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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More Photos

Monday, September 17, 2007

River Valley Walk - Shiobara, Tochigi

Map Location (very rough)

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So now we have a project to get to know Shiobara better and visit a lot of Onsen in the area. This is an excellent walk.


I can't locate this place accurately on Google Maps. Drive up the river on highway 400. Park in the carpark on the left before the first tunnel at the sign shown below. If you go through a tunnel you have just missed it. This corresponds with the downstream/right hand yellow dot on the above map.

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OK. Now its easy. Just walk down the hill, cross the suspension bridge and turn left and you will be on your way. (the path loops around to the right and you will be walking upstream.

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The walk is only 3.3 km., but its pretty steep and hard going. It starts off with a suspension bridge with great views. Then continues through beautiful rain forest. There are fantastic views of the river all the way along and a good waterfall at the end. Actually there is a nice picnic area at the end too.

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The downside of it is that once you complete the walk there are only two reasonable ways to get back to the start. One is to walk the return path which is a bit of a slog. Or you can walk back along the road. We chose the road and it was quite horrible but much faster. The traffic was especially intimidating on the narrow road. Next time I think we will walk the longer way. My admiration of Japanese elegance and love of beauty took a bit of a dent with the amount of rubbish that had been left by the side of the road too.

Afterwards we went up to our first main Shiobara onsen. We visited Green Village Onsen (Map Location). It was OK but nothing special. Then we walked along the river a bit and found some real outdoor onsens along the side of the track. You still have to pay to use them, but they are really very attractive. They are however mixed (only men there today).

More Shiobara pictures

Goshikinuma Swamps, Bandai, Fukushima

Map Location

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Also known as the Five Colored Swamps. I think they could up their marketing appeal by calling them the Five Colored Lakes.

Anyway, the swamps are a series of small lakes colored various shades of blue and green by mineral deposits. Some of the lakes are quite striking. There were lots of photographers on the walk with tripods and fancy cameras.

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It takes about an hour to walk the length of them. We walked back along the same route but you could walk back along the road and stop for a meal or visit one of the other (rather kitch looking) attractions. I marked both ends of the walk on the map location. At the busy end there is a shopping area and you can rent boats and row about on the largest of the lakes. There are some huge carp in that lake.

We drove up a beautiful toll road to the onsen area but they were all booked out so we didn't stay there.

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The other main interesting thing about this area is it looks to be a pretty busy ski area in the winter. There are lots of resorts and ski fields.

More Bandai area photos

Lake Inawashiro, Fukushima

Map Location

This is a beautiful, big lake near Aizuwakamatsu.

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We didn't spend so long here, but its obviously a good place to have a relaxing time away from it all. I think we'll be back.

There are nice quiet camp grounds (even on the public holiday). There are sandy beaches that look good for swimming. There is a boating area where a lot of powerboats and jetskis are available.

There is also a migratory bird sanctuary which is visited by white swans in winter, but there were no birds there in September when we visited.

Tsurugajo Castle, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima

updated: May 12, 2008
Map Location

This is my favourite castle to visit so far in Japan.

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The castle is beautiful and well maintained. There is a good display inside and the view from the top is excellent in every direction. The gardens are also very beautiful, especially the walk around the top of the moat. There is also a little teahouse in the grounds.

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I guess the most famous thing about Tsurugajo is a samurai troop called "The White Tigers". They were made up of 16 and 17 year olds. As near as I can tell they were a division in training but were largely massacred in a brave defence of their castle. The most famous part was 20 of them who were on top of a hill looking down and thought they saw the castle overrun and on fire so they all committed suicide. It turns out they were wrong and the castle wasn't overrun or on fire. Their suicide success rate was 95%!

Next door there is a museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of the area going right back to early human development. There is a good printed guide in English.

More Aizuwakamatsu Photos

update: this is also a very good place to visit in winter and especially spring for cherry blossom. In 2008 the blossom was at its best on the weekend of Apr 19th, 1 week after Nasushiobara and 3 weeks after Tokyo.







More Photos
photo location to be cleaned up soon. Sorry for the mess!

Hotel Fushimiso, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima

Map Location

As usual we set off on our trip without having booked any accommodation. Since this was a long weekend, I felt sure we'd be sleeping in the car.

Not so! We found this hotel pretty easily.

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The people were very friendly. Though I feel pretty sure 50% of the banter of the old ladies from the hotel were bawdy gaijin jokes. But I feel equally sure they were being genuinely nice and friendly too.

The hotel was only 8,000 yen per night. That is 16,000 yen for the two of us with dinner and breakfast included.

