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Friday, October 31, 2014

A Simple Lunch in Tokyo

After our tour of Asakusa, we were starving and found this lunch place.

Gyoza--pan fried potstickers

Spicy noodle soup--Y750 (including the plate of gyoza)

Tonkatsu Ramen--Y620. You just can't find any bad ramen in town.

2014 05 25

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Seafood Yakitori

Yakitori is Japanese skewered chicken. In Tokyo, we found a local restaurant serving skewered seafood, also known as seafood yakitori.

The seafood were skewered and grilled. We had scallops, octopus, tuna, sea bass and salmon. Each was Y150-210. The shishito peppers on the left were especially good.

Skewered deep fried quail eggs. These were also delicious.

At the end of the meal, we were given clams in broth.

At the restaurant, we sat at a bar and learned about Hoppy. It is a beer-flavored almost non-alcoholic drink (0.8% alcohol) that is popular in Tokyo. Add the Hoppy to Shochu (Japanese distilled drink) and it is a cheap way to get drunk.

The Hoppy and shochu should be chilled, along with the glasses. Five parts Hoppy should be added to one part shochu. Put the shochu in the glass and add Hoppy vigorously so that the drink foams without stirring. No ice.

At a bar, the Hoppy is called a soto and the shochu "naka," or just ask for a Hoppy set. If another Hoppy is needed, ask for "another soto."

2014 05 25

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Another famous district in Tokyo is Harajuku, the center of Tokyo's extreme teenage culture.

Takashita Dori--the focal point of Harajuku. It's lined with trendy stores and restaurants catering to Japanese youth.

On Sundays, around the Harajuku Station, young people gather dressed up in costumes to resemble anime characters.

Some are just "young at heart."

Nearby is Meiji Jingu, one of Tokyo's most famous shinto shrines. It's a calm oasis--a world of difference from the frenzy on Takashita Dori.

2014 05 25

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Back in Tokyo

Back in Tokyo, we toured a few more sites.

Kaminarimon is one of 2 gates leading to the Sensoji Temple. It is a symbol of Asakusa, a district in Japan. Free tours are offered on Sundays from the Asakusa Information Center at 11 am and 2 pm.

Nakamise Shopping Street leading from the Kaminarimon to Sensoji Temple.

The other entrance to the Sensoji Temple.

Sensoji Temple--Tokyo's most famous temple. It was built in the 7th centery.

Looking back on Nakamise from the Sensoji Temple.

2014 05 25

Monday, October 27, 2014

Summary of the Nakasendo

It was a remarkable journey and we were so happy to have done it. We found our way without an English guidebook, without a map and without speaking Japanese. The trail was well marked and we didn't have to worry about not having a map. There were some steep areas but in general the trail was an easy one. Most of it was through woods but there were portions through towns. 

The most surprising thing was that there were bathrooms along the route. These were clean flush toilets with running water. The Japanese are so civilized. 

We didn't have to carry much. Along the way, there were stores selling food and at the least vending machines selling drinks. It was nice to be able to stay at inns and get a hot shower every night and have a soft place to sleep.

The hardest thing about the trip was making reservations at the inns but I've included faxes and information on how to book your lodgings so it should be easier for you.

If you have a twinge for adventure and are not afraid to take a wrong turn, this is the right trip for you!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Karuizawa to Tokyo

Our final day on the Nakasendo--14 km long and 5-6 hours long. We wound our way through the town of Karuizawa to the Usui-Toge Pass. It was a little difficult to find the route because it wasn't well marked and there were times we weren't sure we were on the path. Luckily, this route was better traveled and we ran into more Japanese tourists. A simple "Nakasendo?" would be met with nods and we were happily on our way.

Coming down from the pass, we passed the post town of Sakamoto and followed the road to Maruyama--a train stop. From Maruyama,we found our way to Yokokawa and took a train to Takasaki (30 minute ride) then the Shinkansen to Tokyo (52 minute ride).  

Our bento box on the shinkansen--ground chicken, grilled chicken and braised chicken over rice.

Once we arrived at Tokyo Station, we walked the last 2 km to Nihonbashi Bridge, the terminus of the Nakasendo.

