Monday, May 26, 2014

fuji-q highland

The day started off with ice cream! Got to try an awesome flavor of ice cream - blue rose. It totally tasted like eating flowers if one ate flowers that is. Super fragrant in my mouth. I am enjoying this trend of making ice cream flavors out of flowers. Can purchase this ice cream at the Kawaguchiko Train Station.

ice cream that is suppose to look like fuji - vanilla and blue rose flavor - 370 yen
In Japan there is a word ameonna which translates to rain woman, a woman who is cursed to have the rain follow her wherever she goes. After this trip I'm gonna get called ameonna except I don't just get rain I get all the crappy weather following me, like snow and wind that ruins my travels. So you know this post won't be about us happily riding roller-coasters but about the high levels of frustration and anger that followed us throughout the day.

Ellen, Alanna and I thought that by going to Fuji-Q Highland on a Monday we would be able to avoid all the crowds and zip through the lines. What we didn't count on was that in Japan entering universities is a super hard task but once enrolled, college is a breeze and students often skip classes...Don't blame me for saying this since I'm just repeating what Japanese people tell me. So to our surprise when we entered the park we saw hordes and hordes of people with every roller-coaster having a two hour plus wait. Fuji-Q Highland is famous for its roller-coasters, several which have held world records for being the tallest, fastest, steepest etc.

We waited two hours in line for Fujiyama a roller coaster that held the world record for being the tallest and fastest roller coaster. Just as we got to the front of the line, the ride gets shut down due to wind. We were given slips of paper that would allow us to go on the ride when it reopened. Then we waited in line for Dodonpa, which use to hold the world record for fastest roller coaster and still has the fastest acceleration, for an hour before the ride was shut down and we got another slip of paper. Yay. Can anyone guess how handy these slips of paper will be?

After Dodonpa got shut down we rushed over to Takabisha, the world record holder for the steepest roller coaster, in case that also got shut down. So finally after spending more than half the day here we finally got to ride one roller coaster. Takabisha has a record 120 degree drop and man it was freaking horrifying. The car pauses right at this point so you can just hang there and stare straight down at your death. Then it goes through a whole bunch of loops which I'm usually fine with but what was so horrifying about this was that it went through the loops so slowly you could see yourself hanging upside down.

The last roller coaster we wanted to ride was Eejanaika, the second of two fourth dimension roller coasters in the world. A fourth dimension roller coaster has seats that can rotate forward or backward 360 degrees. However when we got to the ride, the line was closed due to it being at maximum capacity! Fuji-Q Highland also has the second largest haunted attraction, the Haunted Hospital which we wanted to check out but it closed at 3pm! You would think that if so many attractions at the park were closed due to the wind that any attractions indoors that could still operate would operate longer that its normal time. Who closes an attraction in the middle of the day when the park is still open?!?

Super unsatisfied with this park and if you haven't guessed it yet the rides never reopened so those slips of paper were useless to us. Ugh the freaking worst day I've ever had at an amusement park. We rode three rides total the whole day one baby coaster, a swinging boat ride and Takabisha. Alanna says she doesn't wanna travel with me anymore because I'm ameonna! Noooo! I need to pass this curse along!

strawberry cheese cake fuji kit kats

Ended this disappointing day with some cute omiyage, souvenirs, and unique flavored kit-kats. Never been a fan of cheesecake so these weren't that great tasting to me.

The Details
Fuji-Q Highland
Hours: 9:00am-5:00pm
Admission Fee: 1400 yen - just entrance fee with rides costing 400-1000 yen per ride or
5200 yen which includes unlimited rides and entrance fee
Access: Fujikyu Highland Station -  Fujikyuko Line
There are also several bus packages that includes a round trip bus ride and an unlimited rides ticket to the park. We purchased one from the Nagoya Meitetsu Station for 9080 yen. Check out different locations and prices at this website (Japanese only).
Fuji-Q Highland website

Sunday, May 25, 2014

fuji shibazakura festival

This weekend finds me heading to the Fuji Five Lakes Area. I've been in Japan for a year now and I still haven't seen the iconic Mt. Fuji. No plans to climb it, looking at it from afar is enough. So why not do it in front of some pretty pink and purple flowers?!? A coworker brought the Fuji Shibazakura Festival to my attention and I had to go check it out, knowing that I wouldn't be able to see it next year. Shibazakura is known as pink moss in English despite not actually being moss. This festival is super popular with tourists, that and the fact that it was ending soon meant this whole place was packed with people. Didn't help that we went on a Sunday...