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Our room as small, neat, clean and slightly run down. It had a great view of a small river that ran behind the hotel but it was mostly only visible through glass.

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The onsen was quite nice. It was fully enclosed and Cassandra and I are developing a real interest in outside onsens with great views. But no complaints about the onsen in this hotel.



Dinner was great. It was 9 little course. Each one of them very good. We requested the meal in our room, but I suspect we were supposed to go to a little dining room to eat. They asked us to eat our breakfast there. Breakfast was also very good.

Overall, great little hotel.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Aizu Sake Historic Museaum - Fukushima

Map Location

We have long wanted to go to a Sake Factory. This is more of a museum than a factory tour. Its a worthwhile activity while you are in Aizuwakamatsu.

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The building is quite old and still in operation. There is an exhibit of how sake is/was made. Also you can walk through part of the actual factory. At the end and start of the route you can try and buy lots of their sake.

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More photos from Aizuwakamatsu

Japan Tourist also has an excellent site with info about this area.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hiroshige Museum Gallery - Bato, Tochigi

Map Location
Museum Website

This is a nice little art gallery. You can easily spend a couple of hours here looking at their great display of wood prints. The museum is dedicated to Utagawa Hiroshige and his contemporaries.

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There is a shop there where you can buy some prints too. Thats where we went to get our famous Hokusai (a Hiroshige contemporary) wave print in the 36 views of Mt. Fuji series.

Also there are art classes there sometimes too. I don't know the details, but we happened to be there once when there was one on and our friend was on the course. He made a nice wood print which he showed me later. I'm not sure how one we get into the class. Our Japanese is almost certainly too weak, but Japanese speakers might inquire at the gallery.

The building is also quite nice with some nice little gardens out the back.

Also you can walk up the hill behind the gallery and there are some walks you can do through the forest.

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There is also lots of pretty scenery around here and a nice pottery shop that I will post about later.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Blog Action Day

October 15, 2007 is Blog Action Day. You can read about it on the Blog Action Day site.


I will definitely be participating because this years subject, The Environment, is very important to me. I'm going to do the following:

1.) Starting on the 15th I'll post only environmentally responsible activities for a month. Everything will be achievable on foot, bicycle or public transport from Otawara.

2.) Spend some money to improve the environment. It is suggested that I donate the proceeds of the blog to some kind of charity. That would be zero dollars. So instead I'll spend some cash to improve the environment. I'd prefer to find a way to act locally but we'll see.

3.) Substantially alter my behavior for a month to reduce my impact on the environment.

4.) Get others to do something too - this is most important.

I don't expect much of a response due to the very low readership of my blog. But please post a reply here if you have plans to do something.

I'd like to see Blog Action Day 2007 be a big success and I'd like to think I played my part.

Kadeya Restaurant - Nishinasuno, Tochigi

Map Location

This is a great soba and udon restaurant with real character. Its very near Nishinasuno Station.

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First of all its small and its popular, so don't be surprised if you have to wait. The room is very small and cramped. Everything is old. There are only 5 menu choice, which are printed on small sticks on the wall. There is only one person taking orders (and one cooking). Smoking is permitted. It only open for lunch.

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The food is very good. The prices are low.

What can I say? Great food, great atmosphere. The only downside is if you don't like people smoking near you, you might get unlucky and have to endure that (1 in 4 times for us so far).

You should try this place.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cloudy River Hotel - Tochigi

Map Location
After our great trip to Sandogoya we decided to try another overnight Onsen Hotel this weekend. So we headed up into Shiobara to climb our own local Mt. Fuji with plans to stay overnight.

Its a bit hard to say how good this hotel was since we don't have much to compare it with. We were recommended a local hotel by some people we met on the walk, but the price of 6-8000 yen a head made us think the meal might not be that good so we opted to go a bit more upmarket.

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We checked in at The Cloudy River Hotel (rough translation). The price of 16,000 yen a head was a bit high for me, but we had a special event to celebrate so we splashed out a bit. At first I was a bit disappointed, the hotel was clean and neat but it felt in decline. The onsen was nice but not sensational. The people were very nice. And when dinner arrived (and kept arriving) I revised my opinion. It was a really good dinner.

There were male and female onsens, plus two little private rooms about the right size for a couple. In one of the private rooms the water was too hot for us to get in. We preferred the private room but if the hotel was busy it might be hard to get into that room.

Our room was nice. Judging by what I have seen on TV it was fairly standard for a ryokan room.

Our dinner must have had at least 15 little dishes. They were all excellent, the highlight was a little beef barbeque. The sashimi and tempura was also very good. I enjoyed breakfast too (though I am not a big fan of Japanese breakfasts). Unfortunately, we failed to get pictures of dinner.

