did manage to sneak in a fresh cheesecake sample each which the town was apparently famous for. Now this was the real highlight of the day.

    After making our way back to pick up the car, we eventually made our way back to the Beppu township. To end the afternoon, we headed about 10 minutes south along the coastal expressway to pay a visit to the Umitamago aquarium. We got there fairly late in the day around 3pm, but timed it well for the last show, which happened to involve a bloody enormous walrus.

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    Typical Japanese entertainment, we couldn't understand a word, but all had massive belly-aches from laughing at the extreme weirdness of the whole show. The staff working there were very enthusiastic and had managed to train the walrus to do some mind blowing tricks such as ball balancing, clapping and even sit-ups! Highly highly recommend you pay this place a visit if you're in the region. The other exhibits within the complex were also bloody unreal - massive tanks with thousands of different marine life, jelly fish, dolphins, you name it. Really really cool.

    After spending the remaining afternoon there until close, we finally make our way back to check into our accommodation. For this section of the trip, I kind of splurged a bit for the night and picked a spot right on the water front called Hotel Umine. It was roughly Y35,000 for the night, but worth every penny. We pretty much had an apartment size room, complete with in-house onsen - AMAZING.

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    Again, it was only a short stay in Beppu for the night as we were scheduled to meet up with the rest of my family in Hiroshima later that next day. To complete the intro trip to the city, we made sure to fit in the local 'hells' attraction that Beppu is so famous for on the following morning.

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    The Hells of Beppu are a series of some-what natural hot springs that all vary in size, colour, texture and smell amongst other things. There are 2 major locations that they are centred around and, while I think you can just buy entry at each one, we decided to just buy the pass for them all which was about Y2,000.

    We started over in the Kannawa area which had some pretty cool deep blue pools, a small red pool and some bubbling mud pits. Again, tourist signage is pretty limited so we just sort of followed people around to the different exhibits.

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    The most famous hell was the Umi Jigoku, which was an extremely hot, light blue coloured hot spring set amongst a beautifully manicured landscape. Unfortunately the steam being generated off the pool made it almost impossible to actually see the colour of the pool very well.The other famous 'blood' hell was located another 10 minute drive around the corner, but I found this one very underwhelming.

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    After getting our fix of cheesy tourist snaps of the hells, it was back to Beppu station to drop the car off and make our way to Hiroshima that afternoon. Overall, Beppu was quite cool to see, but I wouldn't come solely for the Hells. There are other cool attractions and just beautiful coastal and mountainous scenery that make it a pleasant and relaxing destination. I think you need a car too to make the most of the town.

    A somewhat rapid exploration of Kyushu, but our tight schedule had us progressing north to the Chugoku prefecture next.

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  12. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    EPISODE 4: HIROSHIMA / MIYAJIMA / IWAKUNI
    It was only a fairly brief sojourn into Kyushu over the past 3 or so days, but it definitely did not disappoint in any way. Next up, we were travelling north on the incredibly silky Shinkansen system up to set up camp for the following couple of days in Hiroshima. Other members of my family who had arrived recently into Kyoto were also en-route down to meet up with us to explore this gorgeous part of the country.

    I had done Hiroshima / Miyajima about 3 years prior, but the rest of the group were first timers to the region so I was the group appointed tour guide for the next couple of days. We set up accommodation at Sunroute Hotel Hiroshima, which although is a pretty run of the mill business style lodging, was incredibly cheap (Y19,000 for a triple for 2 nights!), and more importantly located almost directly across the river from the Peace Park.

    After our morning exploring Beppu, we had eventually made our way to Hiroshima late in the afternoon so after everyone checked in, we then used the rest of the afternoon to casually check out the nearby attractions of Hiroshima, mostly on foot. When I was here last, both the peace park museum and A-Dome were under reno's, and as luck would have it, the memorial museum was still managing it's way through a final touch-up. The museum itself, which is an absolute must if you visit the city, was criminally cheap (Y200 entry!) but still a very very powerful experience. A really well polished exhibit and it will be even better in a couple years once all of the spaces are finished.

    From the museum we headed north across the river and make our way to the infamous a-bomb dome which (fortunately) had completed its restoration works. Again, a very cool structure and provides some physical context to the images/video footage you see in the museum.

