Thursday, December 27, 2007

Omaru Ryokan - Nasu, Tochigi

Map Location

Omaru onsen is our new favorite Ryokan.



We had previously been there for an onsen and decided to book a room for the night. It was a great experience.

We went up there at the end of December and the roads were a bit snowy. But it was no problem getting there at all. The road beyond that point that goes to the top of Mt. Nasu was closed.

Check in time is 2PM. We got there early and had to wait, but it was very pleasant sitting in the waiting area. Check out time is 10AM.

The character of the inn is very appealing. Lots of wood and Japanese decoration. Its a very relaxing, pleasant place. Our room was actually 2 rooms. One for sleeping and one living room. Very comfortable, but, since there are very nice public areas, we spent most of our time outside the room. Even for reading and relaxing.

The onsen is very good. The only negative, the fact that the men's outdoor bath is actually mixed, was really a positive for us since we could bathe outside together. Its quite normal for women to wear a towel wrapped around them, but there are dedicated outdoor women's baths too. They are more beautiful than the mixed area. The pools are big, beautiful and very comfortable.

Dinner was great! The highlight was a fried prawn an tofu cake. But every dish was very good. Breakfast too was good. My favorite part was Nasu milk which was full cream, unhomogenised milk unlike any I have had since I was a kid. The lady serving us was a delight. They had done their homework and had all the courses translated on little cheat sheets for her to announce to us. We bought a bottle of wine with us and they prepared wine glasses and allowed us to drink it with our meal.

The bar was open in the evening with 1/2 an hour of Jazz guitar played by one of the staff which was very good.

Staff at Ryokans are always very welcoming. The people here really went out of their way to make us comfortable. One person there spoke good English.

The total price was 33,250 yen for two people including our cocktails and a bottle of beer we drank while reading our books. Its more than we normally like to pay for Ryokan but it was well worth it. We recommend this onsen for a day visit or for a night away.

More Photos

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sekisho Onsen - Daigo, Ibaraki

Map Location

This is a really nice day onsen near Daigo. If you are going to Fukuroda Falls this is a great place to go for lunch or dinner.


There is a big outside bath with a nice view. This photo is from the mens' side, the womens' side is also great, with an excellent view.


The restaurant is a cut above most day onsens.

Fukuroda Waterfall - Ibaraki, Japan

Map Location

These falls are about an hour East of Nasushiobara in a town called Daigo. Its in Ibaraki prefecture.



These falls are quite famous due to the fact they freeze in winter and are very beautiful. Unfortunately, we went in late December and they weren't yet frozen. We'll go back early next year to view it frozen.



The drive to Daigo features really beautiful winter scenery. As you enter Daigo there are a lot of nice old Japanese buildings too.



The falls are a short walk from the parking area. You walk through a tunnel to get to the falls. There are some steep strenuous paths you can walk along with beautiful views.



There are quite a few well regarded onsens nearby. We recommend Sekisho open onsen for lunch and a soak.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Omaru Onsen, Nasu, Tochigi

Map Location

This is right up the top of Nasu. There are so many good onsens in the area and its hard to compare, but this is a very nice onsen.

Yes, that is snow!

The notable thing about this onsen is the very large outdoor baths and the very elegant interior of the building its in. The men's outdoor bath is actually mixed. The women have their own private outdoor pools too. It costs 1000 yen per person to use the onsen so its a bit more expensive than other places. Its well worth the price though.

We liked it so much we book a night there on Christmas Eve at 15000 yen each for 2 people. So we'll have more details later.

An Yu Le Restaurant - Nasu, Tochigi

Map Location

This is a good Yum Cha (Dim Sum) restaurant in Nasu. It seems to be a sister restaurant of the Cowherd Restaurant which we have not been to yet.

We went for Saturday lunch and it was not at all busy. The interior is very nice. We chose to sit by some big windows, there are areas behind cloth screens and it looked like some private rooms too.

They have a picture menu and you can order various set meals or all you can eat from the menu (3000 yen). They have most of the common Yum Cha items. When they deliver your food, they bring it on a cart and you can choose other items from the cart then too. The quality is very good. We recommend this restaurant.

Oya Temple, Utsunomiya, Tochigi

Map Location

Oya Temple is located a short distance outside Utsunomiya. Its interesting because of the giant statue and the underground caverns.

As you get close you will start seeing shops selling local rock and various builds made out of it. If I had to guess its not very good rock to make things out of because its very light and porous. But the statue is pretty neat and its a good place to visit.