I think I'll reserve final judgement till we have been to more onsen hotels. But it was certainly and enjoyable weekend away. The food and service were particularly good.

Things I want to blog about

I decided to move my blog target list on line. The reason I am doing this is because some people might have some comments on places I want to write about.

Oze - will go there some time before winter
Nikko - still trying to decide if the pics I have are enough or whether I need to go back and get better pictures
Hinoemata - Need to go back and get better pics
Nikko National Park - better do this before winter, climb that mountain by the lake.
Nikko boat trip down the river - at least I know its near Nikko!
Bato - didn't even take any pictures last time
Getting to Nasushiobara from Narita - for my visitors, companies visitors
Tochigi overview - this is important I think. Especially some nice maps which I will probably have to make.
Tochigi events - this is going to be a lot of work to maintain, good starts for resources for this are the nasu concert hall site (in mangled google translator english) and the Motegi Twin Ring Site, it would be cool if I could find a way to access an utsonomiya live music scene calendar. Would love to get in some jazz from time to time.
Ashikaga - vineyard before winter, wisteria/flower park next spring I guess
Onsens - this is a winter activity
Mito - spring for Ume flowering (or do I have enough good pics already?)
Sano outlet mall - Ugh, but it must be in my blog I think.
Mashiko - might wait for a visitor before revisiting
Nasu mountain - before winter
Nasu area attractions - before winter
Shiobara - onsen weekend
Favorite mountain walk - better actually get to the final peak and find out what its called
more walks - do some more walks from our book
Watanabe farms - damn I hope I can find some good pics. wife will kill me if I ask to go back to this very expensive restaurant
Utsunomiya
Narita - temple, street and that great pizza shop
Drivers license advice - based on the thoroughly unpleasant experience I suspect I am about to have.
The tochigi/neighbouring prefecture shared shrine (better find out the name!)
Community center language lessons
local soba shop
hole in the wall soba shop - do this soon, its a classic!
good restaurant near tachizaki san's place
Local parks - especially the big one
Bato art gallery
Sano outlets
Nasushiobara local guide
Rubbish disposal
Electronics stores
Haircut
Curtain shop

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tochigi's very own Mt. Fuji

Map Location

Up in the Shiobara area there is a mountain called Mt. Fuji. Its nothing like the Mt. Fuji we all know. Its a nice walk, but frankly, I'd recommend Numappara or Nasu or our favorite Yaita walk (not written about yet) before Mt. Fuji. Though it might be very beautiful in autumn I think. We'll be back then to check.

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Its a fairly short walk which you can start from the nearby hot spring village or you can drive through the village and turn left just before the vegetable stands and park at the parking area. Or you can continue a bit further, turn right again and park at the much larger marshland parking area. I've tried to size the Map Location
so you can see the town and all the roads. The walk around the lake was not possible due to typhoon flooding, but that looks very good for autumn.

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The walk itself is a couple of hours if you walk right around the mountain. Its green and beautiful. No matter where you start you will walk by town and there is a short side trip to see the marshes. There are a couple of short steep bits but its an easy walk overall. You walk past an area where the volcanic gasses are coming up from the ground. It smells sulphurous.

I'll write about our stay at the hot spring hotel in a separate post.

More Photos

Port Forwarding on YahooBB Modem

A technical article about configuring your YahooBB modem for port forwarding. This blog is certainly not intended to be a technical blog and I am not the best qualified person to write such a thing. But I wish I had found this article before I set out to forward a port from my router to one of my PCs. So it might be useful to somebody else.

I wish I had recorded my entire experience of setting up an Internet connection. But that was in the days before I considered writing a blog. Here is a handy site about YahooBB and getting it set up.

This article is about how to forward a port on your YahooBB router. This article is also not about port forwarding. There are lots of resources and people who can advise on this subject much better than me. So the preliminary section should be regarded as a rough guide written by a novice.

Finally, please note, lots of modern applications don't require port forwarding. Network applications we use at home: Skype, Messenger and Guildwars don't require port forwarding.

Preliminary:
Some network applications would like to contact an application on your PC directly <list>. When they send a message to your router it won't know which PC on the network to send that message to. This happens even if there is only one PC on the network. This is frequently a security benefit because it means your PC is not exposed to uninvited incoming communication. This can also be a problem if you want that inbound communication to arrive at your PC.

To allow this communication you can enable port forwarding on your router. Basically this tells the router "when you get an incoming communication on port xxx, forward it to this PC". Don't do this unless you have a good idea what you are doing. A router is an effective security measure and "putting holes in it" is creating security risks. Certainly don't open more ports than you need to and it might well pay to do a bit of a search to see if the application that will be listening on that port has any security issues that should be considered. Also don't forget the target PC should have a static IP address.

