Thursday, 16 May 2013

Yunoshimakan stay in February 2013, by Eileen from Singapore

We journeyed from our 1st ryokan at Hagi Takayama (see separate review) to Gero Onsen on February 20, 2013. It's a comfortable 46mins ride from Takayama to Gero on the Ltd Exp Wide View Hida.

Once again, we used Japanese Guest Houses for our reservations and they did a wonderful job of providing us with the needed information to help us in our journey. The service is in English and that’s a real help for people like us who hardly speak or read Japanese.

Hot Spring bath at Yunoshimakan

The full top rating is based on the type of room we had + food and service. The ryokan has many other type of rooms so we cant speak for those which we didnt stay in.

Our stay was for 3 nights starting on 20 Feb 2013. We were celebrating our 30th anniversary and Japanese Guest Houses reserved a KEISANZOU room in the Chuang Kageyama new bldg. It came with our own onsen bath tub which is piped in with 100% onsen water. Lovely!

This is so convenient esp in the morning when we don’t feel like walking the distance to the public baths and want our own private soak.

Being winter, we paid around Y36,966 (including all taxes) per night for this type of room. I believe the cost is higher in the peak seasons.

The shuttle picked us up around 1.30pm at the Gero station (tiny station which probably gets jam packed during peak season).
Dinner at Yunoshimakan

When we arrived at the ryokan, we needed to remove our footwear which they kept for the rest of the stay.

Everything was super efficient for our check in (which is pretty normal from all our frequent travels in japan) and off we went to our room on the 9th floor, with a staff showing and explaining as we went along. Ladies get to choose their yukatas whilst men wear those provided in the rooms.

Yunoshimakan has quite a bit of history surrounding it and they have pictures of the Imperial family on their walls, famous guests, plenty of artifacts. Practically like a little museum on certain floors. Although it has an “old” feel about it in some areas, we appreciated the history and background behind it.

A very interesting maze of corridors and one can get lost at times. To encourage others to explore the grounds, they have this piece of paper where you get to rubber stamp each place that you have found on the chart. If you collect all your stamps, it entitles you to 10% off beverages at the coffee house and 2 other little perks. Good and innovative idea to encourage guests to explore the place.

The place is pretty huge and its quite a walk from the lobby to our wing. But that was part of the fun as we were able to view quite a bit of artifacts along the way.
Guest room at Yunoshimakan

The public onsens on the 2nd floor are really very nice esp the outdoor ones. Even the indoor ones are rather large. Opened from 1pm – 10am (interchanged for ladies & men). Each has an indoor + an outdoor attached to it. Toiletries are in the dressing room are not as extensive as some ryokans – They do have a set of face & milk lotion but don’t expect a large array of creams and lotions and gels.

There are about 4 free small enclosed family baths on the 4th floor which is first come first served. We managed to view 2 out of the 4. These were rather tiny & more suitable for single guests who want to enjoy the privacy & don’t mind the enclosed space with no views. Each of the dressing rooms attached to these baths are pretty quant – like something out of a british enid blyton novel.

Because this ryokan is much larger, the chill was more pronounced in these corridors esp in the old wing.

I guess its prudent for the hotels to cut down on power consumption during the non busy hours (since problems re nuclear plants cropped up). Also, this nice old ryokan has limitations when it comes to heating up the corridors esp in the old wing.

As guests, may we encourage others to switch off all unnecessary lightings when leaving the room – to help the country conserve their energy usage.

The girl who served us the meals in the room was very sweet and efficient. We opted for meals in our room (choice of between 5.30pm to 7pm). We chose 7pm. The kaiseki dinners were sumptuous.. What a feast – this is true kaiseki and you have to be prepared to be “adventurous”.

We did however, request no raw meat in case they served raw beef or horse meat. The Hida beef for sukiyaki and over the fire just melts in our mouth. Just thinking about it makes me hungry!!

We went for our breakfast at 8.30am in the dining room. Again, good Japanese selection – the typical ryokan dishes with all sorts of condiments and little items.

The ryokan is perched on a hill and is surrounded by nice tall trees, with the mountains afar off. So its not convenient for strolling into town if that’s what you prefer.

Frankly, the gero onsen area in our opinion, looked pretty grey and unattractive with rather ugly looking buildings in some areas. Rather different from Takayama .
From the train between Takayama and Gero Onsen

Most guests go there for the very good quality onsen water. We can understand its popularity as our skins really felt so smooth after each soak.

It’s just about 5 mins plus from Yunoshimakan to the Gero station. Hence we had enough time when we left with the 10am shuttle, to catch our Limited Express at 10:26am back to Nagoya.

The winter scenery on our day of departure from the ryokan was really pretty. Some trees from a distance looked like white cherry blossoms. The ryokan has quite a bit of surrounding greenery with trees – so it was lovely.

We were treated to different winter views from our balcony throughout the 3 night stay. It's so magical esp when it starts to snow.

The train journey back to Nagoya is also very picturesque esp in winter.
Room Tip: If you can afford it, reserve the Keizanso room which has a nice sitting area with a little sofa and...