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    From the A-Bomb structure, we further wander along the river north and towards the Hiroshima castle grounds to end the day. By the time we reach the castle though, entry to explore inside had finished, but we got our cheesy tourist snaps of this very pretty wooden exhibit.

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    That evening, there was only one logical choice for dinner, and that was of course sampling some very famous Hiroshima style okonimiyaki. Self prepared and all - ooishi!!

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    The next day was an exciting one for the party, as we were travelling to nearby Miyajima Island. However, when we were arose that day we were met with some pretty bleak conditions with heavy fog and rain. Nevertheless, as this was the final day based in Hiroshima, it was now or never so we continued to make our way around to the Miyajima ferry port, umbrellas and all.

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    Whilst a little bit of a challenge dodging puddles, the inclement weather also kept the crowds right down which was good news. The fog and clouds also made the floating shrine area appears very mystical and made for some cool photos.

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    After negotiating the rain to duck out and take some shots around the shrine, we decided to continue up through the village to check out the nearby Daisho-in temples area and eventually onto the ropeway to see what we could make out up high on Mt Misen.

    The walk from the village up to the ropeway was very peaceful and we came across a large proportion of the local island deer population that had taken shelter under the tree canopy from the fairly constant drizzle.

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    From the ropeway base station, it was about a 30 minute journey up to the peak station, which also involved a change around half-way. We were kind of hoping for a break in the weather once we got higher, but it wasn't to be this time.

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    At the top we decided that we would continue along the paths to the very peak lookout section. This took a good 20 minutes of both downhill and uphill slog from the ropeway station, that by the time we reached the lookout we were well and truly done with hiking that day!

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    We then re-traced our steps back to descend down to the base of the island before heading back across to the mainland of Miyajima-guchi. Overall, the true experience of the island was probably hampered by the weather (expecially the Mt Misen lookout!) but I think everyone really enjoyed the day.

    While some the group headed back to Hiroshima, a couple of us decided to continue south to check out nearby Iwakuni. It was about 30 minutes or so on the train and then a 15 minute bus ride around to see the town's famous Kintai-kyo bridge.

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    Iwakuni was again a kind of strange experience. It was definitely very pretty around the bridge, but strangely they wanted to charge people to walk over the structure which we politely declined. There was also a nearby mountain top castle, but we didn't have time to check it out. I guess, everything felt very spaced out away from main train station hubs, largely reliant on buses or taxi's to get around. This was also very evident when we attempted to get back to Hiroshima on the shinkansen system, but didn't realise that Shin-Iwakuni was a minor stop so had to wait around for an hour or so to catch a Kodoma service.

    Anyways, it ended up being a very very long day, that was fortunately made better that evening with a great serving of gyoza and biru!

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    That ended our time in the Hiroshima area, but we were en-route the following day towards Kyoto with a quick day trip to the stunningly beautiful Naoshima Island. More to come...
     
  13. Froff Life

    Froff Life A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    I think the fog and mist makes the Itsukushima Shrine more mysterious and beautiful
     
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  14. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    EPISODE 5 - NAOSHIMA
    From Hiroshima, we were next bound for Kyoto for a couple of nights which was to be our final tourist focused destination before hitting the snow this trip. The original plan was to make a short stop over in Himeji along the way, however I got chatting to my sister who was super keen on checking out a pretty famous modern art inspired island instead. After a little research on our last night in Hiroshima, I figured it was 'doable' as a day trip, but again was going to be a very long day.

    Nevertheless the more adventurous people in our group joined me to get going early the next day, while the remaining party enjoyed a cruisy travel day between Hiroshima and Kyoto. From Hiroshima we caught the bullet train up to Okayama, before changing to the local line headed east towards the port town of Uno.

    It was the best part of 2.5hrs before we reached the coast, but fairly manageable to sort out connections. In a stark contrast to yesterday, the sun was shining on a beautiful mild winter's day in the Uno harbour.

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    We made our way from the train station across to the local port to pick up our tickets and board the local ferry towards Naoshima island. It probably should have clicked when I was buying the tickets from a little vending machine as I saw a little flyer in Japanese indicating the closure of some attractions on the island for maintenance. From what I could decipher, I thought it might only apply to one of the art museums, so didn't really think much of it at the time. We then proceeded to board the ferry, which took another 20 mins or so to slowly traverse the gorgeous archipelago of islands.

