All posts by thejetsetress

Thejetsetress is a Filipina studying in a Japanese university, and because of constantly being asked about tips on travel and food in Japan, has decided to start up a blog to better help her friends. Expertise is in budget travel, sushi, and onsen.

Nasudake Autumn Hike

Oct. 16, 2016 Hike

Yes, autumn kōyō fever has started  and we are on a roll! After Gunma last week, now it’s time for Nasudake. My goal is basically to tick off the list of hikes for “kōyō migoro” or autumn foliage peak season. Thank god the weather forecast was for sunny skies! Weathernews lists Nasudake as “migoro” or “peak for viewing” – perfect timing!

We were going to do a day hike to Mt. Nasudake. It can be done from Tokyo but we decided to stay overnight in Nasu.

So yesterday, our chill day, we arrived mid-day in Nasu. Had an outdoor barbecue for lunch, among other random highland activities at Minamigaoka Bokujo (南ヶ丘牧場), before arriving at our ryokan in Nasu Onsen. 

OMG. Cheese ice cream tastes like Tokyo Milk Cheese!


Nasu has really good onsen! Shika no Yu had creamy white water, which I found to be great for the skin. I had the best sleep, but still woke up 3am to see the starry sky outside the ryokan window. Too bad it was a full moon though, the sky was too bright!

A starry night in Nasu Onsen
The next day, we hopped on the bus bound for Nasu Ropeway. Traffic was heavy on the way. I guess everyone wants to be out and about on a sunny day!

After a 4-minute ride on the ropeway, we got to the 9th stop (9合目) of Nasudake. There are many trails from the ropeway station, but we chose the course that brings us to beautiful autumn foliage of Ubagataira (姥ヶ平).


Nasudake is a volcano, and the peak is a pile of rocks. We hiked south of Nasudake for abour 15 minutes, and we start to see some beautiful scenery.

Grassy terrain with some volcanic rocks


On our left hand side, we see the view of the rest of Tochigi and some fog covering the towns.

Hiking the path is not difficult at all.

After a few more minutes hiking along the path, we are greeted by beautiful red foliage spreading out before us.



It’s amazing how it can be completely rocky on our side but just lush red foliage on the other! And it’s perfectly migoro!


Look at that close up shot!


The view was calling us like a flame to a moth. We hiked a bit more towards it, and decided to have some snacks at a viewing spot. We were very near Ushigakubi 牛ヶ首.

View from nearby Ushigakubi
Bears love this sweet and sour berries. Humans who go deep into the mountain picking these berries may encounter bears.
 

It was the most beautiful view! We stayed there half an hour just staring at the beauty of nature. With a heavy heart, we say good bye and hike up back to the path. And a new view that was initially hidden spread out before our eyes. 

View of Ubagataira
This is looking over at Ubagataira 姥ヶ平 from Ushigakubi 牛ヶ首. So that’s our goal! We hike down a very rocky path for half an hour, and finally reach Ubagataira. It’s a flatland with beautiful autumn foliage and green shrubs. Many hikers were having lunch in the area. 


The view of Nasudake from down here is priceless! The red, the green, the blue sky, and the cute gas gushing from the volcano. 

 

From here there was a pond nearby, so we followed a wooden path for about 10 minutes. We were rewarded with a beautiful view of Nasudake reflected in the tiniest pond ever! 

ひょうたん池 Nasudake and its reflection on Hyoutan Ike

Nasudake is really beautiful and easy to hike. At every point there is a spectacular view to behold. We were so lucky to be blessed with perfect weather during the peak colors. I honestly believe that it would be so hard to top this trip this year. 

Very satisfied, we went back to Nasu Onsen and went in Shika no Yu for another time, before finally boarding the highway bus back to Shinjuku.

Who knew Nasu would be this beautiful!

How to get there?

JR highway buses from Shinjuku to Nasu Onsen, reservations required. Tranfer to Nasu Ropeway.

Hiking the Oze Marshlands

Oct. 9, 2016 Autumn hike 🍁

My favorite season has come! This 2016, I decided to be an early bird in the fall activities, which means going up highlands and mountains to experience beautiful foliage at altitudes above 1900 meters. 

First on my list is Oze!

