Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sano Outlet Mall

Map Location

Sano Outlet Mall feels pretty much like an American Outlet Mall. In fact I think this company also manages the outlet mall in Las Vegas (which is amazingly good BTW). You can find plenty of international brands here. I've heard people complain its hard to get large sizes here.

Sorry for the awful photo. Its taken before we started to take photos seriously.

You can get there easily from the highway or you can get there by train too. Details are at the site listed above.

The outlet is expanding and will open a new section in July 2008. Also I hear Nasushiobara will be getting its own outlet in July near the Shinkansen station.

You can combine this trip with Ashikaga pretty well.

Ashikaga Flower Park

Map Location

This park's claim to fame is its wisteria vines (has the biggest one in Japan??). A great place to visit in early May.

You really should get here nice and early. It gets quite busy. We got there at 8AM and things were already starting to getting busy. Its lit and can be visited at night (which is sure to be beautiful) but we haven't been there at night.

There are other attractions nearby. Ashikaga downtown is quite historic, there is an art gallery nearby, a winery and a Kirin brewery (which we need to collect the whole set of brewery visits) and Sano factory outlet. We haven't been to many of these places so we'll fill them in over time.

Lots more photos

Shiodachoseichi Shibazakura Park

Map Location

This park has a very beautiful flower display which you can view in early May. The photos here were taken on May 1st 2008.

I don't recommend going here as a dedicated trip. However, if you are going to somewhere nearby (like Motegi or Mashiko) then you should stop here. It won't take very long to look around. Its a fairly small simple park.

There is a dam right next door to it which you can walk around too.

As usual in Japan you should plan to get here as early as you can so you beat the crowds.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Narita, Chiba Prefecture

Map Location

We all know about Narita because its where the airports is. Everybody flies in and out of Narita, but few know that its a nice place to visit. We frequently stop there for the night on our way in or out of Japan or perhaps when we have to go there for a guest visit. The hotel we stay at has a bus to both downtown Narita and the shopping center.

The highlight of Narita is the temple, the gardens surrounding it and the road leading to it. If you come from countryside Tochigi like us there is a movie theatre, shopping and plenty of restaurants.

The road leading to the temple is very pretty. Its lined with little shops and restaurants. It seems to specialize in Unagi (fresh water eel).

The temple and gardens are at the end of the street. You could easily spend 1/2 a day to a day looking around the whole thing.

More Pictures

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Kairaku-en Park, Mito, Ibaraki

Map Location

Mito is a seaside town in Ibaraki prefecture. Its just a couple of hours drive from Tochigi. I would imagine its nice to go there at any time of year to sit by the ocean and watch the waves or to eat seafood. But what Mito is most famous for is the plum (Ume) trees in Kairaku-en park. Kairaku-en is thought to be one of the great 3 parks of Japan.

Ume trees flower before cherry blossum and they are paler in color. Frankly, I don't like them as much, but they are still beautiful in their own right. And the gardens are very beautiful. The Ume is great, wonderful views of the whole gardens from the hill, a great bamboo forest and Kobun-tei a reproduction of a warlord's villa. You could easily spend a day looking around here.

More Pics (taken before we had a good camera and before we were into documenting Japan, mostly personal pics)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cherry Blossom in Nasushiobara, Tochigi

Cherry Blossom (Sakura) was probably at its best in Nasushiobara on the weekend of April 12th this year. It was great in Tokyo 2 weeks earlier. I haven't found a place locally to compete with places like Ueno Park, the Palace or Akasaka yet. But here in Nasushiobara you don't have to share the beauty of the Sakura with thousands of people.

This is a special time in Tochigi. Firstly, the trees are beautiful. Flowers are coming out everywhere. Secondly, everybody is getting ready to plant their rice. Paddies are being flooded and land is turning to water. The night is filled with the sound of flogs and insects. And allergies are back. Cedar trees, for which there was a huge program to plant all over the place, are said to be substantially responsible for this. Everybody is sniffling and wearing masks.

We went out to 4 places to see the blossom.

The first place was Nasunogahara Park. This is a great place to go at any time. There is not a huge quantity of trees here, but the setting is lovely.

Map Location
Next we went to Nogi Jinja. This is a little temple with Sakura lining the sides of the street approaching. There is also a nice little lake a short way behind the temple which is very pretty.

Map Location
I don't know the name of this road, but its lined with cherry trees for about a kilometer.

Sorry, not a great pic
Finally, we went to a hilltop temple which is supposed to be the best place in the area for the blossom. We went in the early morning. I suspect it would be quite busy during the day. In Japan its very common to have a party with friends or workmates under the Sakura. And this is the place where people do it in Nasushiobara.

Now on April 17th cherry blossom is almost over for the year. But I expect a trip up Nasu mountain this weekend will find it in full bloom at some point on the way to the top.
More pics:
Nasunogahara Cherry Blossom
Mixed Cherry Blossom, including Tokyo

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gonpachi Restaurant - Tokyo

Remember the Japanese restaurant in the movie Kill Bill? The one where Uma Thurman killed the Crazy 88? It was a bloodbath! The restaurant was a set, but it was modeled after a real restaurant in Tokyo. If you know the movie, I think its recognizable.

Its a party place. I recommend going with a group. We were there on a Friday night and the place was a blast. It was very crowded but we had a reservation. The food was good barfood. The atmosphere was great. Even if you don't like Kill Bill its a pretty cool looking restaurant. If you're a fan of the movie you really should go here.

Map Location