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    The barge service we caught headed along the southern side of Naoshima towards the major port on the island known as Miyanoura. The journey was absolutely stunning and somewhat reminded me of travelling through the many islands around Greece. The landscape was still very quintessentially Japanese though.

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    As we disembark on Naoshima island, there was a little tourist office at the port which we head towards to pick up a map and get our bearings on the island. It wasn't until we reached here that we found an English notice which highlighted our worst fears - all the attractions were closed until TOMORROW for scheduled maintenance - NO!!!

    Considering we'd come so far, it seemed ludicrous to head back now, so we decided that we'd try and do a loop of the island to see what we could find that might be public outside art attractions. From the port area we manage to find one bicycle shop still running and both pick up some wheels for the day for a couple hundred yen each. There were heaps of shop fronts here advertising bicycle hire, but given the mass island shutdown, they were all understandably closed, so we were very lucky to get anything.

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    From the port area we head in an anti-clockwise direction towards the southern end of the island that housed most of the art exhibits. The roads are narrow and quite steep as they traverse the rugged coast line, but the views more than made up for the extra pedal power required.

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    From the main road, we noticed that the first Chichu museum we passed was closed which didn't bode very well for how I thought the rest of the day would pan out. Luckily enough as we approached the entrance to the Benesse House property there didn't seem to be any signs saying it was closed (plus gates open) so we headed in to see what we could find.

    The drive into the museum and accommodation precinct had a heap of outdoor art installations scattered around the stunning coastline. I got a very strong Game of Thrones vibe, caught up between throw backs to my childhood spending summers on Magnetic Island in northern Queensland. Overall though, we were quietly surprised and impressed with what we came across.

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    From the corner housing this outdoor exhibit, we then casually descended down and around the hotel area before coming across what is probably the most iconic piece on the island - the spotted pumpkin by famous artist Yayoi Kusama. According to my sister this was her day made.

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    After getting our share of photos, we were back on the bikes and continued around to the other port side of the island. Unfortunately there wasn't much more to see with all of the remaining museum's closed. This was somewhat disappointing, but still, we were both glad to have made the journey and saw what we did.

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    I would happily return to check out the exhibits on another trip, as well as probably exploring some of the nearby islands. Anyways, after dropping the bikes back we catch a rapid ferry service back to the mainland before starting our journey back to Kyoto.

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    Overall, this was a pretty epic little detour off the well beaten tourist path. There is so much potential around the Kagawa region which I'd love to come back and explore more in the future. Until then though, we make our way into Kyoto for a couple nights.

    Almost snow time!
     
  15. Chalkie

    Chalkie One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Crispy, thanks so much for a brilliant TR. Hiroshima and Naoshima are definitely on the list for next year's trip!
     
  16. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    Always enjoy reading your TRs @Crispy013 , thanks for sharing.

    I was especially interested in Hiroshima/Miyajima as we are taking our parents there in a couple of weeks - also for just 2 days. Looks like Miyajima might be a bit too energetic for the less spritely in the group... got any insider tips on managing those 2 days with oldies?
     
  17. Melskius

    Melskius One of Us

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    On miyajima most of the the main parts are pretty flat. The main street and the main shrine. You can catch a shuttle bus to the bottom station of the mt misen ropeway. Then take the ropeway to the top lookout (rather than hike the whole way) and you can do the same for the return. We did miyajima as a day trip with a 3yr old and 7yr old. These parts should be fine for the elderly.
     
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  18. Froff Life

    Froff Life A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    Crispy-San wheres the next update?!
     
  19. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    I know, its a slow process - just need to get some spare time to download...possibly next update this weekend :cool:
     
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  20. M_G

    M_G M_G_ = Make skiing great again Ski Pass: Gold

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    Tough audience! ;)
     
  21. Lady Penelope

    Lady Penelope One of some lot ... Ski Pass: Gold

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    I am also enjoying your TR, @Crispy013, and busily taking notes for my own itinerary. Keenly awaiting your next update ;)
     
  22. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    EPISODE 6 - KYOTO
    After a long day exploring Naoshima enroute from Hiroshima, we eventually make it into Kyoto quite late in the day. We had a couple of nights booked in a spot we stayed last year up near the Higashiyama / Sanjo area of town. The place was called Resi Stay Higashiyama Sanjo, and at Y12,000 for a huge apartment, was an easy choice to come back to this trip. Highly recommend this place.