Oze is national park in Gunma that is known for hiking trails around the marshlands. Fall season comes  around the first week of October. We went there on the first half of the 3-day holiday, Oct. 8-9. We were hoping to stay in the mountain huts within the park, but planning late for a long holiday means places are fully-booked. So we just stayed outside the marshlands and decided to do a day hike.

We hopped on a train to JR Numata, shopped for snacks, then changed to a bus for Tokura Onsen. 

Tokura Onsen scenery

We stayed at a family-run ryokan with basic amenities. As in other ryokans, they serve a lot of dinner.

They also served us a good breakfast, and even gave us some onigiri rice ball to bring for the hike! Lovely people.

So we planned to leave for Oze like really early in the morning, by the first bus. But it was so unfortunate that the weather was so gloomy in the area, so we decided that leaving really early wasn’t gonna be worth it. An excuse for extra time sleeping! 
Private cars apparently are not allowed in Oze, so to get there, every one hops on a shuttle bus that goes high up the mountain. 

Shuttle bus schedule to Oze from Tokura Onsen and vice versa (peak season schedule)

Finally, we arrive in Oze. 


To get to the marshes, we did an hour’s hike through the mountain. Thank goodness I brought hiking wear. Sneakers and regular clothes are not good enough. And seriously it was so cold I thought it was December!


We enter the forest. It started with a muddy hike, but then there were wooden paths for most of the hike. 

Finally, we arrived at the marshland!


It’s very interesting. The area is so vast, even though you walk on wooden pathways it would still take you a day to hike to the other end of the marshland. 


The wooden paths seem endless in this world. 


Little ponds add to the charm of the place. 

Supplies sometimes brought in by helicopter?

We spent 2 hours walking along the path, and decided to head back. It was still raining, the wind was harsh, but we were very happy with what we saw.


Oze is really one of a kind. It’s one of those places where you understand its beauty when you get there, because pictures can’t tell you how amazing it is. We’ve seen it in autumn, but I bet spring in Oze will be as magical!

How to get to Oze?

Bus: There is a 3.5-hour direct bus from Shinjuku to Tokura Onsen, reservations required. Change to a shuttle for Oze.

Train: Take a train to Numata, change to a bus for Tokura Onsen. Change to a shuttle for Oze.

Tanigawadake Autumn Hike

Oct. 10, 2016 Autumn Hike

Part 2 of our autumn hiking trip to Gunma! 

After Oze, Tanigawadake was number 2 on our list of autumn foliage in peak season. We didn’t research too much about the mountain but just saw some pictures on instagram and thought it would be great to go there! So after hiking in Oze, we went to Tanigawadake and stayed at Tenjin Lodge, right beside the Tanigawadake ropeway.

That night I was really hoping to see stars since the sky was so cleanr in Numata! But just 20 minutes away, in Minakami area, it was so cloudy! Oh well, as the owner, Kieren told us, the mountain has its own weather. 

So we started early the next day. Forecast said it would be sunny, and we’re energized!

We got on the ropeway, and within twenty minutes it brought us 1300 meters above sea level. Beautiful sunny day and a peek of autumn colors at the hiking base in Tenjindaira! 


There’s a short lift after the ropeway but we opted to hike from here instead.


Tanigawadake is a hike where you go along the backbone of the mountain. And I didn’t know this, but apparently, it’s one of the well-known hiking spots in Japan for beginner’s rock climbing. The thing is, I’m not yet ready for that stuff! Imagine my surprise when we had to climb using some chains! 


It’s not difficult the entire hike though, and you get rewarded with beautiful views along the way.


And after a few more rocky ascents, we got to a viewing point where you have views from all sides! It took us 2 hours.


It’t a beautiful sunny day but the clouds are hovering and the gentle wind is very cold! I felt the need for a down jacket when resting.


We took in the beautiful view of the wonderful autumn foliage before us, and of the mountains spreading out behind us. We climbed this far just to see the view! 


Looking into the horizon I saw the ropeway station, a mere dot from where we were standing. It’s very humbling to be in the mountains.


If we went further than here it would be all clouds, so we decided to head down, as we feel that we accomplished our purpose coming here. 

Going down was really difficult! It was all rocks for about 30 minutes. But we managed. My knees were a bit shaky, but I think that’s just me. 

At the ropeway station, there is a proper restaurant, clean bathrooms, and a souvenir shop.

Non-hikers were spending a nice sunny day on the grassy area of the ropeway area.