First stop is the statue. If you look closely around the statue you can see areas where big arches have been made and collapsed. Near the statue is a small temple with some nice garden which you must pay a small fee to enter. There is a very old human skeleton that they found in the area on display.

Some distance away is our favorite part. Huge underground caverns made when the excavated rock in the area. Also there is an interesting display where you can compare the local rock with other kinds of rock.

Its a good area for a short visit if you are in Utsunomiya.

More pictures

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Open Onsen, Shiobara, Tochigi

Map Location

In Shiobara there are a number of onsens that are not part of a hotel or onsen house. They are just sitting there in public space. Sometimes you will be walking along a track and you will find a hot spring sitting there.
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So far all that we have seen have a little money box where you can deposit a small amount of money for using them. Our favourite is at the Northern end of Shiobara across the river. Its in a beautiful location by the river. Its mixed and not very well protected from viewers.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shiobara/Nikko in Autumn, Tochigi

The autumn colors are out in force in the mountains now. Mt. Nasu is very beautiful though we've had horrible luck with the weather on two visit. This article is about a driving trip to the Shiobara/Nikko area that starts in Nasushiobara. We did the trip in late October and the colors were beautiful but only in the higher altitudes.

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We started out driving Northwest on route 400 up into the Shiobara area. We travelled through this area pretty quickly because we know it well, but if you haven't been here then there is lots to see and do. You might consult our map if you want some ideas.

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We drove into Shiobara Town and then took route 19 southwest. We took a short side trip to Swamp Lake (there must be a better translation than this Japanese to Chinese to English one) to check out the autumn colors. That colors around the lake and nearby mountains were just magnificent. There are lots of nice onsens in this area if you want to stay longer, but we kept going.

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Return to route 19 and short while later the toll road starts. The views were beautiful the whole way and some of the ski resorts have really beautiful grounds at this time of year. The traffic was heavier than usual weekend traffic but never got slow. The toll road empties out onto highway 121. We headed north through some really lovely country along the side of a river.

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Then we joined up with route 400 again now heading Southeast back towards Nasushiobara.

The whole trip took the best part of a day of slow driving with lots of stops.

More Photos

Monday, October 15, 2007

Living Environmentally in Tochigi

This is an unusual article for this blog. Today is Blog Action Day. This years topic is the environment. What can the audience of this blog do to improve the environment?

CO2 emissions.


Many people, including pretty much all the scientists in the field believe that our CO2 emissions are having a major impact on our weather now. And that even if we greatly reduce those emissions right now, its going to keep getting worse for a while before it gets better. Remember how exceptionally hot it was this summer?
You can calculate your impact right here. Carbon Footprint
Who are the worst polluters? Per capita carbon emissions
Want to know more? Environmental Forum has a fairly high noise ratio, but good info too

Travel


Its probably very likely that the people who read this blog have fairly high CO2 footprints. Thats because most of us probably travel a lot. Thats probably one of the most significant contributions to carbon emissions we can make. We probably also encourage our friends and family to travel to visit us too. Lots of long haul travel is definitely not good for the environment. So there is a big opportunity for us to save here.

There is a strong temptation to go home for the holidays. How about spend that time looking around Japan? Most of us will go home in the future and perhaps regret not really seeing Japan as well as we could have. Lets really explore it while we are here. Japan has a great rail network that we can use to visit even far flung parts of the country more cheaply than flying overseas and with much less environmental impact.

We can also cut our emissions by living close to work. We can walk or ride a bike instead of going by train and go by train or bus instead of driving. Because many of us are visitors we have a lot more choices about where we live and how we travel.

Consumption


Next we can watch what we consume. First of all lets consume less. Actually buying a lot of stuff here probably doesn't make much sense anyway because we'll only have to pay (and pollute) to ship it back. Another thing that has a pretty big impact is all those imported things we like. How about explore local food instead of imported food and swapping books with your friends rather than buying them? Finally, buy efficient products. Get fluorescent bulbs and if you must buy a car get a nice small one with a small engine or a hybrid.

Lifestyle


As you know in Japan daylight savings is not observed. So in summer we get all that extra daylight in the early morning. We changed our hours anyway. We switched our routine and got up at 5AM and went to bed at 9PM, as a result we had the lights on one hour less than we would otherwise have done.

Japan is pretty good about restricting heating and air conditioning (some say too good!). This is a very good thing. Remember, when you turn on your aircon you are only contributing to an even hotter year next year. Using your heater does the same thing. At the very least try to rug up when its cold and dress light when its hot. But I'd suggest resisting those devices whenever you can.

Local environment.