    Considering most of the travelling party had done and explored a lot of the classic tourist spots in Kyoto on past trips, this stop over was mainly a pit stop leg en-route to our eventual ski week in Hakuba.

    I got out for an early run along the beautiful Kamo River the next morning before everyone rose, which was a beautiful time of the morning to watch people exercising, doing tai-chi and other activities. After a ripper breakfast and (proper) coffee at Ogawa Coffee, we started our day wandering towards the Gion district.

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    Our eventual destination point for the morning's activities was the Kiyomizudera temple, but once again my 'artsy' sister needed to make a stop in at the Forever Museum of Contemporary Art which was located nicely along our route just past the Gion main street.

    I'm not usually one for art museum's, however the special showcase on the day was displaying Yayoi Kasuma's line of work. Considering how impressed I was with the cool pumpkin she designed on Naoshima the day beforehand, the gallery did not disappoint at all.

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    Entry was about Y1200 pp and although the exhibit space is fairly intimate, there was more than enough to keep you occupied for an hour or so in there. I was really impressed with the exhibit and was cool to see how Yayoi's style had developed over the years. Keep this place in mind if you are in Kyoto on a rainy day, its quite underrated.

    We eventually continue up through the famed back alley's of Higashiyama and do the infamous route up through all the gorgeous shop fronts up towards the temple area. This part of Kyoto is just so quintessential Japan and I never get tired of making this journey up all the stairs.

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    We finally make it up to the Kiyomizudera temple area and decide to continue in through to the temple area to catch a glimpse of the famous wooden structure. For the most part the temple is still well under renovations, including now the whole of the large viewing deck. This was a bit disappointing because I think the views from the back side looking over the temple and city landscape in the background is one of the best in Kyoto.

    Nonetheless, it was good to guide our group around the temple to give them the experience before we headed back into town to grab lunch. Crowds weren't too bad because of the semi inclement weather, but this was soon clearing to a beautiful afternoon. Back down in Sanjo, the blue skies were back and we got a chance to scope the shopping district out a bit whilst trying to lock down a place for lunch.

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    We eventually find a little katsu place tucked in a back shopping alley that agreed to seat our party of 6. Again, this was another winner, except the seated table area was a difficult maneuver for my dad getting out after a big meal!

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    In light of the fairly long travel day coming up tomorrow to get to Hakuba, we decided to take it easy in the afternoon and head back to our accommodation for some down time. In the afternoon, the younger ones in our crew decided to head down onto the Kamo River to watch the sun set and share a couple biru's.

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    Although it was a fairly subdued time in Kyoto, I still love coming back to this city every chance I get. There is such a range of activities and experiences to explore, and I find new things to do each visit.

    Coming up, I promise we hit the snow next episode :cool:.
     
  23. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    EPISODE 7 - HAKUBA VALLEY:
    Finally, with the touristing leg behind us, it was onwards to spend the next 6 nights in the beautiful Hakuba valley and experience some famous Japanese powder if we were lucky. After an amazing time last year staying out in a beautifully run lodge near the northern resorts, it was a no-brainer that we had to return and introduce our families to the welcoming delights of Backcountry Lodge Hakuba.

    From our digs in upper Kyoto, it was a fairly testing early morning journey down to Kyoto main station and through the many different levels to find our Thunderbird during peak hour. Our route today would take us north around the western side of the alps via Kanazawa, before changing onto the shinkansen line to rocket towards Nagano station. The journey was fairly straightforward, but did take a good 4 hours inc. connections.

    At Nagano station, there was a good chill in the air as I walked 5 minutes south of the station to pick up our vehicles for the next week or so from Times Car Rental. Got a pretty good deal on a 4wd Toyota Fielder which was hands downs one of the best cars I've had to date in Japan. No issues handling deep powder as will be seen in the coming snow posts.

    After picking the cars up, I led the contingent towards Hakuba, but with a slight pit stop along the way to check out the local sports store as some of the crew needed a few last minute pieces of clothing and gear. If you pass one of these joints, make an effort to drop in - there are some great deals to be found.

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    From the outskirts of Nagano, it was a fairly easy 45min drive into the Hakuba valley and I found much easier and less hectic than coming from Matsumoto. We get into town late that afternoon and settle into the lodge, which felt like coming home.

