I’m finally back with a new post! Woohoo! Part-time studies is really sucking up all my freedom, and I’m so thankful for the 2 months break in between Semesters!
Anyway, thought I better come up with at least 1 new post before my havoc life resumes in 1 month’s time *boohoo* This will be an overview of my recent trip to Central (Chubu) Japan in early June which I really enjoyed a lot and consider it one of my more successful family trips. Central Japan is the place which I visited most frequently in Japan (in fact, 2 out of 4 trips!) as I love the view of mountains (FYI, this is where Japan Alps are located) and open-air onsens. The route that we took this time received a ranking of three stars in the Michellin Green Guide, and is therefore called “Shoryudo (or Dragon-rise region)”. Prior to this journey, I poured all my heart and soul into coming up with the perfect itinerary while taking into account all the qualms of my family (thus neglecting my assignments in the process). So, if you are ever considering a trip outside of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto in the future, feel free to use the fruit of my labour and in return, let me know if you enjoyed your trip too!
On side note, this itinerary is meant for family with older children (older as in 30+ years-old with no kids) so the pace is really slow and non action-packed. Read on if you are still interested 🙂
Day 1 (Nagoya)
6.40pm – Arrived in Centrair Chubu International Airport. Took the Meitetsu u-Sky Limited Express to Nagoya station in a record time of 25 minutes. You will need to purchase a seat reservation ticket (360 yen) on top of the normal train ticket (870 yen) from either the automated ticketing machine or the ticketing booth. You can choose from an English menu, so no worries if you don’t speak Japanese 🙂
7.20pm – Checked into Royal Park Canvas Nagoya, a small business hotel located just 10 minutes walk from Nagoya station.
8.00pm – Dinner at Maruya Honten (Nagoya station), one of the popular restaurant chains selling Nagoya speciality, Hitsumabushi (eel rice). There are 3 ways of eating this: (1) Divide the bowl into 4 portions. First, eat it on it’s own and savour the taste (2) Mix the wasabi, spring onions, seaweed and some herb into the second portion (3) Pour the dashi soup into the third potion to turn it into porridge (4) Choose whatever method you prefer for the last portion!
Day 2 (Nagoya)
8.00am – Breakfast at Komeda Coffee, a popular cafe franchise in Nagoya *must try!* In Nagoya, nearly every cafe provides a “breakfast service”, which you will get either a toast or sandwich when you buy any beverage on the menu, or discounted breakfast sets. You will have to wake up rather early for this though, as this service usually ends at around 11am (haha this is early for me). At Komeda Coffee, you will get one thick slice of toast with either butter, jam or ogura paste (red bean paste, another specialty of Nagoya) and one hard-boil egg.
11.00am – Nagoya Castle, which is about 10 mins subway ride from Nagoya station. Here we explored Honmaru Palace (residence and formal audience hall for the son of the Shogun), walked around the castle grounds and enjoyed a “ninja” performance.
The main castle tower is undergoing reconstruction now and is only scheduled to re-open in 2022. If you think that this will affect your castle experience, there are other attractions in Nagoya such as the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium, Railway Museum, Toyota Automobile museum, Legoland or Nagashima resort. In other words, there are plenty of other attractions to keep you entertained for at least 2 days.
4.00pm – Went back to Nagoya station and had lunch at Ichiran ramen, a really popular Tonkotsu ramen chain which is located right beside our hotel! I highly recommend this ramen chain for its delicious ramen and unique eating experience. After eating, we did some serious shopping at Uniqlo and souvenir shops around the station.
9.00pm – Dinner at Sekai no Yamachan, an izakaya popular for Tebasaki-style chicken wings. Tebasaki chicken wings is yet another specialty of Nagoya, and you can find this word plastered in nearly every souvenirs. This place is located 5 minutes walk from our hotel and there are at least 2 other branches around the station. Honestly, I think that this can be missed though, as we found the wings really salty and pepperish.
Day 3 (Nagoya to Takayama)
8.43am – Took a scenic 3hr train ride (Limited Express Wide View Hida) from Nagoya station to Takayama. This train was featured in the popular anime movie “Your name” 🙂 Along the way, commentaries were made to introduce the sights along the train ride. Talk about making travelling easier for tourists!
11.01am – Arrived at Takayama station and was chartered off to our ryokan (Honjin Hiranoya Annex) by the complimentary shuttle service. I highly recommend this ryokan for its service.
12.00pm – Threw our bags at the reception counter after checking in (since check-in time is 3pm) and scooted off to find lunch at Maruaki, an immensely popular restaurant for Hida beef! Hida beef is considered one of the best Wagyu in Japan, having won the “Wagyu Olympics” in 2002. It took us a few tries before we could get the melt-in-the-mouth taste.
