Hakone Circuit: How to see Mount Fuji

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Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone Izumi National Park, less than 100 kilometres from Tokyo. The scenic area is famous for its natural beauty, hot springs and its views of Mount Fuji. Hakone is made up of several towns which includes Moto Hakone and Hakone – Machi. Continue reading

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Our Review of Kosenkaku Ryokan in Arima Hot springs

Choosing a ryokan in Japan is a difficult task as they come in all different shapes and sizes some are small operations ran by an elderly couple while others are large with over 100 rooms.  We suggest you choose a ryokan that has its own hot springs and provide meals that are included in the price. Ryokans are often located in isolated places and they serve the best meals known as Kaiseki Ryori which is a course meal using local ingredients.

Recently we stayed at Kosenkaku, a ryokan located in Arima Hot springs. We stayed for one night which included dinner and breakfast so without further ado, this is our review.

Location

Kosenkaku is located in the charming traditional village of Arima, one of the oldest  hot spring towns in Japan. Arima is conveniently located near Kobe which can be reached in 20 minutes by train. Osaka is only a short bus ride away and only takes around an hour to get there. To get to Kosenkaku cross the bridge in the heart of town and access is up the hill.

Check in

We were greeted by a man at the archways of the property who took our bags and directed us to the lobby to be checked in. Japanese service at ryokans are always of high standards and here was no exceptions. We waited in the lobby with hot towels and an ice cold drink before being driven to our room in a golf cart. Kosenkaku is one of those big properties that I mentioned above. The cart stopped at the hot springs and restaurant  showing us around the property before taking us to the room.

Rooms

Kosenkaku actually has two kinds of rooms, the traditional rooms with tatami floors and where the futon gets layed out on the floor and you sleep there unfortunately for first time travellers to Japan this is probably the kind of experience you are looking for but we stayed in the log cabins  which were spacious sleep I think up to six people upstairs and had a spacious living room as well wait for it…….It’s very own spa.

We loved the room spending a lazy day in the spa or on our veranda where we played cards, sat around talking and generally just relaxing. The WIFI worked fine in the room at good speeds but we hardly used it as we really just wanted to get away from it all. Hot springs can do that to you

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Food

Food for me is usually the make or break part of any trip to a ryokan.  What I liked about the meal here was that the volume wasn’t too much, usually after eating at a ryokan you are so full that you really start to feel uncomfortable but at Kosenkaku you were first served a plate with four dishes, a salad, some sashimi, pork that is usually used for ramen and a green brocoli tasting jelly like dish. Next there was the chicken soup followed up by the tender Kobe beef grilled perfectly served with paprika and garlic chips.  Still feeling hungry dessert was green tea ice cream, banana cake and pudding.

Arima is located in a rural area so not much fish like you would find at a ryokan that was located by the sea which I prefer but the food was still of a good standard. Staying here also gives you the chance to try Kobe beef.

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Hot Springs

What you have all been waiting for, what were the hot springs like.

Hot springs in Arima became famous for the medicinal value. The waters have been known to help heal ailments so many people come each year to soak in the hot springs and hopefully improve their health.

The hot springs in Arima come in two colours either a redish brown colour that is known in Japanese as Kinsen which gets its colouring from the rich content of iron and sodium. The other is ginsen which is colourless and contains radium and carbonate. These hot springs are next to each other but both are located inside a room I and didn’t have an amazing view of the sea or nature that you find in some hot springs where there baths are located outside.  What we did like was that the bath wasn’t scorching hot like you find at some hot springs.

After coming home I did some research to find out that there are no outdoor hot springs in Arima.

Overall

If you are looking for a place to relax and haven’t been to a hot spring or stayed at a ryokan by the time you are in Kansai then I definitely recommend for you to stay here because of its rich history and its medicinal value. They are one of the most famous hot springs in Japan however I love an outdoor hot spring and there is nothing better from jumping between indoor and outdoor springs.

The food is good but have had much better from other ryokans plus we really love seafood. The food here doesn’t blow your minds like you get at other ryokans but the Kobe steak is really good.

The log cabins are great but this might not be for everyone especially first time visitors to Japan. They do though have more traditional rooms.

Something I haven’t mentioned is this ryokan also has an indoor swimming pool that not many ryokans have. It is only opened during the Summer months though.

Would we stay here again. I think we would. It’s close to where we live and we really did love the log cabin with the spa in its room. We will leave it up to you to decide if you would stay here.

What do you think, would you stay at this ryokan? Let us know in the comment section below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arima hot springs one of the oldest hotspring towns in Japan

As we walked through the cobbled stone pavement, traditional wooden buildings flanked both sides selling souvenirs to the people who wandered the street,  exhausted we slumped down on the bench and put our feet into the warm waters of the foot hot spring to help soothe our aching muscles, relieved that we had finally made it to the tranquil village of Arima one of the oldest hot spring towns in Japan.