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Hagi Takayama stay in February 2013, by Eileen from Singapore

Our stay was from Feb 15 2013. Thanks to Japanese Guest Houses, our reservations at Hagi Takayama were all taken care of. They arranged our shuttle pick up at 3.05pm (pick up is just outside the Washington Hotel, across the road on the right side, from the Takayama Station). Its about a 15min ride.
Hagi Takayama, by Eileen L. from Singapore
The ryokan has lovely views of the landscape because its located higher up on a hill. We were treated to beautiful snowy scenes from the large windows around the ryokan, as well as from our 10 tatami mat room balcony on the 3rd floor. The whole place is very clean and cozy.
View from Hagi Takayama
We would like to say a special thank you to Mr. Hiroshi Kawabe for his attentive & helpful service throughout our 5 night stay.

Good kaiseki dinners with portions that were just nice for both of us. Tender slices of Hida beef.
Our meals were in the restaurant where great and friendly staff attended to the guests. When we were there during the winter, the latest dinner time was at 7pm. The cuisine was a good selection with very fresh ingredients and they changed the dishes every night for us, which was great.
Dinner at the Hagi Takayama

Breakfast is between 7am-8.30am (that means it ends at 8.30am altho one can sit around for a while till about 8.45am). We are not used to having breakfast so early, but on hindsight it was good to have a much longer day ahead of us if we ate at 7.50am.. Again, very thoughtful of them to change the main dishes during our stay eg it was nice to have 2fried eggs with ham on our 3rd morning.

Breakfast is semi buffet – each of us had our own personal tray of special items and we could also help ourselves to the free flow of beverages, croquettes, salad, porridge etc at the side table.

1. They have a public INDOOR onsen with lovely views on the 4th floor (6am – 9.30am is for men, 3pm – midnight is for ladies). Interesting wall designs in the wash area.

On the same 4th floor is a private onsen bath where reservation and charge is needed. Morning 6am-9.45am are for the men and afternoon 4pm – 11.45pm are for the ladies. We didn’t try it so no comments.

There are another 2 public indoor & attached outdoor onsens near the annex – a short walkway from the ground floor (or a quick dash in the freezing cold). Each bath is interchanged between men and ladies daily. Morning times are 6am-9.30am & 3pm-midnight. We really enjoyed the outdoor rock pool esp with the snowy view.

The dressing rooms in the onsens have a very good selection of toiletries.

As it was snowing and pretty cold most of the days (around -5 degrees C to 10 degrees C) we were more than contented to stay in, relax, catch up on all our reading, soak in the onsen early, just enjoying the accommodation. The views from the large window panes were lovely.

Hida Folk Museum
We did visit the Night illumination of the Hida Folk Museum – blessed with nice clear sky that night – it was an enjoyable outing. The ryokan has its own shuttle that took us there at 7.30pm and fetched us back at 8.20pm.

Pros: High on a hill with lovely views from their large windows. Everything was great for us and we will definitely return again.

Lovely snowy landscapes in winter but a little too cold for strolling. So it depends what you are looking for. This season is great for us because we just want to rest and relax and get away from the noise and hustle bustle back home.
Hida Folk Museum

Cons: Its too far to walk down to the little streets. So you will have to depend on the morning shuttle to get down to the little city for your strolls (last shuttle 10am). The afternoon shuttle starts at 3.05pm. In between, you will need to take a taxi.

TIPS: If you are planning on taking a train to Takayama – take note if travelling on a weekend. We came directly from the International airport in Nagoya to Nagoya station on a Friday morning (Feb 15).

Our SIA flight from Singapore landed at 8.30am. We cleared customs and immigration quickly and caught the Sky Express train at 9:07am to Nagoya station.

We reached the Nagoya Train Reservation Ticketing counter at 10.05am and managed to catch the 10:47am Limited Express Wide Hida View to Takayama.

If we had not caught the 10:47am train, we would have had a very very long wait for the 4th train, arriving at Takayama very very late. That’s because the next 3 trains after ours were fully booked.

We arrived Takayama at 1:10pm. The scenery (later half) from the train windows during the journey are pretty scenic. We had lunch at a quaint soba/ramen shop opp the street (get a map from the Tourist Information office just outside the Takayama station).

On our return journey from Nagoya station to the airport – Our flights was 10.30am and we caught the 7:20am Sky Express.

Its really worth paying a little more for the Sky Express train. We noticed that the other trains and platforms were pretty packed by 7.15am.

By Eileen Lee

Monday, 28 January 2013

Aurelie and Alex C. in Japan

Aurelie made this video gathering all kind of things that might surprise foreigners in Japan.

This is the first episode relating their trip during Japanese Autumn, in Osaka.

In the second episode they stayed at the Yunoshimakan in Gero Onsen and at the Fujioto in Tsumago.

Looking forward to see the second part...

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Discount for transport in Japan

One of the best transportation deals available to travelers to Japan is the JR Rail Pass which gives you unlimited train rides on almost all JR Trains including the Shinkansen Bullet Trains. This one pass can save you hundreds of dollars and pays for itself with just a round trip between Tokyo and Kyoto. This pass is only available outside Japan so you will need to purchase it before you arrive. For more information please see and when you are ready to purchase your JR Rail Pass please visit ACP Rail.