Blogs and online comments stated that lighting in the afternoon usually produced better pictures so we hung around the small city of Fujikawaguchik, with the ever looming Mt. Fuji in the background.

After a small snack we caught the bus to Aokigahara, Sea of Trees, which is also known as the Suicide Forest. Aokigahara is one of the most popular locations in the world for suicides. There are signs urging suicidal visitors to seek help and annual searches for bodies. Another popular suicide spot that hits closer to home is the Golden Gate Bridge in my hometown of San Francisco!

We planned to walk to the nearby Lake Saiko which was suppose to be a 40 min walking trail away. However we ended up walking in the completely different direction and ended up at Lake Shojiko a two hour plus walk away. There were trail signs but there wasn't a time estimation so we had no clue how long it would take to reach our location. Ellen, Alanna and I had a fun time chatting and walking amongst the trees but after an hour passed we grew hungry.

lake shojiko
There was a bus stop nearby but we had no clue where the bus was heading and it wasn't going to come anytime soon. By the time the bus came and we got back into the city and went to the festival site it would have closed. Turns out we had walked so far that we were actually closer to the festival site so we asked the restaurant employee for a taxi number. Thankfully a taxi driver was willing to drive all the way out to where we were and probably turned out cheaper than if we had rode the bus back.

I really liked the mini Mt. Fuji! Unfortunately when we were there the sky became super cloudy so we weren't able to see Mt. Fuji clearly. I took this photo from a raised platform which had a huge line of people waiting to walk up. I sneakily climbed up the exit stairs, which weren't manned, took a couple of photos real quickly and left. Since the festival was almost ending most of the flowers were already gone so didn't present as nice of a picture.

"pink moss"  that comes in different colors and isn't actually moss...

Yamanashi Prefecture is known for its hoto noodles, thick wheat noodles in a miso based broth. We were starving after not eating all day and stopped at a place called Kosaku known for serving this dish. The portions are huge! Could have shared with several people.

spicy beef hoto - 2000 yen

The Details
Stay: K's House Mt. Fuji
Dorms starting from 2500 yen
website - they also do cheap tours of the area (would have loved to join one if I had the time) - I love this website since there are usually free cancellations!

Transportation around Lake Kawaguchiko
website - time table and bus stops
There are two different lines: Kawaguchiko Line and Saiko-Aokigahara Line
Price: a two day pass for Kawaguchiko Line costs 1030 yen while for both lines 1340 yen

Access: Fugaku Fuketsu (Wind Cave) - Retro and public buses
However I would advise you to follow this walking course instead since we got so hopelessly lost.

Fuji Shibazakura Festival
Operation Period: Mid April to the beginning of June
Hours: 8:00am to 5:00pm
Entrance Fee: 520 yen; 1900 yen - includes round trip shuttle bus ticket and entrance fee
Access: Kawaguchiko Station - specialized shuttle bus 
I believe a one way bus ticket cost ~1200 yen
specialized shuttle bus time table (Japanese only - just enter into Google translate)

Kosaku - Kawaguchiko Branch
Address: 1638-1 Funatsu, Fujikawaguchiko-machi, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi-ken, Japan
Hours: 11:00am - 9:30pm
Tel: 0555-72-1181
website (japanese only)

hoto english menu

Monday, May 12, 2014

tateyama kurobe alpine route

Yesterday I saw the Northern Japan Alps via the Kurobe Gorge Railway while today I will check out these same Alps via the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Although located near each other they have different access points. This route consists of several different types of transportation from railway, rope-ways, buses and even cable cars. Private transportation isn't allowed so you can imagine how crowd and how long the wait times were for certain vehicles. The route is only opened from mid April to the end of November and I chose to go now because the famous snow corridor is only opened from around April to June. Depending on when you go you will get to see snow as far as the eye can see, which is what I saw, or autumn leaves, which is also an awesome sight.