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    Compared to last time we were at the lodge, there was a noticeable difference in the snow pack around town, with some much better fairing conditions set to kick in over the next couple of days which had me very excited.

    Day 1 - Tsugaike
    We awoke the next day to a beautifully clear morning in the valley, and while it was fresh in the morning, it was expected to get quite warm leading into lunch. The good thing though was a change was expected to come through during the evening and the clear conditions were a perfect opportunity to warm the legs up in the group and also give our first timer a chance to try her hand at skiing.

    It was a fairly easy decision to give Tsugaike a whirl today because it caters so well for the beginners, but also has so much variety for the more experienced people to duck off and enjoy. I quietly rate this resort a lot.

    We start with a few laps skiiers left from the gondola mid station, as well as venturing up the central triple lift on the main right hand side of the course where the beginner flats are. From the mid gondola station, there are a couple of interesting forest courses that are perfect pitch for getting confidence on your turns. Both my partner who was nervous again to get her backside snowboard edge, and her sister who was trying skiing for the first time managed to nail their runs without any falls on the first 2 trails of the day.

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    After a couple of great runs, and with the temperatures starting to soar into Spring like conditions, we jump into lunch quite early to beat the crowds.

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    As we chow down on the delicious meal (which was included in our lift coupon deal :p), the weather turns and then all of a sudden we're back into winter mode and the heaven's open. After a solid 20-30 mins of deluge, I decide to take the gondola up high to see what I could find. Walking out of the top station, the dumpage was continuing and I spent the afternoon up high with some of our more experienced group breaking trail off the side of runs and finding a lot of fun.

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    There was a definite improvement to last time I was here, including the top lift station where the tree runs back under this lift had enough base to be able to venture through. Even the groomers were loads of fun.

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    After an enjoyable afternoon outing, there were very much happy campers in the group and I think my family couldn't believe that this type of snow was 'normal'. I had to keep laughing, saying, 'you ain't seen nothing yet!!'.



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    An overall spectacular start to the trip. Up next, the snow gods continue to deliver classic Japanese goodness and I get stuck into finding some of my old stashes at some of my favourite resorts.
     
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  24. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    Day 2 - Norikura
    The snow continued to drop throughout the Hakuba valley overnight, and we awoke the next morning to about 10cm at lodge level. The first dig out of the trip was fairly manageable and it was then a short 10 minute ride over to try out Norikura for the first time this trip.

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    We exchange our lift+lunch pass combo at the base station and spend the morning tackling the main two lifts in front of the hotel. The snow was beautiful and creamy, which made the turns nice and soft. Crowds were also non-existant - most likely over frothing on the Cortina side of the mountain.

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    After pretty much having the whole main front run to ourselves, it was again a quick lunch stop, to which we emerged to the same conditions as yesterday and continued with our fun in the powder.

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    I try my luck heading skiiers right from the left-most chair lift onto what I liked to call 'the wall', which had enough cover to give me some beautiful turns. The only trouble with this run, was trying to negotiate the river and lower dam wall to successfully cut trail back into the resort. Only took a couple of attempts to find the right path, but I soon able to get down without unstrapping or getting caught.



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    Overall, another spectacular day out on the hill (2 for 2 so far) and there were smiles once again in the camp. The snow just didn't want to let up, with the heavier falls expected latter than evening. I was quietly trying not to com-bust with excitement.

    More snow and Hakuba adventuring to come.
     
  25. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    Day 3 - Norikura (Repeat)
    After a ripping start to the Hakuba week, the snow party was only just getting started. Overnight another round of sweet Japanese nectar coated the valley and we awoke to a fluffy winter wonderland scene once again.

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    The car-o-meter at lodge level was reporting a nice 15cm, so expectations for up on the mountain were good!

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    Given the weather had well and truly set in, we opted for another easy choice today with the crew who was keen to return to our favoured local Norikura to sharpen up the powder moves. Only being 5 minutes from the lodge, it was a no brainer.

    As we roll into the base, it was again clear that we'd largely have the place to ourselves again - which was fine by me! God I love a mid-week Japanese powder day :love:.

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    For me it's straight up the far left lift to scope out the main runs and see how much love the ungroomed snake gully had received overnight. Based on what was hiding on the edge of the main trails, I was in for a good day :eek:.

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    A couple of untouched laps darting around snake gully, it was situation rinse and repeat every time I made it to the bottom.

