It’s our 4th year living in Singapore now. Looking back the last 3 years, being on this side of the world, we typically either go to Japan to satisfy our need for cold weather/snow (Yes I miss the cold), or we celebrate Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur. We chose the former, and this year we settled on Nozawa Onsen being recommended highly by my colleague. The 11 days itinerary also included a bit of self-driving, a relaxation stay at Hakone for the famous onsen, and then a bit of retail therapy in Tokyo. Let’s start with the snow…
As expected, skiing was good although I would say there’s not a lot for a snowboarder when it comes to black runs (unless moguls are your thing). Lots of happy smiles from wifey though, as there were plenty of green runs!
Whilst skiing was good, we probably chose the worst year for snow though. Snow base was barely 1.6m since the season started, for an area that averages over 3m!? Out of the 4 days we were there, it only started to dump 40cm of snow on the day we left! What a bummer!
Having said that, if I had to pick a resort to go to with beginners and a baby, I would definitely pick Nozawa Onsen again! I can’t recall a single run from any of the other resorts I’ve been to, that could beat their LOOONNGG green run that stretches from the top of Uenotaira station to the kids park at the base. We did have a beginner skier with us this year, wifey’s friend, Wei. Whilst she did have some snowboarding experience in the past, she never skiied. Taking her up to the top of Uenotaira meant that she had over >6km (I think) of green slope to practise on, without having to constantly spend time on chair lifts or travelators! That meant that she was comfortable doing big ‘S’ turns down the long and wide slopes by the end of the day. No, she wasn’t able to or comfortable doing the narrower runs at the lower part of the trail (and fell a couple of time), but she could at least spend time enjoying the skiing most of the time!
For Ethan, being a 18 months old, I was probably pushing it trying to put him on one those kid’s skis.
He was just not a happy kid on skis. Maybe next year. Luckily, he did enjoy most other aspects of the snow, namely the super long travelator that takes us from our ryokan / hotel up to the base…
He had fun playing with the snow, which is positive sign.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me, was the child minding service / nursery. We used it 3 days in a row, and by the 2nd day, Ethan had no hesitation being left there with the kind looking babysitters .. And I thought it was good value at 2500 yen for half a day. Once we dropped him off, he didn’t even look back to say good bye to us! He simply ran straight for the ‘magic’ room that we weren’t allowed to go in to take a look at. Maybe it’s a Willy Wonka factory in there.. we’ll never know..
The onsen town itself was pretty interesting, although it started to feel/look the same to me given we’ve been to 2 others near the area before, namely Myoko Kogen and Shiga Kogen. It’s fairly touristy and we did do the public bath thing just to cross it off our list. It was too damn hot to enjoy though!
Next.. it was time for a bit of driving in Japan, which is something I wanted to do for years! To cut a long story short, I finally sorted out the requirements (namely a ‘valid’ International drivers license) and hired a Nissan Tiida!
First thing you’ll probably realise driving in Japan is that, there really are plenty of toll gates! If you can read Japanese, the onboard GPS spells it out for ya! What’s really cool about this GPS, is that it even tells you the services that are available in the coming rest areas, including calling out ‘Starbucks’ if there is one! NEAT!
Apart from that, it was a pleasant drive that given our route/destination, coupled with a nice & clear sky day, meant that we get to see a pretty awesome view of Mt. Fuji!
No wonder they had a sign in the rest area, that told us to focus on driving, not staring at the scenery! I’ve been to Japan quite a few times, but have never been lucky enough to see the mountain itself. So that was a first for me! Perhaps it was the distance, it just didn’t look all that high to me, even though it’s a good 3700m tall mountain!
Our 4 hours drive eventually got us to our destination.. Gora Hanaougi (強羅花扇) of Hakone (箱根). It was meant to be the ‘relaxation’ leg of our trip, so plenty of lying back like this..
Good food… and sake..
Lots of time spent in the resort onsen…. including the private one on our balcony
It’s a nice resort.. but a tad expensive though. Driving into Hakone, we realised there’s quite a lot more to Hakone than just onsen resorts. We managed to squeeze in an outdoor museum of arts, a cable car ride, an aquarium (for baby) and a bit of shopping. It’s definitely worth coming back again just to cover off a few of the attractions that we missed.
And then.. it was time for the last leg of our trip.. TOKYO! Getting here by car was the first and probably the last time I want to get here this way (Think traffic.. tolls.. complicated multi-storey roads). We covered a few new grounds.. namely.. staying in a Japanese apartment using the AirBnB service (at Gotanda).
It was nice enough of a place, and frankly pretty good one from my perspective. There were little issues here and there (ADSL Internet didn’t work, and couldn’t communicate with host by mobile, dusty… etc etc), but frankly I’m happy with it (Ask my wife, and she’ll tell you a different story).
Plenty of things/places covered in Tokyo, namely a maid cafe…
Oh, I would have liked to take baby Ethan to a cat cafe too, except he was deemed too noisy (at least the one in Shibuya told us)! To hell with them! Fortunately, Ethan had a ball with plenty of other things, like just running around the streets of Shinjuku… It was probably the Yodobashi music that got him dancing..
He showed us how to play with massive model/toy car (in one of the RC shop at Akihabara)..
And plenty of ‘woo’ and ‘ahhh’ just watching trains flying past..
Oh.. something about the train ticket machines that kept him entertained..
Oh.. that reminds me.. how about bumping into a couple of Mario Karts (Akihabara)..
And.. Sushi train.. not the ones that go round and round.. the ones that deliver the sushis you ordered directly to you!
Gotta love Tokyo. Gosh.. it must be like the 5th time I’ve been there, and I’m still not sick of it. That explains why I keep coming back to Japan every single year for the last 6 years??