Many airlines are also offering discounts,

For not resident in Japan;
JAL and ANA offer several passes that have to be purchased in your country. For more information please see below:
The "One World Yokoso-Welcome to Japan Fare"

The "Star Alliance Japan Air pass"

Finally but not last; the Low-coast Airlines offer very attractive prices. Here are the most popular low-cost airlines in Japan:

Peach Aviation

Air Asia Japan

Jetstar Japan

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Sapporo Snow Festival

After a long and hot summer, let's think about a nice plan for this winter. The Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri) is the most popular winter festival in Japan. Every year about 2 millions visitors join this event. Hundreds snow statues are built every year in February. In 2013, the festival will be held from February 5 through February 11.
Snow Festival in Sapporo
Hotels will quickly become fully booked, so you better arrange your itinerary soon. At Japanese Guest Houses, we will do our best to find an accommodation for you:
The festival is main organized in the Odori park This is where you will find the most popular snow sculptures. While some statues are human size; other ones are huge !
Light up in Sapporo
The Susukino Site, in this "bubbling neighborhood" (especially at night), ice statues are exhibited. We recommend you to visit it at night; there is a light up until midnight, every day.

Finally the Tsu Dome Site; this one entertains families. There are several snow slides around the dome. Inside the dome; like in every Japanese festival you will find numerous food stands. The Tsu Dome Site opens daily from 9:00 to 17:00.
Interesting numbers;
  • Number of Snow or Ice Sculptures in 2012: 228
  • The amount of snow transported for the festival is around 32,500 tons
  • 2.416.000 visitors for the 62nd Snow Festival (2011).
Snow slides in Sapporo

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Kodaiji temple in Kyoto,

The Kaisan-do hall view from the main hall at Kodaiji temple
Kodaiji, one of the greatest temple in Kyoto. It's located up on the hill above the Gion district. It's very quiet and always get some wind that you really enjoy during hot summer days! It was established in 1605 by the noblewoman "Nene" (Kita-no-Mandokoro) in memory of her husband Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598).
Kodaiji gives a very good representation of Japanese architecture and Zen Buddhism with exquisite craftsmanship and Japanese gardens.

Zen garden at Kodaiji
The garden was redesigned by the well known architect Kobori Ensyu (1579-1647). The garden is particularly famous for its stone layout. It is said that the in the south section a group of stones represents a crane and in the north section, in the pond an island has the shape of a turtle; however I guess this depends on everyone’s imagination. Personally I couldn't see the crane or the turtle !

The Iho-an tea ceremony house
 The Iho-an is a tea ceremony room. This house and the Onigawara-seki (two other tea houses located on the top of the hill) are good examples of the design of the Kodaiji.

Bamboo grove at Kodaiji
Down from the hill, visitors pass throw a bamboo grove, another typical element of Japanese gardens.

Looking for a good place to stay near the Kodaiji:
Ryokan Motonago:

Monday, 6 August 2012

Hot Spring in Takedao Onsen

Looking for a hot spring in Kansai, near Osaka?
Arima Onsen is the most popular hot spring in the area, however it is not convenient to access and it can be really crowded. How about Takedao Onsen?
Outdoor bath at Takedao Onsen
The Koyokan Bettei Azale offers premium quality hot spring baths. This is a off the beaten tracks spot; most Japanese people living in Osaka don’t even know about it. Takedao Onsen is located 40 minutes away from Osaka, on the Western side of the agglomeration.
From Osaka station you will have to take the Fukuchiyama line. If you take an express train don’t forget to change to a local train in Nishinomiyanajio (express trains do not stop at the Takedao Onsen station).
Indoor bath at Takedao Onsen
Takedao Onsen is hidden between Takarazuka and Sanda, in the Muko valley. This valley is so small that the train station was built inside a tunnel. Once you will get off the train, you will find yourself surrounded by nature. You will also notice that it’s a very quiet place; the only sound is coming from the river.From the exit of the train station, go on your right and walk 5 minutes. You will have to cross a dark tunnel, luckily it is only 50 meters long (about 160 ft); and on the right you will find the entrance of the Koyokan Bettei Azale.

The Koyokan Bettei Azale is a luxurious ryokan (Japanese Traditional Inn), renovated 3 years ago. It offers all the modern comfort, though it didn’t lose its Japanese charms. The Ryokan has 12 Japanese combined Western Hanare (Private Guest Residence) with private bathroom and views of the river or mountains.
Takedao Onsen
As a Hot Spring Ryokan, what I really appreciate about the Koyokan Bettei Azale is its baths. The baths are clean, quiet (few people know about this place) and though you go there on Saturdays you might be the only person using the baths. I went there last Saturday and I could enjoy the baths all for myself. It was great!!

I first took a quick shower beside the indoor bath. Then I could relax in the outdoor bath, listen to birds…what a relief when you come from the city center of Osaka.
For information the water temperature was 39 C degrees (Around 100 F), which is quiet mild.

After the bath I would suggest you to have a drink on the terrace, and just enjoy your time.