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    After a handful of these runs, it was next heading out wide towards the tree runs to explore what I like to call the enchanted forest. This year round, there was a much better base to be able to cut a track in and out of this part of the mountain.

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    I had to work hard in the waist deep fluff, and still got caught out a few times with some hidden gully's and the like that were carefully covered in the deep snow. Nevertheless, life was good! But with my morning fun it was back to the group for lunch and enjoy another stunning meal as we watch mother nature do her thing out on the mountain.

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    In the afternoon, I spent the last couple of hours playing around the main front valley trail - weaving in and out of the powder, over the couple of jumps and rumble strips, and trying to find trails up in the trees that separate the courses. With the rest of the party just stoked to have boot deep powder on the main trails, I think everyone had a fantastic time.





    After a big day, it was back to the lodge to warm up and down a couple of well earned chu-hi's in front of the wood fire.

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    At the rate the snow was continuing to fall, tomorrow was going to be off the charts...
     
  26. Lady Penelope

    Lady Penelope One of some lot ... Ski Pass: Gold

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  27. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    Day 4 - Iwatake (Well, almost)
    Another day, another overnight dumping and this was soon becoming groundhog day in the Hakuba valley. Looking out the window, we awoke to what was again an even bigger deluge of snow at lodge level and soon the house behind our lodge was slowly being enveloped in snow. When you add the amount that had fallen in the previous 2.5 days, this was starting to become almost too much for some (well...not me :D).

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    With some of my family returning back to Tokyo, and the other a little bit worn out and slightly intimidated by the constant snow, today was going to be just me. After a quick breakfast, I rolled outside the lodge to commence the car dig out. Amongst the morning buzz of the snow machines, I couldn't help but get giddy with excitement once again. Safe to say, reports were looking mighty fine for today based on the state of the outside cars.

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    While it could have been an easy choice to swing back to Norikura for a third day, I thought it might be worthwhile getting amongst nearby Iwatake while the going was good. I had been there on my first ever trip to Hakuba and had a ball in the back trees on a clear day, so I was keen to see how much better it might be with a dump of snow. High winds were the order for today, but I chanced it that the backside trees of Iwatake might hold some sheltered goodness.

    From the lodge it was again an easy 5 minute drive round to the base of Iwatake. Although I arrived quite early, the car parking was already pretty hectic which didn't initially bode well in my books. Despite this, I pick up my pass and head up the gondola to the top of the mountain. Conditions were pretty bleak - white-outs, heavy snow and strong winds.

    As I get to the top part of the mountain, the backside lifts with the fabled tree runs were still closed - most likely still digging out the chairs ;). Anyways, I decide to just follow the crowds and venture back down the front face trails to the bottom of the main gondola area to see what was hiding on the ungroomed edges.

    It was here that sparked the unfolding of probably my most frustrating day on a mountain in recent memory. As I went to strap in, I noticed that my front left toe strap was MISSING! Bugger! I scrambled back to the top station to see that it hadn't fallen off en-route, but no luck. So, with very little option I strapped everything else down and then cautiously made my way down to the base trying not to left my left boot slide out of the bindings.

    Man, this was tough not being able to turn properly, but I still managed to have a great little play in the sides where I could open up my turns a bit more. Nevertheless, the crowds were INSANE. Felt like being back in Niseko on a powder day. Every bit of powder smashed within seconds.

    I get to the base and see if any of the ski rental shops have any spare binding straps to get me back in the game. Unfortunately not - well nothing that would fit my bindings. Bugger!! So this started a chain of events that lasted a good 4 hours trying to find something to work which looked like this:

    Iwatake (no luck) --> Lodge (no luck) --> Tsugaike (no luck) --> Norikura (no luck) --> Happo/Sakka (no luck) --> Hakuba station area (no luck).

    It was then that I realised that my only viable option would be to fork out for some new bindings to get me back in the game. Finally, I found a snowboard store down on the main route near Hakuba station called The Boarding Co. They initially sent me down to their outlet store to see if they had a cheap pair of bindings, but soon realised that my boot size severely limited my range. Soooo, it was back to the main shop to fork out an enormous sum for some new bindings (I still cringe at the amount I paid now).

