Travel Blog #11: Hiking in Hakone/Making Memories

September 2: I arrived in Yugawara at about 1 p.m. The AirBnB’s host, Masato, picked me up from the train station and drove me up to the guest house. It was on this drive that I realize just how much hiking I would be doing in the coming days. A hint of dread washed over me; the route was along a very steep hill.

Upon arrival at the AirBnB Masato let me drop my things in my (then empty) room then showed me around. He showed me all the anemities including the rooftop terrace which boasted an incredible view. I soon found myself unable to keep my eyes open, so Masato brought in a small lounge chair of sorts that I could sleep on until the staff member returned to prepard my room.


I awoke fully rested, albeit slightly disoriented from the journey. A knock at the door soon after indicated the return of the aforementioned staff member, with whom I would become good friends during my stay.

For dinner I had my first home cooked meal in weeks. The three of us ate and spoke for about an hour before supper came to an end and I was informed that it was time for karaoke. Having never participated in karaoke (save for one near delirious rendition whilst in Beijing a number of years ago), I was terrified. An hour later I was loving it (a sentence I never thought I would say in reference to karaoke). This routine would continue for the following two nights.


September 3: I woke up bright and early and set out for the hot spring town of Hakone. Following the advice of my host and his staff, I purchased the two-day Hakone free pass for ¥4,000 (it may sound expensive, but trust me, it will save you a ton of money). The trip was longer than expected, mostly due to the slowest tram ever, so I arrived at around noon. 


A short bus ride from the station later I was walking along Old Tokaido Cedar Avenue (or at least something that looked just like it) – a forested area with a beautiful path through the trees. The path ended up leading me to the shore near Motohakone port, where many tourists were soaking up the sun.



Rather than join the multitude of tourists at a restaurant by the shore I chose to walk to Amazake Chaya tea house. After about 20 minutes of “hiking” along the road, I noticed on my map that I was adjacent to the route, not on it; I figured this explained the lack of other travellers despite the busy train ride over. I reoriented myself and soon joined up with the intended hiking path.

While much more sceneic, this route was almost entirely composed of large slippery cobblestones, occasionally covered in moss, that wound up and down hills.


Still, there was no one else so I wondered if I was indeed in the correct place… That is until I saw a sign pointing toward my destination and was passed by two old Japanese ladies who put my usually quick-paced walking to shame. Nearly an hour of hiking later I arrived at Amazake Chaya tea house. 

It was packed.


Turns out quite a few Japanese people (and a few foreigners) do know about this famous tea house and the route to it. However, due to the difficult path and the fact that it is hidden by woods, most choose to take the bus or drive right over.

Feeling rather accomplished, i strutted to the front of the line and claimed (bought) my reward. I ordered a perfectly reasonable and not unhealthy at all amount of freshly baked(?) mochi and amasake.

Oh, and of course I enjoyed some free tea… It was a tea house after all.


No longer famished nor willing to repeat the same journey as the way over, I took the bus to Motohakone port. Upon arrival I quickly boarded the pirate ship (yes you read that right). I initially tried to enter the first class lounge, not realizing you needed to pay extra, and was laughed at for my mistake by a wealthy family. Sulking, I walked up to the highest deck to begin my sightseeing tour of Lake Ashi.


The pirate ship let off at Togendai station, where I lined up for the ropeway. I’m told the ropeway was actually closed for a couple years due to the amount of volcanic ash. Had I known this beforehand, I probably would have been a bit nervous. Instead, the only negative thought on my mind was annoyance at the dirty windows, which made picture-taking and scenery-enjoying difficult.


Upon reaching the next pit stop, I pried myself away from the café boasting a scenic view (reminding myself of the perfectly healthy and not unreasonable at all amount of mochi I had eaten for lunch earlier). The cable car leaving from this area travelled the rest of the way up the mountain, passing the hot springs (not to be confused with their associated baths), and then finally descended to the tram station.

And of course, this was all followed by a home cooked meal and karaoke.

