Japan in April 2013   1 comment

Presenting the latest episode of
“Hawaiians in Japan”
starring: Roger and Lari
April 9 to 26, 2013

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When my nephew, Kazu moved to Japan in March of 2012, we planned a trip for this April hoping to see cherry blossoms in full bloom and to visit Kazu and all of our friends in various cities. Now that Hawaiian Airlines goes to four Japanese cities, we used HAL and got a good fare to Haneda. This was not a tour, so we had to plan everything on our own. We got lots of planning help from Yumi Ibaramoto and Kazu/Audrey. We ordered our rail pass online, picked it up at JTB in Ala Moana and made reservations at hotels and ryokans. We used the trains extensively to get to Nikko, Nagoya, Takayama, Kyoto, Hakone, and back to Tokyo.
In Nikko, we stayed at a ryokan Nikko Tokanso and fell in love with Ayako, who is the front desk greeter, bell person, room service, concierge, and shop salesperson, all rolled into one. She works so hard doing so many different jobs and is the only one who can speak English. We woke up to snow outside our window the first morning. It was so magical, like a fairyland. That afternoon it all melted away, but then it hailed just as we were leaving for our tour of Nikko National Park, which included Kegon Falls, Ryuzu Falls and Lake Chuzenji.
In Takayama, we were there for their spring festival. Each year, they have a festival in April and another in October We were so lucky to be able to experience the Takayama Matsuri with parades, floats, and food. The 12 floats are called Yatai and are over 300 years old, each one with intricate carvings and decorations. We also visited Hida Folk Village near Takayama. It’s like Sturbridge Village or Polynesian Culture center where you see how they lived back in the olden days.
We also stayed at Katsumasa and Kazuyo Kurata’s home in Nagoya. He has a car, so we were driven all around Nagoya to gardens, temples, parties, restaurants, dinners, and to the Toyota Auto Museum. We also met their neighbors the Shimoyamas and had dinner at their son, Naoto’s home with wife Yuuko and son Taisei.
In Kyoto, we had dinner with old friends, Koichi and Chiyako Mori and their son Masahiro and wife Tomoko. Masa used to come to Hawaii and visit us in Pearl City and my parents in Hilo when he was young. Now Masa is a doctor who does brain research in Nara University. It was a very nice reunion.
Yumi and her mom, Toshiko, who lives in Osaka, met us in Kyoto and stayed with us at two different temple ryokans. Ninnaji Temple in Kyoto and Hieizan Enryakuji Temple on top of Mt, Hiei, just outside of Kyoto, overlooking Lake Biwa. Yumi arranged for us to tour the Kyoto Imperial Palace as well as the Tokyo Imperial Palace. We also rode on the Romantic Train up the Hozugawa River and rode down river on small boats that could go through the small rapids.

In Hakone, we met with friends Mikio and Masae Tada, whom we had met in Madrid years ago. We visited their home in Manazuru and had a lovely visit with them.

Kazu has a minivan and he drove us from a ryokan with onsen in Hakone to his army base home, in Sagamihara and to Enoshima island and Kamakura as well as different restaurants and onsen around his neighborhood. We missed Audrey and Aulia, who were at our house in Hawaii for a conference. I went to visit and read a book at Azlyn’s 3rd grade class at the Japanese school that she attends outside the army base housing. Then I walked to Ailah’s pre-school to visit her and met her teacher and principal.
In Tokyo, we stayed at the Shinjuku Prince hotel and met with Yumi’s husband, Koji, for dinner one evening, because he works at the Shinjuku Police station nearby. Yumi and her sister Asako took us to Akasaka Ninja Restaurant, which was an adventure in dining. We were able to shop at Pepe next to our hotel, which has 8 floors of shopping, including Uniqlo and a 100 yen shop.
The weather was chilly and cool. Too bad we missed the peak of sakura blooming, (this year the peak was in March) but we enjoyed the cherry blossoms that were still in bloom, and the beginning of azalea season. And of course, we really loved the food! There is nothing like the taste and presentation of food prepared in Japan.