It was a big surprise to me how bad the local environment was here in Tochigi. There is rubbish on the road, rubbish at tourist destinations and rubbish on the walking tracks.(we don't normally highlight than in this blog) Here's a local story. Every night my wife and I walk around our block. There is quite a bit of rubbish along the way. So on one Saturday afternoon I took a bag and started picking things up. At first I was a little embarrassed doing it. I ran into one of our neighbours who decided to help us. The next day another neighbour was out picking things up. Our road is cleaner now and I met a neighbour I probably wouldn't have otherwise met. Now I do the same thing when I go walking in the mountains. My next project is to do the same on the road up into Shiobara. There are some very horrible parts there. It will only take 1/2 an hour and it will be a nicer place because I was here.

Lots of people are waiting for the government to take action or for somebody else to start cleaning up. The fact is probably everybody who reads this blog pollutes more than the world average. The thing we can do right now to make things better is to cut our own pollution. How about we start today?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Satinoyu Onsen - Tochigi

Map Location

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You can visit for a day visit or stay the night. This is a very good onsen.
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It wasn't busy and it had one of the nicest outside baths that we have visited.
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Its nearby to an onsen town called Itamuro which is a nice place to stop and look around. There is a nice walk along the river there.

More Photos

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hatsuchonoya Onsen - Okukinu, Tochigi

Map Location

This is a very nice Ryokan in the Okukinu area.

From the car park you can walk in. It takes about an hour. You can also bus in. Most people are going to combine with with the Okukinu walk. They can make a rice ball lunch for the walk and also bus you out after your walk too.


This onsen is quite different from others we have visited. Its strong points are location and great onsen. The room was good. The food was good, but not great.


On a Friday night we paid 9,000 yen per person.

The staff was very friendly and one guy speaks pretty good English.
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Okukinu - Tochigi

Map Location


Okukinu is a fantastic area in Tochigi in between Nikko and Oze. This walk is a very good overnight trip. Though if are very fit you could do it in one long, long day.

Its a very nice drive to get to the area, though the road is a bit narrow in parts. There are lots of ryokan on the way in too so it could easily be made into a 3 day trip. You can't miss the starting area. There is a big car park and the road closes to regular traffic.

From the parking area its about one hour walk to the first of a small group of in park ryokan. You can take a bus if you prefer. The walk is nice, there is a bit of construction at the start but you will soon be past that.

We stayed at Hatsuchonoya Onsen. Its very nice and covered in a separate post.

Its a 2 1/2 hour walk to the top. There are some quite long steep sections but its beautiful along the way. At the top there is a great alpine meadow. Its a good place for lunch. From there you can walk to the top of a small mountain with nice views, but its not a must see. You can also walk to Oze, but that must be a very long walk.

Its a 3 1/2 hour walk back to the car park. You might consider taking the bus back from the onsen area. The whole walk starting from the onsen, finishing at the carpark and including the small mountain must be about 20 km. If you skip the mountain and take the bus its probably 12 or 13 km.
More Photos

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Nasunogahara Park - Nasushiobara, Tochigi

Map Location
This is probably the largest park in the Nasushiobara area.
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Like most parks in Japan it is worth visiting in the different seasons because its character changes a lot with the seasons. There is a fountain with a shop, little hall (we once saw a bonsai exhibition there) and a place you can rent bicycles. There is a beautiful wooded area. And a very nice field which is great for a picnic. There is a nice view from the hill area. I bet it would be a good place to go for a run, though its some distance from downtown so you couldn't run to it (and I hate driving to go for a run).
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This is a great park for kids. There is a large playground area. And a great obstacle course. You have to pay a small amount to use the course. Both of them are sensational. These are not your watered down, wimpy, low litigation playgrounds found in Australia or USA. These are exciting and slightly dangerous playgrounds of my youth. I had a lot of fun on the obstacle course.
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There is also a rather prominent, kitch windmill which I hate.

See also Nasushiobara Cherry Blossom

Monday, October 1, 2007

Asahi Brewery - Fukushima

Map Location

Free beer! And only an hours drive from Nasushiobara. How did it take us a whole year to discover this?
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At the brewery there is a barbeque restaurant with beer and you can do a factory tour. The barbeque area is nice. We just sat and had some snacks and a few beers. I'd like to go back there for a barbeque some time.