All in all, it was a great trip even though I tired my knees so much! I’m very happy that we got to see mountain kōyō in the most spectacular way! 
Tanigawadake, Gunma

How to get there: Takes 3.5 hours by local train from Tokyo. Head for Doai station. 

Autumn season: Peak at mid-October

Weekend in Atami

Atami is a very popular seaside resort just an hour and a half away from Tokyo by regular train. It’s a great day trip just to relax and get in the onsen, eat some seafood, and take in some view!

This time, I’m showing you our budget weekend in Atami. 

The train cost less than 2000yen from Tokyo station. So cool for a random trip.

We stayed overnight at a popular hostel called Khaosan, around 10 minutes from Atami station. This budget onsen ryokan has private tatami rooms and dorm rooms that all face the sea, while fitting all budgets. We got the biggest one, costing 14,000 for the entire room. Atami is known for being very fancy and expensive, so this is a great deal.

Look at this view from Khaosan!

 
It was a great day for reading, while glancing once in a while at the blue sea outside. 

  
Perfect for people who would like to cook and just stay at the accommodation, they have a well-kept kitchen, shared dining area, a lounge, and a library.

   
 
Ta-da! Here is the dinner I whipped up: salad, sauteed mushrooms, creamy pesto, and wagyu steak. That’s a five-star dinner right there!

  
 
The next day we spent chilling along the shore. We saw the Atami Castle from the beach, but we weren’t interested in going there since we were happy looking at the sea, staring at the yachts, and enjoying some music. As it was summer we found beautiful hydrangeas, bougainvilleas, and jacandara flowers everywhere.

The beach was not crowded at all! I think people swim at Atami beach in summer but I guess it’s too early for that.

  

  
After enjoying our walk around the beach we had a late lunch of fresh sushi at a restaurant nearby. I realized too late that I didn’t take a picture of the food! Anyway, it was really good sushi, a perfect way to end our trip to the sea. 

Overall, Atami is a really cool weekend trip for people who like the sea, onsen, and seafood! I think I’m coming back.

Hakuba in Autumn Again

It’s Day 3 in Hakuba!

We got up early and had breakfast at the log house we stayed at.

Pension House Ringo no Ki
Pension House Ringo no Ki

Hakuba-60

Hakuba-61

I think I am in love with Hakuba pensions. They make me wanna go back there and try out other accommodations! 🙂

A full stomach at the start of the day is a good start. We thanked our hosts and headed off to explore the town.

We decided to go to the lakes that we’ve been driving past for a couple of days now. It’s around 9 AM and the mist is just about to disappear from the lakes.

Aoki-ko Lake
Aoki-ko Lake

Hakuba-56

This would be so pretty when autumn comes to the lower elevations.

We returned the car and left our luggage at the Hakuba station map. at 10:30 am, we still had lots of going around we could do.

Walking around town was quite pleasant! There was a park just on the other side of the station so we decided to go there.

Hakuba-71

We passed by some nice flowers and houses along the way.

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Some apple trees…

Hakuba-74

And some streams…

Hakuba-75

At the entrance of the park, we decided to have a quick meal.

Soba and Udon Place
Soba and Udon Place
Soba noodles
Soba noodles

We then went around the park, and saw some interesting stuff.

Coffee shop in the woods/at the park
Coffee shop in the woods/at the park

This kind of foliage reminds me of Baguio and Sagada in the Philippines…

Hakuba-81

Although we don’t have views such as this. Beautiful Japan Alps.

This was such a great stroll!

View of the Alps from the park/woods
View of the Alps from the park/woods
Cute little find at the park
Cute little find at the park

The woods smelled so refreshingly of pine. It was so hard to walk back to the station and get back to busy Tokyo. But going to Hakuba for early autumn is really worth it!

  • Autumn foliage in Hakuba starts mid to late September at the high altitudes of Happo One Lake and Tsugaike area, while the elevation of Gondola Adam was in full bloom October 11, 2015
  • Autumn foliage in Kurobe Dam was near peak on October 12, 2015

Kurobe Dam in Autumn

It’s day 2 in Hakuba! We decided to rent a car and drive to the very famous Kurobe Dam. It’s apparently only 50 minutes away from Hakuba.

So we drove south of Hakuba, and stopped over for early lunch at Bistro Meeja, a homey Western restaurant beside the Kizaki-ko Lake.