September 4: I woke up at 12 p.m. to an overcast sky and quickly ditched my plans for the day. Having already seen most of the major tourist spots in Hakone the previous day, I took the day to relax. I had some lunch with the AirBnB staff and then the three of us (myself and two staff) headed to the beach. When we arrived the tide had gone pretty high, so the “beach” was non-existent.
Instead, we walked around the area hoping to find another beach-y area, but to no avail. Before giving up, we watched a young Japanese guy fish for about 15 minutes (I imagine it was pretty creepy from his perspective). Then we headed to a field to show off our utter lack of volleyball skills to each other.


When the rain grew too heavy we began our long walk back to the AirBnB, stopping for ice cream along the way. We didn’t know this at the time, but apparently aside from having lots of cow decorations, this ice cream shop also has udders out front that you can milk for water. Anyway, the ice cream was fantastic; I had soda flavour because it was blue (I’m dead serious). Luckily, the steep hill back to the AirBnB wasn’t slippery when wet, so we got back with relatively little difficulty.


Another home cooked dinner and two hours of karaoke marked my final night at Masato’s spectacular AirBnB in Yugawara.

Travel Blog #9: Storming the Castle

Following my day trip to Hiroshima I decided to take some time off for R&R. Contrary to what I had thought, Osaka wasn’t the best hub city. Since the AirBnB I picked for $21 a night didn’t have a great location, I was facing 40 minute trips to Osaka station every time I did a day trip. On evenings when I returned from a day trip, most of the city (save for arcades, bars, and hostess clubs) were closed by 8 p.m. In short, I was pretty ready to move on.

August 31: Once I regained my mental and emotional strength, I set out for Himeji to see the castle. Known for being one of the “finest surving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture” (Wikipedia), Himeji stands tall upon a hill.

I passed through a market street… 


…and arrived at Kokkoen garden. Here I purchased a combined garden and castle pass for ¥1,040. Since I have no idea what most (any) of the plants were, I’ll just leave the pictures below.




About midway through my journey in the garden I came upon a tea house. Here I took part in my own personal traditional Japanese tea ceremony. For ¥500 I got excellent tea and some type of sweet (tasted like marzapan with red bean).




From the garden you can either walk about 10 minutes one way and get right to the castle gate, or walk in a big spiral for about an hour to get to there. I decided on the latter. Seeing the castle after that walk was well worth it.



For dinner I went to a local all you can eat Japanese barbeque place. While the agreed upon price was ¥3,500 (and I asked multiple times to make sure I was ordering off the correct menu), the manager attempted to charge me for everyting – which amounted to about ¥8,600. After about ten minutes of him giving me a ton of attitude and us arguing back and forth (with help from Google Translate), he threw his arms up in the air in frustration and gave me the correct price. Did I mention this happened while the last train back to Osaka was leaving in less than 20 minutes? (Don’t worry, I just barely made it).


September 1: After the frustration of the previous evening I had another stressful day of travel to Kyoto. Due to a combination of terrible directions, an utter lack of English signs anywhere, and generally rude customer service, it took me an extra four hours to arrive. Fun fact: while the ATMs at convenience stores offer 20 different languages, those at BANKS (or at least the one I went to) only offer Japanese (and are only for Japanese people).

My luck seemed to turn up when I arrived at my AirBnB. It was absolutely gorgeous! A semi-modernized traditional Japanese home turned into a guest house. After a week of not-so-great conditions in Osaka I was so thankful. I took off my huge backpack, settled in, and then immediately set out for Nijo Castle.


While Nijo Castle is regarded as the most popular tourist destination in Kyoto, it closes its gates to new visitors at 4 p.m. – even in peak tourist season. Myself and a crowd of about 50 tourists from all over the world discovered this at about 4:05 p.m. They made no exceptions. (I also spent about 10 minutes considering scaling the wall of the castle)

Finally burnt out, I decided to take the rest of the day to relax. A quick Google search helped me find a great café for reading, where I spent the next five hours drinking tea and, well, reading.

Travel Blog #7: Hopping Around

August 26: Osaka Castle was my first and only stop for the day. I wasted no time getting there since the journey by foot was about two hours.

The majority of the area that houses the castle is a huge park, filled with plum trees, peach trees, and gardens.