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Earlier we had scrambled up rocks, pulled on chains and climbed ladders as well as explored terrain that you are more likely to see on Mars with its red grainy sand that form the rock gardens as we hiked Mount Rokko, the mountain that separates Kobe and Arima. We did all this just to reach the town that we could very easily have taken a train or bus but what would be the fun in that

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Arima came to prominence because of the myth surrounding the hot springs. Two gods descended to earth one day and saw three injured crows bathing in a puddle. Some days passed when the gods happened to come upon the three crows again. To their amazement the crows had been cured. Thinking this was remarkable they took a closer look at the puddle to discover a hot spring with a miraculous healing effect. From this day forward, the crows and two gods have been worshipped as guardian deities of Arima hot springs.

Now 1.6 million people visit annually to soak their bodies in the hot springs to help heal ailments. The water either a reddish-brown colour known in Japanese as Kinsen gets its colouring from the rich content of iron and sodium. The other is ginsen which is colourless and contains radium and carbonate.

In Arima there are a few options to take a bath either in a public hot spring or in a japanese hotel or ryokan. After a long hike we first took a bath in the public hotsprings soaking in scorching hot water of around 45 degrees. These baths are both indoors and very simple but it felt like heaven as we bathed in them. relaxing, eyes closed and the hike that we had just completed a distant memory.

Arima also has accommodation which has its own hot springs and even though very expensive we highly recommend to stay the night to not only experience the hot springs, a ryokan but also a traditional town.

We stayed at Kosenkaku, a large ryokan that also has log cabins which we stayed in. Together we relaxed played card games on the veranda, read books and soaked in the spa that was in our room.

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Arima hot springs is where Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a famous samurai who unified Japan came to soak his body to heal after a long battle so if it was good enough for him, then its good enough for us and it’s definitely good enough for you.  If you get a chance when you’re in the Kansai area to try a hot spring then get yourself to Arima whether you get there by train, bus or foot.

How to get there

There are three ways to get to Arima Onsen from Kobe or Osaka the cheapest way, the practical way, or the fun but expensive way.

The practical way is to take the Hanshin, Hankyu or Sanyo Line to Shinkaichi (新開地) just west of Kobe, then transfer to the Kobe Railway Arima Line to terminus Arima Onsen. (Note that express services terminate at Arimaguchi, so you’ll need to switch to a local train.) Alternatively, if you’re coming in on JR, get off at Kobe’s Sannomiya station, take the Kobe Subway to Tanigami (谷上), and connect there to the Kobe Arima Line. In either case, make sure to transfer at the Arimaguchi station onto the (one stop only) Arima Onsen line. The whole trip will cost around ¥900-1000 and take about half an hour.

The fun way is to take the Hankyu line to Rokko station and continue up Mt. Rokko on the cablecar (10 min, ¥570/1000 one-way/return). Connect with the bus loop line (10 min, ¥250) to the Rokko Arima Ropeway, then take the ropeway down to Arima Onsen (12 min, ¥980/1770 one-way/return). The Rokko Arima Katamichi Jōshaken (六甲有馬片道乗車券) combination ticket (¥1700 one way) works out marginally cheaper, and also lets you ride around the top of Mt. Rokko. This route is more scenic, but best avoided with heavy luggage.

The cheapest way is to take a bus from Sannomiya bus terminal that leaves several times a day (50 min, ¥720). The final destination of the bus is Arima Onsen, so it’s easy to find the bus in the timetable and no chance to skip the stop accidentally. You should pay the driver upon exiting, no need to get the ticket at the booth. The bus is rather small with no place for heavy luggage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hot spring experience in Japan

Everyone seems hesitate at first to experience their first hot spring, the nerves of bathing naked in front of strangers , in front of people who  look totally different to you. You will feel it’s natural for them to want to take a peak. After all you have a different shape and body type to the Japanese that you will be sharing the hotspring with.  There is no need to worry as this most likely won’t happen.

Your nerves, your apprehension to be naked in front of someone shouldn’t be enough to stop you from experiencing a hot spring while you are in Japan.

Fortunately, I’ve never had a fear of dropping my strides, don’t get me wrong I’ve never been a stripper or anything. Though I have to admit I have once dropped them on the stage at a sports function performing at a players concert with the soundtrack of The Full Monty but that is another story………..

There’s also the added pressure of following protocol. What happens if I do something wrong. Don’t worry about it first of all wash your body like you would at home, make sure you have rinsed all the soap off your body and then take a dip in the hot spring.

Remember the springs are not to be swam in, just relax and soak in the natural minerals that are good for your body. The water temperature may feel hot at first as the temperature is usually around 45 degrees but your body will soon adjust and the aches and pains from a full day of sightseeing will soothe away.