Roger’s Top Ten:
10. Hida Folk Village in Takayama, where I got to ride an electric car around so I didn’t have to walk. It was da best!
9. Akasaka Ninja Restaurant where Ninjas lead you through a dark maze with steps, narrow halls dead ends and a drawbridge to get to your table. Ninjas serve with fire, sparks, and fun ways for the strange but delicious food. Thanks to Yumi and Asako for taking us there.
8. At Nikko Tokanso we woke up one morning and looked out our window to see everything covered in white snow! It was really cool-cold, in fact! We reserved a bus tour to take us to Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls, but instead, we got a private tour via taxi. Hail was drumming down on us as we left the ryokan, and the drive up to the mountain lake was snowing. Nikko is where the 3 monkeys come from: see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.
7. Kazu took us to a ryokan in Hakone that was awesome. They had so many onsens: a public bath for men and women, a family bath, and a private bath just outside our room. Young couples would go bonkers, but Lari and I went oh la la too.
6. Yumi and her mom, Toshiko took us to a mountain top temple and ryokan. First we took a funicular, then a cable car-gondola to the top, and finally a bus that took us to the temple ryokan. It was a modern ryokan with a view of Lake Biwa.
5. In Takayama I had hidagyu steak that was very expensive. My 5 ounces of steak cost $64. You don’t need teeth to enjoy this steak, it’s so soft and melts in your mouth. It’s the best steak I ever ate.
4. We visited friends in Japan, which made our trip so fun. I was overwhelmed by everyone’s warm and generous hospitality.
3. Kazu took us to an onsen where we stuck our feet into a fish tank and fed the fish our toe jams. The fish nibble on our feet and it was a tingling feeling, another new and neat experience.
2. The Kyoto Imperial Palace tour was a one-hour walking tour with a beautiful English-speaking guide. It was okay but I enjoyed the Tokyo Imperial Palace tour better because we were chauffeured around for an hour, thanks to Yumi’s friend. They had a super duper bonsai collection. The bonsai are rotated into and out of the palace for the Emperor to enjoy. The royal carriages and horses used by the Emperor and dignitaries was also impressive.
1. For the most part, the weather was cold. We saw quite a lot of sakura, despite missing the full bloom. So we did get to see some up in the mountain areas of Nikko and Takayama. I did not know that Japan had so much azaleas. Probably more than those we saw in Wilmington, NC when we went to their Azalea Festival.
*My favorite thing I brought back from Japan was a phone charm for my cell phone. I got a “saru bobo” with a bell, which is the mascot of Takayama and means monkey baby.

Lari’s Top Ten:
10. Shopping at the 100 yen shops and Second Hand shops.
9. Toyota Auto Museum near Nagoya was very interesting.
8. Both the Kyoto and Tokyo Imperial Palace tours were wonderful.
7. Visiting our friends and relatives was very special and fun!
6. In Kyoto, the Hozugawa Romantic train ride and riverboat ride was so much fun!
5. Ryokans: we sat on the tatami floor at low tables to have tea and manju and slept on futons on the floor and took our bath at the onsen.
4. Takayama Matsuri was wonderful. After the Snow Festival in Sapporo, this was my second Festival, and it was fabulous. The parades, the floats (yatai) and the sakura in bloom made it very special.
3. Ayako at Nikko Tokanso stole my heart. She was simply amazing! She does everything at the ryokan with such a cheerful and friendly manner.
2. ONSEN: I love, love, love to soak in the hot and steamy pools after scrubbing myself clean and rinsing off in the wash area. I guess it’s because I grew up with furo at my house.
1. FOOD: I love all the food we ate in Japan. Everything is delicious. I think I travel to eat. Everywhere I go, I love to eat.

One response to “Japan in April 2013

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  1. Looks like you had such a great time! Sharon and I are going to Turkey in September—any interest in joining us?

    Cara Hutchinson

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