Italian restaurant Bistro Meeja beside Kizaki-ko
Italian restaurant Bistro Meeja beside Kizaki-ko

We had a pizza set and a lunch pasta set, home-cooked goodness.

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With that, we drove west to the Alpen Route.

This was such a scenic drive. It’s the kind of drive that is so relaxing you just wanna go “woohoo!”

Driving along the Hakuba Alpen Line
Driving towards Kurobe Dam

We got to Ogizawa station, the furthest that vehicles can go into the area. We bought tickets for the trolley bus that will bring us to Kurobe dam. The trolley bus is run by electricity flowing through wires above the buses.

About 6 buses run at the same time every 30 or so minutes. We got on one, and after going up hill for a bit, we were completely driving in tunnels deep in the heart of the mountain for about 15 minutes! 6.1 kilometers of mountain tunnels! And this was constructed in the 1960s. Can you believe it!

Trolley bus to Kurobe Dam
Trolley bus to Kurobe Dam

After getting to Kurobe Dam station, we walked up around 200 steps to get to the viewing deck of the dam.

It is one HUGE dam. Really seriously big. Can you see the dots that are actually people??

Perfect timing. Autumn is in full swing! It’s so perfect. It was very cold and I had to wear my down vest.

Kurobe Dam is the tallest dam in Japan, having the height of 186 m
Kurobe Dam is the tallest dam in Japan, having the height of 186 m. It is releasing 10 cubic meters of water each second, generating 1 billion kWh per year.

We went down and walked on the dam, and looked at the peaceful side of it which is the emerald Kurobe Lake. I couldn’t get enough of staring at the beautiful scenery.

Tidbit: Kurobe Lake formed after the dam stopped the flow of the initially very tiny Kurobe river
Tidbit: Kurobe Lake formed after the dam stopped the flow of the initially very tiny Kurobe river
Autumn scenery around Kurobe Dam
Autumn scenery around Kurobe Dam

There were many educational paraphernalia and videos being shown at Kurobe Dam. One piece of information that was heartbreaking was the fact that 171 workers died during a construction accident at the tunnels.

But they went through with completing the construction and now it is supplying electricity in Kansai.

Kurobe equipment
Kurobe equipment that used to pour dam material while hung from a cable

After learning all about the construction of the dam, and the people behind who believed in the value of its construction, we decided to head back to Hakuba.

We got back while the sun was still a bit out, and checked in to our next pension house, Ringo no Ki.

Pension Ringo no Ki (Apple Tree)
Pension Ringo no Ki (Apple Tree)

Hakuba-50

Hakuba-51

They had a very nice outdoor onsen (hotspring) that I forgot to take a photo of, but it was very very relaxing.

Next is dinner! They served us really tasty and filling food.

Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkin Soup
Salad
Crab Salad
Yummy fish
Yummy fish
Roast pork with balsamic sauce
Roast pork with balsamic sauce
Dessert
Dessert

Feeling full, we chilled a bit and then went to bed early again. Tomorrow’s another day at Hakuba, gotta get some rest!

Bed at the pension
Bed at the pension

Hakuba in Autumn

Hakuba Happo-one DAY 1 (Oct. 10, 2015)

Hakuba is Japan’s well-loved mountain ski resort. I’ve heard so many great things about it, such as it having great views of the Northern Alps. And since I was in a hurry to see some autumn leaves this year, Hakuba seemed like a great choice for the recent 3-day weekend.

I booked our pension houses way back in August, and found myself having forgotten to book the JR tickets going to Hakuba in advance. Sure enough, when I bought the direct ticket from Shinjuku to Hakuba, all the reserved seats were taken!

Come departure day, we arrived 40 minutes in advance in Shinjuku, but unfortunately, the train apparently picked up some passengers all the way from Chiba already. Lesson learned, even if you believe that Shinjuku is the departure train for JR Azusa, it is not always the case.

One hour into the trip, a lot of people got off Otsuki, bless them. Hope they get to see Fuji-san that day. And so we were napping for the rest of the 3 hours of the trip.

And finally, we arrive!

Fresh air upon exiting the train at Hakuba station!
Fresh air upon exiting the train at Hakuba station!

It was a bit cool, good thing I brought my autumn vest with me.