If there are two hot springs one being indoor the other being outdoor then bathe in the indoor one first before moving to the outdoor one, feel free to move back and forth if you like.

When finished change back into your clothes or the hotels yukata which is similar to a kimono. Feel free to walk around the hotel/ ryokan that you are staying at and also the surrounding areas outside.

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If you’re really concerned about having a hot spring in front of others then quite a few places have a couples hotspring which you pay extra to use and can then bathe with your partner, family or friend. The photo taken above is a jacuzzi using hotspring water which was actually in our room.

Dinner Time

If you’re staying at a Ryokan, a Japanese style hotel then the meal that they serve will be amazing. I recommend having dinner at the ryokan because a lot of ryokans are located in an isolated area far from other restaurants .

The food for me is just as good as the hot spring and overall makes a great experience. If your ryokan is near the sea then you will be served a course of seafood consisting of fish, sushi and sashimi. During the Winter months if the area is famous for crab then this will also be part of the course.

If the ryokan is located in a rural area in the mountains then the meal will consist of  local vegetables and meat dishes consisting of pork or beef.

The food will be served delicately on a dish, served in tiny portions but the dishes will keep coming and soon you will be struggling to end your meal. The last dish is usually a small plate of fresh fruit grown in the region.

There are sometimes two choices for you to have your dinner either served in the main restaurant or sometimes served in your room. You will also be given two choices for the meal time usually 6.30 or 7.30pm.

If you have your meal at the restaurant,  when you have returned to your room you will discover that your futons(Japanese style mattress) has been laid out on the tatami (Japanese straw matted floor).

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Sleep Time

The futons will make for a great sleep, especially if it’s Winter time, the smug tight fitted cover will keep you nice and cozy but even after all these years of living in Japan I would rather sleep without the rock hard Japanese pillows and this is no exaggeration when I say this. I’m sure you will have a great sleep and wake up refreshed which is exactly what the hotspring experience is supposed to do.

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Have you experience a hot spring in Japan or another country? We would love to hear about your experience.

 

 

Cherry Blossom Viewing in Osaka.

Spring is here, the blue sky, the warm weather and in Japan where I currently am, the pretty pink cherry blossoms have bloomed. Once you see the pictures you will understand why it is our favourite season. There is something special when you see the blossoms for the first time. There is a sense of warmth that fills your body.

Luckily you can see the blossoms anywhere in Japan. They start blooming in the Southern part of Kyushu sweeping across the country throughout April. People tune into the nightly news to listen for the best time to view the blossoms in their local area.

Originally only aristocracy and feudal lords would participate in the cherry blossom viewing parties otherwise known in Japanese as Hanami.  The common people started to take part after the 8th Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimue  planted trees along the Sumido River in Tokyo.

Families, friends, company employees all have parties under the cherry blossom trees. In the popular places, people arrive in the early hours of the morning to save a spot for everyone to enjoy the party and enjoy they do.  This is the time when they let down their hair, drink and become merry, sometimes drink  to oblivion.

Food is usually brought from home and shared amongst the party guests or meat, vegetables, okonomiyaki or yaki soba are grilled on hot plates similar to a BBQ. Portable karaoke machines are sometimes brought so everyone can sing the latest songs or enka traditional Japanese music popular amongst older people.

We are currently in Osaka and will tell you the best places to view them.

Osaka Mint Bureau

This is the most famous place in Osaka for viewing cherry blossoms. The mint has the largest variety of trees with 100 varieties amongst the 300 trees that are for viewing. The blossoms bloom slightly later here because of the late-blooming yae-zakura trees.

This years viewing period is scheduled from April 11th-April 17th. Opening 10am to 9pm. Weekends from 9am.

To see the cherry blossoms it is a ten minute walk from Temmabashi station.  Free admission.

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Osaka Castle Park

This would be the most common place for people to view the cherry blossoms. Over 4000 trees have been planted in the park. The castle makes a perfect backdrop to the blossoms, making it a great place for photography. They light up Nishinomaru garden.

Free entry except for Nishinomaru Garden.

Nishinomaru garden open from 9.00 to 20.00

200 yen day time.

500 yen light up

illumination from March 29th to April 17th

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Expo Park

Expo Park was home to the 1970 World Expo since then it has been turned into a large park with over 5000 trees line the paths and its lawned areas. This used to be near where we lived so we would often visited this great park which also has a traditional Japanese garden, ethnology museum and home to a professional soccer team.

To enter the park costs 250 yen whether it is cherry blossom season or not.

take the monorail and get off at Banpaku Kinen Koen station.

