Odaibadaibadaa

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Tokyo or New York?

The Monorail is a good way of seeing Tokyo from a different perspective. After a short ride enjoying the scenery, it takes you to the (fake) island of Odaiba. Oh, Odaiba!

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Again: Tokyo or New York?

Of course Japan needs its’ own Statue of Libery! The two towers (SkyTree and Tokyo Tower) just are not enough.

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No, it’s not a space shuttle. Fuji TV headquarters.

What is an artificial island without an UFO-like television station? Oh, and there is a huge Gundam-robot statue, too! (Yeah, I had to Google the writing and I have no clue what it is, but apparently it’s a BIG deal. Enormous.)

 

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Venus Fort. Shopper’s Paradise?

 Besides the huge robot, there’s also a Toyota play showroom, and apparently some kind of amusement park, or at least a giant ferris wheel. When the boys are with their toys, the ladies can spend hours in the Venetian/Greek-style shopping complex. Besides the Venus Fort, Odaiba has another shopping center with amusement park and maybe an aquarium as well (I can’t remember everything!).

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“Please keep the rules!”

There’s also a beach, and an Onsen “park”. I didn’t go there, so can’t really tell much about that. But you get the idea: first a sightseeing trip over the sea (cool), then to all of this and so much more – escape from the city to someplace rather bizarre! Plus the view to Tokyo is, well…

 

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Tokyo from “outside”

You can also take a cruise boat to the city, if you will.

If in Tokyo, do to Odaiba while you’re at it. Why not? Round trip is about 640y (6,5e) depending on the station. 

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Hakone

Hakone is a mountain region just few hours train ride from Tokyo. Mainly the area lives off domestic tourism. The Odakyu company, which owns at least a department store, trains and travel agency, offers special few days passes to Hakone region, with unlimited transportation.

From bustling Tokyo to the past
From bustling Tokyo to the past

The pass includes a suggested “sightseeing” course with an old-fashioned tram that goes up the mountainside, cable car over a crater and mountains, boat on a lake and discounts on different kinds of attractions, shops and restaurant all around the area. The information of everything was (of course) in Japanese, so due to my insufficient kanji-reading skills, we might have missed something great. It was pretty cool, anyways.

Cable car, or "keeburu kaa"
Cable car, or “keeburu kaa”

We stayed in Hakone for 2 nights just before Christmas, in a traditional minshuku (very little English spoken, of course). Interesting experience to sleep in a room with a semi-functioning heater, and waking up before 8 to have a Japanese, homemade breakfast. What comes to sightseeing, we took the tram and the cable car, but skipped the boat ride, Le Petit Prince Museum and Venetian Glass Museum (among others). We didn’t quite see Fuji-san due to cloudy weather, but the trip was still definitely worth it!

I did see Fuji-san!
I did see Fuji-san!

I could easily imagine people getting away from their big city life to relax in the small towns, but after two nights I was ready to go. In Hakone, there seemed to be only kamaboko (fish paste cakes) and omiyage shops after another. There was hardly any restaurants, all of the few offered only noodles or tempura. Since all of the shops close around 5, the rest of the evening is best spent in onsen, that are aplenty in the region. Unlike in Beppu, the Hakone onsen did not steam or smell.

True.
True.

If you ever go to Hakone, which you definitely should if you have a chance, I suggest taking the Special Limited Romance Car. The name is worth the extra price, though I don’t know what was so romantic about it. Other option would be to take the Odakyu metro train, which is quite uncomfortable for such a long trip.

Le Petit Prince, a bit lost maybe?
Le Petit Prince, a bit lost maybe?

Oh onsen!

In the promised town of Onsens, one simply cannot spend half a year without entering at least few of them. Today I visited rather different onsen than the natural ones I went last month.

 

Family onsens in Myoban

The original plan for today was to walk to Myoban, which is 5km from APU. Since the day was so lovely, we kept on walking past the family onsens and tourist attractions to Kannawa, the most famous onsen area in Beppu.

(Perhaps) rice drying in a hut with clay ground, Myoban onsen area

 

We found our onsen almost by accident, after deciding not to go to a public 100yen bath.

Onsen in Kannawa, no idea what it was called

 

This onsen featured a sauna-like room, where we wore a yukata and went to lie down on floor covered in strays. There we were for 10 minutes, it felt almost like being in a sauna at home (though our weeds are birch, and usually we don’t have rocks under our heads)!

Door for midgets, leading to the hot chamber with stray floor

 

After the steam “room” (height was about 1,2m), we went to bath in the super hot ofuro. 750yen for this fun, I guess it’s about the average price or a bit higher than others. My skin does feel softer than before!

It’s good to have visual instructions

 

Next time maybe the most famous “8 Hells” onsens, who knows?

Secret paradises

Some more traditional Japan!

Fields like in the middle of Europe

Rough bare stone terrain, traditional bamboo forest, pine tree forest, fields and various different vegetation was passed during a hike to the secret onsen. After hiking in the sun for almost an hour, the reward was tremendous.

 

Steaming hot mineral water

 

Beppu is known for its’ hot springs, onsen. There are several onsens around the city, most of which are spa-like and run by entrepreneurs. My first onsen experience here was different – these onsens were in the mountains, completely in the natural state, and free of charge.

We decided to pretend we don’t understand the several warning signs

A girl was killed in the onsen where we went a year ago, thus there was several sign warning about going to the onsens a)alone, b)with only women and c)during night time. In addition to that, there was another sign regarding proper code of conduct.

 

Beware of suspicious man and car!

 

After the first two onsens (one pictured above, plus a mud onsen next to it) we continued to a third one even higher up the mountain. The last onsen we went to was apparently rather popular among Japanese men, so as to respect their privacy (and private parts), I don’t have many pictures.

Steaming hot water, next to streaming cold water

The onsens would be perfect during night time, to watch the stars. Also in the winter I can imagine that sitting in the hot bath would be spectacular – getting out would not be so pleasant. The road to the onsens was very poor, so in the winter time it might be tricky to drive there by car. Walking in the dark would definitely not be an option, either. We had a chance to boil some eggs in a hole that had boiling water – next time we were thinking about having a picnic with more food to boil and steam. What a better way to spend a day, than hiking, and then chilling in the hot bath and eating food prepared in the nature.

 

Nature at its’ best

Steamy Sunday

On Sunday we had a student trip to Kannawa, which is an area known for not only it’s hot springs, but also steam cooking. Geothermal steam has been used for cooking in Kannawa for over 400 years. According to the Jigoku restaurant, the over 100C steam contains lots of minerals and makes food more delicious.

Put the ingredients to a basket, the basket to the steam, and close the lid

Unfortunately, we did not get to steam our food ourselves, but it was already prepared when we got there. It was fun and interesting to see how it is done, though!

Oishii, nee?

Even though it was only 11 am, the place was filled with Japanese, enjoying their sunny Sunday lunch (which made me drool, since of course our meal was not seafood except for few shrimp). One thing I found rather interesting, was that we cleaned and washed our plates after eating. In how many restaurants do you have to clean up after yourself?

After the steam food, we got to steam our feet and soak them in the warm water. That would have felt amazing after a long day of walking, but it wasn’t bad in the morning, either!

Soaking students

Next time, I need to go to an onsen! I am enjoying the ofuro in AP house, but I really want to experience the authentic bath. There are apparently several different kinds – the one thing in common is that they smell. Really bad.