Its quite different to the Sapporo beer factory tour (in Sapporo, Hokkaido). For a start its guided. And its much more a tour of an operational beer factory (which was not in operation on the day we were there). It was a good tour with English signs along the way and an English brochure for us to read. At the end of the tour there is free beer! You get one 300ml (guessing there) glass of beer (the photo is a 700ml beer in the restaurant) and can have 3 (I think) refills. There are some nice little snacks too.
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The beer hall and tour at Sapporo were much more beautiful and historic. But the Fukushima tour was very interesting. I think it would be fantastic when the brewery is actually operating. And the friendly staff made it very pleasant too. And its free beer an hours drive from Nasushiobara!!!!

No photos allowed on the tour and we were too busy drinking to take serious travel photos so sorry, no extra photos.

Sendai Hira - Fukushima

Map Location

Its just a short stop. But its right next to Abukuma Caves. There is a good panoramic view from the top of this hill.
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Most notably, it looks like hang gliders take off from there sometimes. There was a windsock and a launch ramp. Nearby there is a camp ground, which I am sure is primarily used by hang gliders.

There is also a little temple on the way up the hill. We didn't stop there.

The camp ground has some nice looking little huts too.

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Abukuma Caves - Fukushima

Map Location
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This is a fun cave visit. Its located next to an observatory that you could combine in the same trip. When we were there, there was a huge event on with a stage, bands, comedians and a lot of food stalls. But I am sure thats not the normal case.

Honestly, I don't think the caves are so good. At least the formations are fairly tame compared to what we have seen before. But it was fun because the pathway becomes very restricted in parts and you have to crawl and scramble to get past some bits. It might be a bit scary for even mildly claustrophobic people.

More photos

Monday, September 24, 2007

Saeka Onsen - Shiobara, Tochigi

Map Location

Saeka Onsen is a very nice onsen close to Nasushiobara. It has a beautiful mountain view from the outside pool. This onsen is recommended.

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The view from the bath.

Its open until 10PM so it would be possible to go there after work. I don't think you can stay the night there its just a day visit place.

Gensenkang Onsen - Shiobara, Tochigi

Map Location

A beautiful onsen by the river. There is a semi open hot bath overlooking the river. According to some people we met the water is very good here. Its slightly milky and a bit yellow and sulphurous. We felt great after a soak here.

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So far this is our favourite onsen. Very comfortable and relaxing.

You can stay the night at this onsen in the hotel or you for 800 yen you can visit. They open nice and early at 8AM. There are a number of other onsens in the area to try out too.
A few more photos

Heigatuon Restaurant - Otawara, Tochigi

Map Location

This is a simple local restaurant with good food. Its inexpensive.
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We had set meals of Barbequed Fish and Tempura with Soba. Both were great and the total price was less than 3000 yen.

They have a number of specials made with all local ingredients that are very good. Presentation is good. Service is very slow.

Recommended, but next time I'm bringing a newspaper.

Gioia Mia Restaurant - Shiobara, Tochigi

Map Location

So far our experiences with Italian Restaurants in Japan have been nearly universally good. They are cheap and very good. Gioia Mia is no exception.
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We had great antipasto, spaghetti, prawns and dessert on the set menu at lunchtime for a price of 4500 yen for two. The service was friendly and quick.
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On the weekend its busy. I'd suggest you go early or late unless you like waiting. Also don't forget to bring your katakana cheat sheet. There is English or Italian text on the menu.

Its on highway 400 on the way to Shiobara. It opens at 11:00 AM and closes at 10:00PM. Its part of a chain of restaurants, normally thats a negative for me, but in this case, I'm happy there is more than one of them :-)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Shakagatake and Kengamine Mountains - Tochigi

Map Location


This map picture will serve you much better than the google map above once you get close. There are two carparks. The first one must be very useful when the flower gardens are in bloom (reportedly quite beautiful) and is close to the tent site. The second carpark is the one where you should park if you want to climb the mountains in this post.

There are shorter walks between and around the carparks that are quite nice.
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Kengamine is about 2 1/2 hours return. Its a beautiful walk through green forests with great panoramic views (its _frequently_ cloudy). There are two tracks from the parking area so you can walk up on one path and back down the other. There is a pretty little temple in a rocky area about 1 hour walk in which you may assume to the top but actually the top is a little way further. The temple is the most beautiful part and the right place to stop for a meal if you plan to stop. The temple is also the place where the two tracks from the parking area meet up.
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After Kengamine the walking gets a bit harder on the way to Shakagatake. We thought it would be a nice short walk. Its not. The return walk is probably a bit over 4 hours from the carpark. Also the maps along the trail are not that good. There will be two unexpected junctions along the way. Just turn left at both junction on the way in and you will get there. Apparently, there is a shorter way to get to Shakagatake but we don't yet know where that starts from.
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