The first part of the route consists of the Toyama Chiho Railway and offers magnificent views of the surrounding mountains and endless fields of farmland.

fields or mirrors??

Next up is the Tateyama Cable Car which marks the ascent of Mt. Tateyama.

After the cable car you'll end up at Bijodaira Station which is known for its beech and cedar trees. There are walking paths people can take but no one was venturing out into the snow. The next part of the journey involves a bus which takes you all the way to Murodo, where the famed snow corridor is located.

view from the bus - going up the mountain the left side has better views
the snow corridor was 13m high that day
snow corridor
Also managed to see the rock ptarmigan called raicho (thunder bird) in Japanese. There are only 240 birds in this area and they are designated as a Special Natonal Treasure. Two Japanese ladies I met later were very jealous that I had seen one and were happy to be able to see the birds via my pictures.

After trampling around in the snow, I hopped back on the bus to go back to Midagahara which has one of the largest wetland areas in Japan. Unfortunately I forgot about the snow so of course there wasn't any wetlands to be seen. I did manage to check out the caldera formed by the eruption of Mt. Tateyama but the path to the caldera was very obscure. Firstly I couldn't find the start of the path and ended up wandering around and around the only visible buildings even entering them and getting strange stares from workers. Finely I had to give up and ask for directions and I ended up following these footsteps up a steep side of the mountain. When I finally realized I had followed the wrong footsteps I had to slip and slide down the steep mountainside. Pretty treacherous considering there wasn't anyone around. I was also afraid there might be wild animals - pretty sure I saw animal prints in the I spoke to myself to scare them off.

the caldera
I opted not to do the whole route since it would have taken 6-8 hours one way. After getting back to Tateyama I took the bus to visit the nearby Shomyo Falls. Shomyo Falls is the highest waterfall in Japan at 350 meters and is actually more awe aspiring than I could capture with my camera. There is quite a walk from the bus stop to the falls so plan accordingly and leave enough time to catch the bus. There were only two other people on the bus heading to the falls, the two women I mentioned earlier. They were surprised I walked ahead by myself, they had gone and changed into waterproof clothes because it had started sprinkling, because recently a person got attacked by a bear nearby. Then they insisted that we walk to the bus stop together. It was funny because I couldn't speak any Japanese and they couldn't really speak English but we still managed to have a "conversation."

shomyo fall and its twin hannoki

The Details
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Operation Period: Mid April to end of November
Access: Dentetsu Toyama Station or from Ogizawa Station in Nagano
website - fares, schedule, highlights, a lot of helpful info!
Japan Guide page on the route

Snow Corridor: Mid April to end of June
Caldera at Midagahara - There is a building across from the bus shelter, the "path" to the caldera is to the left of this building entrance. It won't look like a path but there is a wooden sign with an arrow and Japanese pointing up. I had to climb over the snow bank and what looked like an inaccessible area to find it. 

Shomyo Falls
Bus located outside of Tateyama Station
Fare: 500 yen one way 
Bus Schedule to Shomyo Falls:

top is to shomyo falls; bottom is from shomyo falls to the tateyama train station

Sunday, May 11, 2014

kurobe gorge railway

This weekend finds me heading back to Toyama to check out the Northern Japan Alps via the Kurobe Gorge Railway and the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. The Kurobe Gorge, formed by the Kurobe River, boasts steep vertical cliffs that drop into breathtakingly blue water, lots of trees and spectacular views of nature. I highly recommend coming to this area during the Autumn season to view the trees in all its multicolored glory. The only reason I came so early instead of waiting later is because the snow corridor in the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is only opened from April to May. Hands down the Kurobe Gorge Railway is one of my favorite places in Japan.