We headed off to the mountains in search of autumn scenery!

Walking would take 25 min so we opted for a 5-min taxi ride to Happo Eki (station). The taxi cost a little over 1 thousand yen. On the way we saw some cute cottages and log houses. Looking forward to our accommodation later! Anyway, at the station we bought the discount round trip tickets going up the mountain and down at 2,900 yen. That’s good for 1 gondola and 2 lifts. Off we go!

The autumn foliage at around 1500m above sea level is already in full glory at Hakuba Happone
The autumn foliage at around 1500m above sea level is already in full glory at Hakuba Happone

I was very excited being on the gondola! Of course, coming from the tropics, this scenery is quite rare and magical for me. Beautiful combination of red, yellow, orange, green, and everything in between!

After all that emotion, it was time for some lunch at the restaurant after the first gondola. Japanese ski resorts are not famous for their food in winter, since it’s probably very difficult to come by fresh produce. However, the restaurant at Hakuba was quite good! I had tempura and soba, while my friend had some meaty spaghetti. Shelled out 1000 yen per dish.

This restaurant serves good quality ski area food, with a great view of Hakuba town
At an altitude of over 1400 m, this restaurant  has a great view of Hakuba town.

We also saw some people paragliding that day. I didn’t have the courage to do something like that yet so I’ll pass it off for next time. I went to Hakuba for some kouyou so I’m gonna go trek for it.

The third lift going up Happo One brings you to the hiking trail to Happo One Pond
The third lift going up Happo One brings you to the hiking trail to Happo One Pond

At around the first week of October, the autumn foliage is generally in season at around 1000m high. This last lift, at around 1600 and higher, has the autumn foliage nearly finishing and on its way to winter. Better zip my down vest for the hike!

The hiking trail at Hakuba Happo One
The hiking trail at Hakuba Happo One

The hike was a pretty easy one, with these wooden steps or some giant rocks along the way. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking! Beautiful slopes that seem so dangerously steep yet comfortably grassy. This is a different kind of autumn scenery from the usual (yet still my favorite maple leaves). An hour of slow hiking brought me to the finishing point, the Happo One Pond. Majestically, the Northern Alps reveal themselves after being secluded among the clouds.

The Japan Alps gloriously stand behind the Hakuba mountains
The Japan Alps gloriously stand behind the Hakuba mountains

Absolutely breathtaking and rewarding. The hike itself was a very pleasant and beautiful hike, with lots of different sceneries to enjoy and fresh air to energize you throughout the entire time. At first I wasn’t expecting to see this much of the Alps since they were completely covered in clouds during the hike, but sometimes peeking when the wind blew much of the clouds away.

The Japanese Northern Alps as seen from Hakuba Happo One
The Japanese Northern Alps as seen from Hakuba Happo One

Fresh snow has already fallen on the Alps. But around you is still late autumn, and farther below you is still in late summer. They call it the three colors, and it is only in late September to October that you can experience this triple combination. I spent around half an hour just chilling around the pond area.

At 13 degrees, as long as you have an autumn coat, you’re fine. Japanese tend to hike in full gear but don’t feel too pressured. I was simply wearing rubber shoes, tights, long sleeves and the vest.

We started hiking back to the lift at around 3pm. The top most lift closes at 4:30 during this autumn season so we couldn’t wait for sunset on the side of the Alps.

We decided to walk to the pension house we booked called Eternal Flame. We told them earlier that we would arrive 5:30 PM and asked to be served dinner during the first round. We were quite hungry. So happy that Eternal Flame had very good food!

Eternal Flame Drink
Eternal Flame Drink
Eternal Flame Appetizer
Eternal Flame Appetizer
Roast Pork that definitely tasted like Inihaw na Baboy, fine-dining style
Roast Pork that definitely tasted like Inihaw na Baboy, fine-dining style

I forgot to take decent pictures of the other dishes like baked fish, which was heaven, but just I swear, their food is really good. With that note, we had a good rest relaxing around the house, and by 9PM we were asleep, ready to take on the next day going around.

Notes:

Hakuba is easily accessible from Tokyo, Nagano, and Osaka.

Happo-one trek is easy enough for families and even old people. I saw some mothers with babies, fathers with kids, and grandparents going around.

As with any other Japanese tourist spot, washrooms are clean and there are restaurants and shops wherever you might need them.