    Anyways, with all that travel and frustration behind me, it was back to the mountain to see what was left of the day's powder. I get back up to the top of Iwatake around 1pm to see the largest crowd of skis/boards outside the top restaurant. After overhearing some lift attendants I soon figure out that most of the Hakuba Valley was at Iwatake today because of the high winds shutting off Hakuba47/Happo/Tsugaike :mad:.

    At this point in the day, I was just happy to be riding again and I head over the backside to have a little play.

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    In short though - horrible. Trees cut to shreds, low vis, high winds and slow lifts to boot. Was really really dirty on myself for making a pretty rookie error with the mountain choice today, but just sucked it up and called it early to soak my sorrows back at my favourite Kurashita onsen for the rest of the arvo.

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    I apologise for all the words and little photos - this usually reflects how much I didn't want to remember the poor events of the day. Nonetheless, the snow machine was still firing for at least another day, which also happened to be our last on the snow this trip.

    More to come...
     
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  28. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    Day 5 - Norikura
    Our final day on the slopes was upon us and while a nice blue-bird day wouldn't go astray, I was quietly ecstatic for another powder day to cap off the trip. It was once again situation repeat out the front of the lodge, and this time I think we had the mother of all dumps with an easy 30cm on the vehicles.

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    Our lodge owner also brought in the heavy machinery because it wouldn't be long until the whole place was snowed in without some driveway maintenance.



    With Mrs Crispy back on deck, it was back to Norikura to play. First in lift line for my favourite trails on the left hand side of the mountain and it was game on again.

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    I think the day fared even better than 2 days ago, with the accumulation of snow just re-setting the mountain once again. Happy days all around and compared to the circus yesterday at Iwatake, hardly a sole to contend with.

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    After another standard powder morning, it was back to rendevous with Mrs Crispy to give her a couple of lessons in the powder.

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    Being the last day, I got a small leave pass in the arvo to make the most of the conditions before we'd have to head back and dismantle our gear for the season. No questions asked, it was out the side of Norikura looking over Tsugaike to give the bowls a couple of hits. The conditions had cleared briefly and I got to enjoy an hour of absolute bliss.

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    Another fantastic powder day at one of my favourite resorts. Thank you Japan - after a pretty average stint last year, I think we well and truly lucked out this time. 5 from 5 is some great odds :cool:.

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    With the ski component over, it was back to the lodge that evening to commence the pack up and prep ourselves for a final day in Tokyo before flying out.

    More to come...
     
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  29. Froff Life

    Froff Life A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    You certainly times your trip well this year, what amazing conditions. You must really love Norikura! Have you ever skied Happo, 47 or Cortina?
     
  30. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    Can't complain about conditions or timing either. Easily 1.5m over the 5 days on the slopes.

    Have done both 47 and Cortina. While they are good fun in their own right, didn't really have the right conditions for either on this short stay. I find Cortina has become too busy for my liking, and 47 is a long way down the valley from where we stay. The mountain set-up is kind of odd too - too risky on high winds shutting the top lifts and then you're screwed. Norikura has it all in my books - also deserted mid week.
     
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  31. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    EPISODE 8 - TOKYO
    Well I couldn't really deny we got pretty lucky with our short time in Hakuba and probably hit the best 5 consecutive days you could hope for. Maybe the week of the season. A small indication of the snowfall from our morning window position - day 1 vs day 6:

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    The only downside with the constant snow was that we were unable to takkyubin our gear back to Tokyo - the polite Japanese attendant at the Black Cat warehouse in Hakuba couldn't promise anytime under 5 days with the current heavy snow conditions which was understandable. Anyways, we were then resolved to having to lug our gear with us on the journey back to Tokyo which wasn't a big deal anyways as I've mastered the technique of storing our snowboard bags on the shink pretty well by now.

    It was once again with some hard feelings that we had to depart our favourite lodge, but we assured our gorgeous hosts that we'd be back in the future for sure.

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    We roll out of the lodge after another scrumptious breakfast and it was a fairly smooth journey back down to Nagano to hand back the car. The Nissan Fielder (4WD) we had by the way was absolutely brilliant in the conditions. No signs of any slippage on icy roads and easily was able to maneuver out of the deep snow each morning. Highly highly recommend and will be my go-to vehicle of choice going forward in Japan.

    From Nagano, its a quick 80 minutes on the shink and we're back in Tokyo to spend the last 24 hours of our trip. This year again it was a case of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' and we returned to one of our favourite hotels in Tokyo called The Gate Hotel in Asakusa.