In Japan there are some major train fans - you can often see them standing on platforms or viewing areas waiting for trains to come pass so that they can take pictures of them. I enjoy riding trains but I'm not a train fanatic like the people here but the Kurobe Gorge Railway has made me a fan! Japan has some seriously comfortable ones - so nice that I often fall asleep on them but this train has to be the nicest in terms of scenery. The railway was originally built to aid the building of the Kurobe Dam but has since been turned into a sightseeing attraction. Being able to go over bridges and tunnels built on the side of the mountain and taking in the panoramic views of the gorge was exhilarating, especially since we were in a standard car which had no windows!

Shin-Yamabiko Bridge - marks the entrance to the Kurobe Gorge and is the longest bridge to span the Kurobe River
look its a castle (really Shin-Yanagawara Power Plant) on Lake Unazuki - amazing turquoise water
Along the way there are several places you can get off the train to explore the surrounding area. The last of these stops is Keyakidaira.

Hitokui Iwa (People Eater) - a path was cut into the rock which from afar seems as if a stone mouth is swallowing people
Okukane Bridge
While traveling in Hiroshima I briefly met Jodie in the hallway of the hostel we were staying at. Turns out she works and lives in Toyama so I invited her to explore this place together. So glad I did since I had such a great time. Unfortunately we weren't able to explore more of Keyakidaira because a recent typhoon had knocked over trees and such that blocked the paths to further areas.

The last stop of the day was Kanetsuri, the second to last stop on the route. Here you can see the Mannen Yuki, ten thousand year old snow, a semi-permanent snow bank. Snow gets deposited here during the winter and piles so deep that it usually lasts until the following winter.

mannen yuki

Along the river there are hot spring baths which you can soak your feet. You can take a bath here but there are dozens of visitors who walk by so bathe at your own risk! I shall end the post as I usually do with food. In Toyama they are known for shiro ebi which is white shrimp.

white shrimp and veggie tempura - delicious!

The Details
Kurobe Gorge Railway
Access: Unazuki Onsen Station - Toyama Chiho Railway Main Line then walk to Unazuki Station which is where the Kurobe Gorge Railway departs.There are no directional signage so upon exiting Unazuki Onsen Station turn around and walk up the hill.
Operation Period: from mid April to November
Hours: 8:00am-4:30pm (last departure at 3:40pm)
Fare: One way from Unazuki to Keyakidaira - 1710 yen (Standard Coach)
Second class and First class seats are an additional 370 yen and 530 yen respectively
Tip: I recommend riding the standard coach because not only is it the cheapest but it does not have any windows so you can take awesome crisp photos without a window marring it. Just wear a jacket! Also heading in the direction to Keyakidaira sit on the right hand side for the best views.
Tip #2: Best time to go to view the autumn leaves is from October 20th to November 10th
website - for schedule, route guide, etc
Japan guide has a list of points of interest on the route that is more viewer friendly than the official website.

Friday, May 2, 2014

shimen arch

The last stop of the day was to Shimen Arch, a stone arch that was formed by sea erosion.

I had set my camera on a self timer that would take three photos every time. However since the sun was so bright we couldn't tell when the camera was taking pictures so we kept jumping over and over in hopes of getting one good shot. Jumping super high several times in a row on a beach is actually very hard. After doing it several times we were exhausted and in between all these shots we were just laughing uproariously over our failed attempts at this jumping shot. This was the best we could do!

This area was very beautiful and a great beach to sit and admire the view if not as great for swimming. I think I saw people digging for clams and shells around here... There are also a lot of green mossy balls - all that greenery pictured above.

There was a random bridge built here that was interesting to cross. It provided awesome views of the ocean and made me think of star-crossed lovers coming here to meet, of course both running from opposite ends to meet in the middle. Haha.

Ended the day at Raohe Night Market with some mochi covered in white chocolate and oeros. Delicious!