2.00pm – Walked along the iconic Sannomachi Street of Takayama. Here, I continued to devour Hida beef by enjoying the popular beef nigiri. We also did sake tasting by purchasing a small sake cup of 300 yen, which entitles you to one mouth of each sake bottle placed in a fridge (please drink wisely, sake has high alcohol level and many small mouthfuls can become deadly). There are plenty of other street food here such as beef skewers, Gohei Mochi, Dango, beef croquette, beef buns etc. Note that most shops in Takayama closes at 5pm, so do get an early start when you explore Takayama.
3.30pm – Went back to the ryokan and was brought to our room by the most comical guest attendant (she really did remind me of an anime character). This was followed by a 45 mins session of bowing, introduction to the ryokan facilities and being showered with gifts and food. Following which, my sister and I decided to change into our yukata for a short photoshoot around the area. I really love the results!
5.00pm – Went back to ryokan and took a mandatory soak in the onsen before dinner. This was my favourite moment in this whole trip. Thought I made a great choice with choosing ryokan with indoor onsen this time round because otherwise we will be boiling in an open-air onsen at this time of the year.
7.00pm – Kaiseki dinner in our room! It was such a luxurious experience being served multi-course dinner in our own room. Highly recommend to try this at least once in Japan. Cheers!
Day 4 (Takayama to Kanazawa)
7.30am – Breakfast was served in a common room at Level 2 of the ryokan. There was a choice of Western or Japanese breakfast. A word of advice, always go for japanese food in Japan.
10.00am – Checked out of ryokan and again took the Limited Express Wide View Hida to Toyama station, followed by a short bullet train (Hokuriku shinkansen) ride of 20mins to Kanazawa station. This was the first time I experienced train delay in Japan because the train collided with an animal en route to Takayama! I hope nothing fatal happened…
1.00pm – Arrived at Kanazawa and took a cab to our hotel Tatemachi Kaname Inn. Since it was too early to check-in, we had lunch at nearby Ippudo ramen.
3.30pm – Walked to Kenrokuen Garden and enjoyed a cool walk around one of the beautiful gardens in Japan. Kenrokuen was given its name because it contains the six essential attributes that make up a perfect garden, which are spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. Flowers were blooming everywhere, so every corner became a photo point! This is a really huge garden so please spare 2-3 hours to explore this place.
7.30pm – Dinner at Ippei sushi, a top-rated hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurant in Trip Advisor that is run by an elderly couple. The unique feature of this restaurant is that sushi is served directly on the tabletop without any plates. When you are in Kanazawa, you must have sushi!
Day 5 (Kanazawa)
11.30am – Walked to Myouryuji Temple, which is also nicknamed “Ninja Temple” because of it’s complex matrix of traps and secret doors. If you want to witness the geniuses of the ancient world, this is the place to be! Do note that you will need to make an appointment for the guided tour and the best way to do so is through your hotel as they do not have email reservations. Children of pre-school age are not allowed in the temple. Also, guided tours are only conducted in Japanese, but you will be given an English information booklet with explanations on how the traps work.
1.00pm – Lunch at Omicho market, also known as the ‘Kitchen of Kanazawa’. As Kanazawa is located near the coastline, seafood is the staple here. You will see all sorts of seafood in XL size. Have a bowl of Kaisendon (seafood bowl) before moving to the next spot.
3.00pm – Higashi Chaya Teahouse District, also known as the Little Kyoto of Hokuriku region. This place has been designated as Japan’s cultural assets together with Kyoto’s Gion and Kanazawa’s Kazue-machi. Do have a cup of tea or experience a tea ceremony in one of the numerous teahouses here.
5.00pm – Another point to note is that the main attractions in Kanazawa also closes at 5pm, including the shops in Higashi Chaya. After 5pm, head to Kanazawa station for souvenir shopping and dinner. Kanazawa station is one of Japan’s most aesthetically pleasing station buildings, thanks to the structure in the picture above. Kanazawa is known for it’s gold production, so this is the best place to get nice souvenirs as everything comes with sprinkles of gold!
Day 6 (Tateyama kurobe alpine route)
9.40am – We woke up really early and reached Kanazawa station at 7.26am to go Toyama station. Toyama station is the starting point for free and easy travellers to embark on Tateyama Kurobe alpine route. From Toyama station, we took a local train towards Tateyama station. At this point, I will like to caution to everyone that this is a really shaky ride, so please prepare some motion sickness pill if necessary. After collecting the tickets at Tateyama station, we joined the queue to take a 7 mins “cable car” ride (shown in picture above) up to Bijodaira station. The total journey time from Kanazawa to Tateyama is about 2hrs.
11.50am – From Bijodaira station, we changed to a bus which took another 1hr to arrive at the highest point of the route, Murodo! This is where the famous “Yuki-no-Otani” snow wall corridor is located. There are other things to do such as hiking around the Mikurigaike pond (which we did) and if you come in June, snow tubing and slides. We actually stayed here for 3hrs, which was much longer than I expected.
2.15pm – After lunch at Murodo, we took the trolley bus to Daikanbo station. This is the station where most people will change to a “ropeway” (which is actually our cable car) down to Kurobe Dam which is the other highlight of the route. However, we ended our trip here at Daikanbo station (which is very uncommon), because I predicted that we would not have enough time to complete the route but I really wanted to soak in the paranomic view of the Alps.