    After we check in, we spend a couple hours out the front of the hotel exploring the Kaminari Gate and Sensoji Temple area. Crowds were pretty hectic, but we managed to make our way up past all the neat little tourist shops fairly uninterrupted.

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    As the arvo continues to draw to a close, Mrs Crispy and myself made our way over to Akihabara to get ready to experience the infamous Maricar that Tokyo has recently become a mecca for.

    Slightly excited, slightly sh*tting ourselves, we didn't really know what we'd be getting ourselves in for.We roll into the shopfront, sign our lives away and suit up in fancy costumes before meeting the rest of the group and tour leader.

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    After a quick demo of how to operate the gas pedal, brake and indicators it was all systems GO and we we're fanging down the streets of Tokyo like a real life viedo game. Really surreal and at the same time, brutally scary! Being on live streets you feel quite exposed to the travelling cars and trucks beside you, just hoping they won't pull right into you. Also, because we were the back 2 karts, we were constantly running through red lights to stay up with the group :whistle:.

    The carts are pretty cool and get some serious speed, but being so low to the ground you feel every bump. Not to mention, with no coverage, it is terribly cold on any exposed parts of your body. BIG WARNING - wear proper shoes, gloves, neck warmers, beanies, etc if you are doing this in winter - soooooo cold.

    The route our guide took us on was pretty cool and we navigated around the Imperial Palace before driving over the rainbow bridge to Odaiba. After a quick stop here to thaw out the body, we returned back over the bridge and finished up driving up the main street in Ginza which was AWESOME. Again, very surreal and you felt like a celebrity with people on the street constantly wanting to take your photos.

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    Overall, the Maricart was an odd experience - yes, it was pretty epic being able to experience Tokyo on another level in a go-kart, but at the same time I didn't ever feel 100% safe. I believe it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed and they will have to severely rope this operation back in. Anyways, glad I've done it but will probably never do it willingly again - and that's saying something because I'm pretty comfortable taking risks doing extreme sports, but this was sketchy AF.

    With that somewhat scary experience behind us, it was an early night then up the next morning to depart the country. We flew this time out of Haneda airport, which was fairly easy to get to from Asakusa. I think we made our way onto the Keikyu line which links between Narita and Haneda airports - pretty simple operation if you get the airport express service.

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    Haneda International airport I found really good - smooth and efficient plus good free wi-fi. The corresponding legs home back via Singapore - Sydney - Port Macquarie also were very uneventful.

    This ends the epic Kyushu to Kanto adventure this time round, but every time I come back from one of these trips, I'm constantly devising the next one in Japan. I would have to say that this trip nailed the tourist and snow element perfectly for us and you'd be amazed at how much you can pack into a 2 week trip with a bit of planning. The Japanese transport system makes it so efficient to move around and adding in some strategic car hires, you can see some incredible places.

    Some take-outs from this trip:
    * Really enjoyed Kagoshima & Sakurajima. Car on Sakurajima was awesome!
    * Beppu was so-so, but the surrounding area made up for the somewhat tacky hells. Needs a car!
    * Naoshima and the whole Kagawa region is incredible - I need to return to experience the place hopefully next time when the attractions aren't shut for maintenance LOL. And then there's Shikoku (ahhh, next time!!).
    * Miyajima is undoubtedly amazing - Iwakuni on the other hand: meh - don't bother IMO.
    * Kyoto always delivers.
    * Broken record, but Hakuba = car = good times.
    * Maricart is hectic - try once, but never again!

    Hope this TR inspires a few to venture beyond the immediate tourist hot spots in Japan in the future.

    Until we meet again Japan - Crispy's out.

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    Lady Penelope, Kash, M_G and 5 others like this.
  32. Froff Life

    Froff Life A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    Love your work Crispy! Always a pleasure to read your trip reports. Bring on 2019!

    I've seen the Mario cart tours driving around Tokyo a few times from the street and it did look very scary on grid lock traffic.
     
  33. 2ESki

    2ESki Addicted

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    After the ski trip in Jan with daughter am going back with son in April for 8 days and "both" looking forward to Mario cart, did you have to pre-book or just rock up ?
     
  34. Crispy013

    Crispy013 One of Us

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    Pre booked via Facebook. They are pretty quick and responsive.
     
    2ESki likes this.