My 4-G BB Modem

Redirecting the Port:
So once you know the port you want to forward and the static (fixed) IP address of the computer you want to forward it to you are ready to get started.

My router is a BB Modem 4-G (I know this works for some other models too. Visit the configuration page of your router by opening your browser and going to 172.16.255.254. If that doesn't work then either you are not properly connected to the router or things have changed and your router configuration page is not at that address anymore.

You should be prompted for a username and password. On my router they are "user" and "user". If that doesn't work then things have changed and those are not the username and password anymore.

Click on this button:


Click on this menu item:


Now enter the port range you want to forward. If you only want to enter one port then just enter to and from that port number. Then enter the port number you want to map those ports too (in most cases the same entry as the port range above). Then enter the IP address of the PC you want to forward those ports to. Once you are done go to the bottom of the page and click on "OK".

The procedure might be slightly different depending on the router that you have. But this works for me and has worked for others too.

I'll try to answer any technical questions that pop up here but you might also try the above link to get more minds working on any problems that you might have.

Shiobara Waterfall - Tochigi

Map Link

The drive from Nasushiobara up to Shiobara and beyond is very beautiful. There is much to explore up there and we have only scratched the surface. Expect quite a few posts about this area coming soon.



Unfortunately the typhoon hit the area pretty hard. I have no idea if the rice (much of which is lying down now) will recover. There is lots of water in the river so it made the drive up the valley even better than usual.


The waterfall is a short walk starting from the side of the road and following a beautiful little tributary to the main river. Its just a short walk, maybe half an hour. I bet its even better in the wet season (July).





Carpark Sign.

The carpark also marked on the Map Link is a bit up the hill from the falls. Here is the sign to look out for.

Further up the road are lots of well regarded hot spring hotels. Much further is Hinoemata and Oze (which we will be writing about soon).

More waterfall pictures

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Tōrō Nagashi - Otawara, Tochigi

Map Location


We went to the Otawara Summer Fireworks display. This was held during the Obon Festival summer holidays (August 16 in 2007). While we were waiting for the fireworks to start something much more interesting happened.


At the end of the Obon festival there is a tradition to light lanterns and set them afloat on the river. Its done all over Japan and even overseas. In the Otawara ceremony they floated hundreds of lanterns on the river just as it was getting dark. It was beautiful.


Our neighbour called it Syou Rou Nagasi, but the only reference I could find to it on the internet called it Tooroo Nagashi. As near as I can tell its about releasing the spirits of the dead.

I want to make this site practical and I realize this post doesn't help anybody to attend such an event. For this and the fireworks post, I can only suggest as Obon approaches ask a Japanese friend to find out when and where this event is on.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sandogoya Onsen - Nasu, Tochigi

Map Link


Sandogoya Onsen in the Nasu area, Tochigi, is a hotel/onsen nearly two hours walk from the nearest road access. You can stay the night there, enjoy the hotspring and have a nice meal. This is a great overnight activity.


You can walk in from Numappara or from Nasu. Its not a hard walk but it takes a little time. We walked in and out via Nasu in very early September. It took us about 1 1/2 hours of pretty easy walking though there are some fairly steep bits. It looks like it might be a slightly shorter walk from Numappara.

We parked our car in Nasu and walked in. There is a log book there which I suggest you fill in on the way in and out, though we didn't notice it and failed to fill it in. Along the way there is a nice little fresh water stream which is marked drinking water and we filled our bottles there.


On the walk out in the morning we saw the best sea of clouds I have ever seen.

Sandogoya Onsen has a few little hotels and a public onsen (I have since heard there is no longer onsen access for people not staying there, will check this). Its really understated and nicely done. I immediately felt relaxed there. The people at our hotel could speak just a little English. They were very friendly and helpful. The cost was 9000 yen each for the two of us. We were charged 18200 at the end. Not sure what the 200 yen was for. For that price we got a nice dinner an OK breakfast and unlimited use of the onsen. There was a free pot of tea in the evening and in the morning. Our evening beers were 500 yen each.



The main hotel onsen is open one hour for men and one hour for women alternating through the day. There is a second much smaller one (3 people max!) that you can go to if the main one is off limits to you that hour.

Our room was a small simple tatami room. There were mattresses and bed linen and robes. We had each carried in a small towel for the onsen.

I would think, especially if you were from Tokyo it would be a sensational get away from it all weekend. My favorite Tochigi activity so far.

More photos