Mile Zero marker on the Nihonbashi--from which mileage throughout Japan is measured.

2014 05 24

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Karuizawa, once an old post town, is now the epitome of a high-class mountain resort. It is 150 km from Tokyo Station so it's a quick weekend get-away for the Tokyoites. It is the only city that has hosted both a summer (equestrian event in 1964) as well as winter olympics (curling in 1998).

We stayed at the APA Hotel Karuizawa. It was a 5-minute walk from the train station and can be booked at

A SMALL double cost Y7830 for 2 people. This was the tiniest room we stayed in on the entire trip. The bed was a glorified twin and barely fit the two of us.

A short walk away was a shopping center with outlet stores. There were multiple restaurants there and we chose Nagano Meijitei, which specialized in tonkatsu. They had a menu in English. Pork tonkatsu bowl with miso soup and pickled vegetables--Y1445. 

Tonkatsu Curry with rice & salad--Y1440.

Karuizawa is modeled after a European ski resort.

Small carvings of squirrels all over town. Is this their version of the Chicago cow?

2014 05 23

Friday, October 24, 2014

Kaida Kogen to Narai to Karuizawa

This was a tough day. There was limited bus service from Kaida Kogen to Kiso-Fukushima and we weren't sure we'd be able to get to Narai to catch the train to Karuizawa.

We ended up taking the 8:57 am bus which arrived in Kiso-Fukushima at 9:59 am. The train from Kiso-Fukushima left at 11:10 am and arrived in Yabuhara at 11:25 am. Cost was Y230. While we were waiting for the train, we went to the grocery store to buy our lunch.

We left the Yabuhara station and hiked uphill through the Tori-Toge Pass. We arrived at the summit at 12:12 pm--we walked fast. From the summit, it took us 30 minutes to get to Narai.

Narai is another adorable reconstructed post town--it was the most prosperous of the post towns. I wish we had had more time to spend there.

We arrived at the JR station at the far end of the town at 1:10 pm. The train to Karuizawa left at 1:24 pm and cost Y1490. We just made it. We ended up eating our lunch on the train.

2014 05 23

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Yamaka No Yu Ryokan

In Kaida Kogen, we stayed at one of the best ryokans on our trip--Yamaka No Yu Ryokan. They have a website: Use google translation to help you navigate the website. You can also fax them at 81 264 44 2300.

Onsen on-site. We were the only guests so we had the whole place to ourselves.

Dinner was fabulous

Beef and mustard sauce grilled on leaves

Grilled mountain trout

Tempura mountain vegetables


Fried rice

When we woke up the next morning, this was the view from our bedroom. This is Mt. Ontake, covered with snow in May.

Breakfast was just as fabulous as dinner last night

Lodging and 2 meals--Y14,040 per person.

2014 05 22

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kaida Kogen

We took a detour from the Nakasendo to visit Kaida Kogen. There is a bus that goes from Kiso Fukushima to Kaida Kogen with stops along the way, including a stop at the Kaida farm. We took the 10:43 am bus and arrived at Kaida farm at 11:16 to have lunch and see the Kiso horses. Cost of the ride was Y200.

Lunch stop

Hot soba noodles--Y1200


Kiso horses--a breed that is indigenous to Japan.

After seeing the Kiso horses, we took the 1:16 pm bus to Kaida Kogen, arriving at 1:22 pm.

At the bus station, we found our way over the pass to the Kaida Plateau. An hour and a half later, we arrived at Yamaka no Yu, our ryokan for the night. It started to drizzle.

2014  05 22

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kiso Fukushima

Kiso Fukushima is a town on the train line between Nagoya & Matsumoto. It's a good sized town with ski resorts nearby. Halfway between Kyoto & Edo, it served as an important barrier station during the Edo period.

Kiso Fukushima is situated next to the Kiso River.

Reconstructed sekisho or barrier station.

Ue-no-dan, the main area with preserved buildings--many of the buildings have been converted into cafes, restaurants and galleries

Public footbath

Hobamaki--sweet bean paste inside rice cakes and covered with leaves for Y160. It's a specialty of the region.

2014 05 21