There is also a light up in the evenings from March 29th to April 13th

illumination from 18.00 -21.00

The park is open from 9.30-17.00

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Kema Sakuranomiya Park

This is the most picturesque place to view cherry blossoms as the blossoms stretch for several kilometers along the Okawa river. 5000 trees line the promenade making for a beautiful walk or they can be seen from boats that cruise the river. Osaka Castle can also be seen from here.

To view the blossoms take the JR loop line to Sakuranomiya station.  Illuminated till 22.00 during blooming periods.

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Each year the dates change. These dates are for 2014.

 

Have you seen the cherry blossoms in Japan?. We would love to hear what you thought of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beppu the land of hell

Looking up from the bottom of the hill I could see the steam building up, rising into the air forming thick white clouds as I got closer I felt the heat against my face as the water boiled in beautiful aqua blue forming hell that looked like the ocean. Eggs boiled away in baskets dipped into the hell, while next door the ground shook while the steam slowly built up before water sprouted out of the ground with such verosity and power shooting the water into the air forming a geyser. This geyser erupts every 20- 30 minutes. Mud pits bubbled while crocodiles fought aggresively, another hell covered in a pool of red that looked like blood and the devil overlooked all of this with his sly smile covering his face.

This is not hell but it could be the closest thing that resembles what has been depicted in books over the years with the heat of the water ranging from 50-99.5 degrees, could one false move, one little slip be all it takes before a hand with a pitching fork rises out from the ground and grabs you, before dragging you down to the couldrons and pits below, fortunately I never made that fatal mistake.

Here in the city of Beppu (144,000 population) in Oita prefecture on the southern island of Japan (kyushu) 9 hells, hotsprings that are too hot for bathing are located in the Kannawa district. You can buy a pass for 2000yen or you can pay individual entrance fee for 400 yen.

 These hells are all in walking distance from one another

umi hell (sea hell) recommend

The aqua blue water gently boils the expansive pond is definitely worth a visit. It is the most picturesque hotspring getting its name from looking like the ocean. If you only visit one of the hells, make sure it’s this one. image image image image oniishibozu hell (shaved monks head hell) recommend

If you have been to Rotorua in New Zealand then you would be familiar with the sulphur odors that waft through the air as the same smell is apparent here from the hotsprings and the gurgling mud pits that bubble.image image image image Shiraike hell (white pond hell)

Similar to the umi hell but a shade lighter with a thicker white steam that covers the hell. Not as interesting as the other hells mentioned above but worth a look.

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Yama hell (mountain hell)

They have animals kept in poor conditions. We do not recommend this hell.

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Kamado hell (oven hell)

This is the hottest hotspring out of the group. I could feel the intense heat no soon as we entered the hell. I was talking to the staff and told them I couldn’t imagine working here during the Summer. They laughed and said it really feels like hell

Oniyama hell (devil mountain hell)

They have crocodiles kept in poor conditions. Do not recommend. image The next two hells are 2.5 kilometres away from the other hells buses run frequently.

Chinoike hell (Blood hell)recommend

The colour of this hell is red caused by clay. It is the most interesting hell especially with the story of a samurai dipping his sword in the pond only to turn the water completely red from the blood on the sword. image image image Tatsumaki hell ( geyser hell)

  The geyser erupts about every 25 minutes sprouting out a ferocity of water but there is not much greenery here as they have built a concrete barricade around it. If you have seen a geyser before then you could skip this hell. It takes about 2.5 hours to see all the hells. image image

What you should do at the hells?

Soak your feet in the foot hotspring, eat eggs and puddings boiled in the hotspring.

Teaching English in Japan

I often feel lucky that I was born with a gift, that gift being a native English speaker. We have life too easy, we never have to fear not being understood when we go to another country, knowing that someone in the area will be able to understand you. We don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a language unless we choose to.  Therefore I feel privileged to give back to the Japanese to help them overcome the English barrier.

I have lived in Japan for 15 years and I have taught English to adults, businessmen, women and children but the most enjoyable for me is teaching kindergarten kids from the ages of 3 to 6. We teach them for only 20 minutes a week, they have 10 hours of lessons a year and by the end of that first year they can identify animals, fruits and vegetables, colours, 25 verbs, uppercase alphabet ,and their names, their ages and if they like things, of course at first they are shy, sometimes the first  lesson they run towards the door crying in hysterics, thinking who is this strange-looking person in my classroom and why is he here but by the end of the first year they are shouting the English words and sentences so hard that their faces are turning a bright purple, sometimes so bright you think the child is going to burst.

Over the first year we have gained the children’s trust and from there we can provide a better education for them in the following two years of class. Today being the last class is always sad to say goodbye, the kids come running up to you, jump on you and give you a big hug, they say I love you Chris sensei, some kids are happy others are sad and most of the time I leave teary eyed but satisfied that I have passed the language to another Japanese child, who will feel confident in the future to be able to master the language I naturally learnt.

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