However, the castle itself is rather small and is on its third iteration after burning down twice over the years. The most recent construction happened in 1583, so things are looking up. Speaking of looking up…

Inside the castle was a very cramped eight floor museum wherein you aren’t allowed to eat or drink (even water as far as I’m aware). It didn’t take long until I was bored so I quickly climbed to the top floor to snag some photos before descending.

On the way home I stopped at Shinseki – an area renowned for its food – and got an okonomiyaki (japanese style pancake) for dinner. In addition, I discovered a 24-hour grocery store called Super Tamade where the selection is fantastic and you can buy delicious ready-made food for ¥100.

I chose to end the day early and spent the evening watching Netflix and writing.
August 27: Five hours is how long it took me to finally arrive at my destination; on paper, it was two and a half. I’ll spare the details, but let’s just say everything is slow and infrequent in rural Japan.

Where was I headed that made this journey worth it? Rabbit Island.

Rabbit Island (AKA Okunomashima) is located about an hour outside of Hiroshima and, much like the name suggests, is an island filled with thousands of bunnies.

That’s a big pile of rabbit food

While no one knows for sure how the bunnies got there, two prevailing theories do exist:
1) During WWII the Japanese were using the island to develop poisonous gas. They used bunnies as test subjects. After the war, locals set the survivors free. Today’s population is the result of the remaining rabbits’ breeding over the years.

2) In 1971 a group of school children were taken on a trip to the island. With them, they brought a bunch of rabbits which were left there to be free in a safe haven. Again, today’s population came from years of breeding.

No matter which theory is the correct one, something is for certain: the rabbits LOVE the island. It has been set up as a sanctuary for them, with plenty of tourists and locals feeding them every day (with fresh veggies and rabbit food) and water set out every ten metres or so.


Travel Blog Entry 3

August 19: Having thoroughly not beaten the jetlag I decided to have a slow morning, skip breakfast, and sleep in. I made some calls to family and friends and then decided to explore a much more exciting part of town: Ximen. 

So far I had only been to Da’an, which is a residential district (located near the previous day’s Taipei 101); Ximen was a HUGE change of pace. 

Having landed in a busy square I struggled to find the restaurant I was seeking out for lunch. Getting lost several times along the way was part of the adventure, but my rumbling stomach wasn’t very amused. Finally, I made it to my destination; I arrived at Modern Toilet.

As they say, when in Rome… Uhh.. I mean Taiwan.

Looking past the absurdity of it all, the décor and atmosphere was great. As with everywhere else in Taipei, the staff were extremely friendly. I ordered my food (bread, and beef curry) and waited patiently.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I will say one thing: depsite looking like crap, that food tasted amazing!

With newfound energy I sprung forth from the building to begin my adventure anew!… Okay, okay, I awkwardly walked out of the restaurant and tried to find my way back to the main area. 

Over the next few scorching hot hours I found various strange shops:

A candy shop that sold everything from sushi shaped sweets to chocolate condoms (not sure if flavoured or just chocolates, but they were all over the shop), to first aid kits; also normal chewy gummies, for the less adventurous lot.

Several shops selling all the random Japanese/Chinese gadgets you see back home in Canada and the States (except here they cost a fraction of the price). Beyblades, Pokémon merch, multi-coloured cat lamps, piggy banks with cats that collect the coins, and more.

And a two-floor One Piece shop (it’s a very well known anime, for those unaware). 

I eventually got overheated and tired and started making my way back to the AirBnB for some rest. On the way, I stopped to try a Taiwanese delicacy: Mango shaved ice.

It was amazing!

When I got home I had spoke to Ren for a bit (the owner of the AirBnB) and then watched some movies before passing out for the night. (By the way, Taiwanese Netflix is MUCH better than Canada’s)

August 20: Again I had a slow start to the day so at around 2 p.m. I arrived in the northern area of the city. 

After struggling to figure out the buses for about half an hour I made it to the Northern Palace Museum.

By the time I left, several hours later, I hadn’t even seen half of the museum (perhaps I will visit again another time). Here’s a fraction of the exhibits I saw:

I found myself desperately craving Japanese food. Luckily, I stumbled upon Sushi Express, which is one of those sushi-go-round places with the little plates. Each plate here costing about $1 US.

I really did mean to take more pictures of the food…