8.00pm – We left Daikanbo at 3.15pm and embarked on a long 3.5hr journey all the way back to Kanazawa station. As my father got motion sickness on the journey down Mt. Tateyama, we ended up buying bento sets from Kanazawa station back to our hotel for dinner. It may sound sad, but it really is not, because bento sets in Japan are delicious!
Day 7 (Kanazawa to Nagoya)
11.05am – Took the Hokutetsu bus from Kanazawa station at 9.40pm to Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO heritage site that is famous for the traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses. The roof of the houses are constructed like “hands in prayer” so that it can better withstand the large amount of snowfall during winter. You can take a free shuttle bus or walk up to Shiroyama Viewpoint for a paranomic view of the village. Do cater at least 2-3hrs to explore this lovely village because you will unconsciously whip out your camera and start photo spamming! If you have time, have Hida beef or soba lunch at one of the restaurants in the gassho-style houses. There are also numerous street food here which are similar to those found in Takayama.
1.30pm – We left Shirakawa-go at 1.30pm for Takayama station, and then changed to the Wide View Hida train at 2.40pm to return back to Nagoya station. Eating bento set on the train is a must whenever I go Japan.
5.04pm – We arrived back in Nagoya after a 3hrs journey and checked into the same hotel Royal Park Canvas Nagoya. After having dinner at Ichiran ramen again (because it is just so good!) and doing last-minute souvenir shopping at Nagoya station (as if we have not bought enough), we went up the Marriott Associa Hotel Sky Lounge “Zenith” for drinks in order to fulfil my brother’s dream of being a rich city boy. Every weekend evening, there will be a live jazz singer performing in the lounge. Here you can also observe how Japanese business man entertain their business associates. Even though it was raining the entire time thus disrupting our paranomic view of Nagoya, I really enjoyed this cosy family time as it was the first time my entire family went drinking. This also concludes our Japan trip as our flight was 11am the next morning.
How to travel around Central Japan
Most people would purchase JR Pass whenever they are travelling in Japan. It cost SGD 345 for 7 days continuous pass, SGD 549 for 14 days and SGD 703 for 21 days. However, besides JR Pass, there are other regional passes that are sold at much cheaper rates and will allow you unlimited access to attractions within the region for 5 continuous days. I find this to be much more cost-efficient because let’s face it, how many cities can one travel within 7 days? JR Pass is cost-efficient only if the cities you are visiting are far apart (e.g. Tokyo to Osaka). Regional passes are great for exploring the less traveled places.
If Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is the highlight of your trip, you can consider getting the Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass, which will cover the train routes to Takayama, Toyama, Matsumoto, Nagoya as well as unlimited access along the alpine route. This is an excellent pass to use during peak seasons (April-May) when traffic along the alpine route is really heavy! FYI, a one-way ticket along the route (Tateyama Kurobe Option Ticket) already cost 9,000 yen (about SGD 110), while the pass cost only 17,500 yen (about SGD 215). You really don’t need much calculation to know that the pass is definitely way more cost-efficient.
I chose to purchase another regional pass called the Takayama Hokuriku Area Pass which basically covers all the train/bus route mentioned in my itinerary, and top up a separate return tickets to Alpine route. Reason being early June may be rainy season, so I wasn’t sure if I was going up the Alpine route at all. In fact, I only bought the tickets online two days before the planned date, when I was confident that the weather forecast was not going to change. This area pass also extends to Kyoto and Osaka, so if time is in your favour, you can start from Osaka first, travel upwards to Kanazawa, then Shirakawa-go, Takayama and finally Nagoya (or the other way round). At this point, I will like to highlight again that the pass is only good for 5 days, and it does not cover travel between Nagoya and Osaka, so please keep this in mind when planning your itinerary. This pass cost 14,000 yen (about SGD 168), while my return tickets from Toyama station to Daikanbo cost 9,210 yen (about SGD 115). This tickets was at discounted price because I was travelling during a weekday and during off-season.
While planning a trip in Japan, checking the train timings can be a huge nightmare because of the multiple types of trains available within the same route. An added advantage of purchasing the regional pass is that all the timings of the train and bus rides that you can take along this route are listed in the area pass webpage! This becomes a one-stop webpage that I referred to during my entire journey, and I really felt that it removes a lot of stress from the person who is planning the trip.
Personally, my favourite region in Japan is Chubu, as this is the place where I can find the consolidation of all my loves (mountains, waterfalls and onsen). Needless to say, the food here will be fresher since the farms are located close by. In summer, there are hikings to do (and ropeways for those who are lazy to climb). In winter, this area receives one of the highest snowfall so it’s great for skiing. Furthermore, it is cheaper and convenient to reach from Tokyo as compared to Hokkaido. Chubu Japan is getting really popular these days because the Japan Tourism Board has been heavily publicizing these places, so please go because it gets flooded by more tourists!