The Details
You can catch the Crown North Coast Bus from Danshuei MRT Station in Taipei or Keelung Train Station. A bus comes every hour on the weekdays and every half hour on the weekend. 200 TWD for unlimited rides. Get off at Shimen Arch stop.
website - find bus routes, schedule and access here

Raohe Night Market
Access: Songshan Station - Songshan-Xindian Line (Green MRT line)

yehliu geopark

So far this past week I've been revisiting and showing my friends around Taipei but I finally got to explore somewhere new! After Jiufen, we went to Yehliu Geopark which has an amazing geological landscape located on a cape with beautiful ocean views. There are several stories about why this area is called Yehliu, yeh which means savage and liu, steal, in Taiwanese. The one I like best states that in the early days the locals relied on rice suppliers from further inland to provide them with rice. During transportation the locals would poke holes in the rice bags so that they could later pick the fallen grains up. As a result the rice traders would often say that "the rice was stolen by the savages," hence the name savage steal or Yehliu.

Despite the weather being so crappy, we had fun taking a bajillion selfies and frolicking amongst the rocks.

There are several types of rocks here but the mushroom rock especially one in particular is iconic of Yehliu. This rock is known as the Queen's Head and its image is often in tourist brochures and such for the area. There was line for people to take an image with the rock...

Queen's Head
We thought we would take the image from the opposite side instead of waiting in line but the other side doesn't resemble a queen's head at all. As we were leaving we walked pass the line and noticed that we could get a picture of the rock without waiting in line. Just gotta step off the path a bit... We might have given some tourists a bad idea since a lot of them climbed up to take pictures with the rock without waiting in line. Oopsies.

a bunch of gals that love jumping pics as much as I do!
I recommend this place if you like geology and scenic pictures of the ocean. If you have a limited amount of time in Taiwan I wouldn't bother coming here since there are a lot more interesting places to see. This is the second stop of the day click here to see the our first stop, Jiufen.

The Details
Yehliu Geopark
Hours: 7:30am-5:00pm
Admission: 80 TWD
Access: There are several different buses departing every 10 or 30 minutes leaving from different locations around Taipei. The journey will take around 80 minutes each way. Check their website for more information.

You can also catch the Crown North Coast Bus from Danshuei MRT Station in Taipei or Keelung Train Station. A bus comes every hour on the weekdays and every half hour on the weekend. 200 TWD for unlimited rides.
website - find bus routes, schedule and access here

jiufen revisited

I spent today with my Taiwanese friends exploring the New Taipei City Area. I was super excited to be able to hang out with them, some who I hadn't seen for more than a year, and to be able to hit up some new areas I hadn't seen before.

First stop was Jiufen which means nine portions in Chinese. This village used to only have nine families and they would always request nine portions when shipments came in - hence the name. After a long drive we had to eat something and so I brought them to the famous Auntie A-Gan Sweet Taro Ball shop.

sweet potato and taro balls are all handmade - so many!
sweet potato and taro balls with taro pieces
The sweet potato and taro balls were just as delicious as I remembered. You can also add toppings like green or red beans (bleugh) for free. In order to get to the seating area you have to walk through the kitchen. The seating area has an amazing view of the sea.

the view is amazing at night - all lit up
ivy is obsessed with her fish eye lenses
You can't imagine how long we sat here taking selfies and hogging the seats with the amazing view. Haha. We finally left because I needed something more substantial than taro balls.

a-mei teahouse
I wanted to eat at A-mei Teahouse because it played a huge inspiration behind Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away. However they only did tea sets when we visited and they were really expensive so we decided to pass. Because Taiwan was colonized by Japan a lot of the buildings in Jiufen still retain its Japanese architecture. The red lanterns found throughout this town provide a very beautiful atmosphere at night when they are all lit up. I've never seen red lanterns like these in Japan and so the ones featured in Spirited Away must stem from the ones found here.

Source: From Pearls to Stinky Tofu
After lunch we had to move on to our next destination. Wish I had more time here to explore the touristy sights!

To see other tourist attractions and local food specialties in Jiufen check out this post. In this post I included access information to this city, not sure if it's still valid since our darling friend Cody drove us this time! Thanks Cody!

The Details
Auntie A-Gan Sweet Taro Ball
No. 5, Shuqi Rd., Ruifang Dist., New Taipei City
tel: 886-2-24976505
hours: Weekdays 08:00~20:00, Holidays 08:00~0:00
sweet potato and taro balls cost $40 NT per bowl (price from 2011 and can't remember if it went up when I visited this time around)