In June 2017, we made a 5-day trip to Tokyo for a short getaway. Last time, we spent most of the time in the bustling capital, with only a full day excursion to visit the World Heritage temples and Alpine scenery of Nikko. A year had passed. In late May 2018, we embarked on another Japanese journey to explore parts of Chubu Region (中部地方), the central region of Honshu (本州) between Kantō Region (関東地方) and Kansai Region (関西地方). The journey took us to the Prefecture of Nagano (長野県), Gifu (岐阜県), Toyama (富山県), and Ishikawa (石川県). We picked Kamikochi (上高地), a picturesque hiker’s hub in the Japanese Alps, and the charming city of Kanazawa (金沢) as main destinations, stopping by Matsumoto (松本), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉), Takayama (高山), Shirakawago (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山) along the way. We planned for five days in the city and five in the countryside, aiming for a balance between cosmopolitan and nature fascinations. It turned out to be a delightful and diverse experience with mouth-watering seafood, refreshing Alpine hiking, invigorating hot-springs, romantic Gassho-style villages, cozy morning markets, and a magical floating lantern festival.
Once again, our journey began in an early morning in Tokyo (東京), after our red-eye flight landed at Haneda International Airport (羽田空港) a little after 6am. At the airport, we first went to pick up our railway tickets and seat reservations at the JR office. It was convenient to make online reservations to ensure seat availability on trains of our desired schedule, but that didn’t save us from queuing for an hour before we reached the JR counter and finalized our purchases. We then braved the rush hour taking the Tokyo Monorail to Hamamatsuchō (浜松町駅), and switched to the JR Yamanote Line (山手線) to Shinjuku to drop off our backpacks at the hotel. After all the sweat of moving through the jammed platforms, cramped train cars and busy streets of Shinjuku (新宿) with our backpacks, time was perfect for a hearty breakfast to kick start our first day. We decided to take the Marunouchi Metro Line to revisit Tsukiji Market (築地市場), the legendary fish market that was about to be relocated later this year.
Our journey took us from Tokyo (東京) to parts of the Chubu Region (中部地方), staying overnight at Kamikochi (上高地), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉), Takayama (高山), Gokayama (五箇山), and Kanazawa (金沢), and passed by Matsumoto (松本) and Shirakawago (白川郷) along the way.
Our plane flew over the iconic Mount Fuji (富士山) before landing at Haneda International Airport of Tokyo.
We hopped on the Tokyo Monorail from Haneda Airport to Hamamatsuchō (浜松町駅). The train was soon packed with morning commuters after a few stops.
We arrived at the packed Hamamatsuchō Station (浜松町駅) and switched to JR’s Yamanote Line (山手線) heading for Shinjuku (新宿).
It was such a relief after dropping off our backpacks at the hotel in Shinjuku (新宿) and ventured out to Tsukiji Market (築地市場) for a seafood breakfast.
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CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE
Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)
Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)
Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)
Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)
Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)
Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)
The sky was grey on our last day in Tokyo. We decided to spend the morning at nearby Harajuku (原宿). We moved our suitcase and backpack to the lockers in Shibuya Station (渋谷), and then took the JR Yamanote Line (山手線) one stop over to Harajuku. Despite we had been to Harajuku a few times, we had never ventured beyond the shopping and entertainment areas. This time, we decided to spend a peaceful morning at Meiji Jingu (明治神宮), the Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, the insightful leader who modernized Japan at the end of the 19th century. Built in 1920, the original shrine complex was destroyed during World War Two. The shrine was rebuilt soon after the war. We had seen photographs of the large and lovely torii gates at the forested path of Meiji Shrine. It was interesting to see such massive and traditional wooden structures surrounded by mature trees at the heart of Tokyo, just a stone throw away from all the neon lights of youthful Takeshita Street (竹下通り) and fashionable Omotesandō (表参道). While we were there, some buildings were under renovations for its 100th anniversary in 2020. We took our time to walk around the compound, wrote down our wishes on an ema (wooden plate to hang at the shrine), and enjoyed a peaceful walk in the urban forest.
Before heading back to Shibuya for the Narita Express, we dropped by the roof garden of Tokyu Plaza for breakfast. Most shops had yet opened their doors in Harajuku, and we had another quiet moment in an urban oasis. By the time we returned to Shibuya to pick up our luggage, it finally started to rain. The rain lasted for the entire afternoon. It was still raining heavily when our plane took off at the runway of Narita later that day.
There are a few locker areas at Shibuya Station. We almost went to a wrong locker area to pick up our luggage. Luckily, when we left our luggage we took a photo of the locker area to remind ourselves, and that proved handy at the end.
The timber structure of Harajuku Station is unique in Tokyo. Hopefully this historical building can survive the massive redevelopment of the area prior to the Olympic Games.
We loved the massive torii gate of Meiji Jingu. The natural finish matches perfectly with the surrounding forest.
Sake offering at the Meiji Jingu.
The second large torii gate midway into the path of Meiji Jingu.
Quite a number of buildings at Meiji Jingu were under renovation for 2020.
There were a lot of visitors at the early hours of the day.
The natural appearance of a Japanese timber structure offers the best harmony with the surrounding nature.
Writing the Ema (wooden prayer plates) is always fun.
After hanging our ema, we bid farewell to the peaceful Meiji Jingu.
Time was still early when we walked to Tokyu Plaza. Since the shopping centre had yet opened its doors, we found our way up to the roof garden via an elevator at the side.
The roof garden of Tokyu Plaza is always a great place to hang out. While some were having breakfast like us, there were a few dozing off at the far corners.
Not many visitors were around. We could admire the interesting design of the decking.
Looking down to the intersection of Omotesando and Meiji Jingumae, the popular crossing were almost empty of pedestrians.
The rain hadn’t arrived yet, and we had a relaxing breakfast at the roof garden.
A brief Tokyo holiday in Mid-June 2017 was an ad-hoc decision after consecutive weeks of exhausting overtime work in April and May. With so much to offer as a cosmopolitan, Tokyo is an ideal destination that always delights us in various aspects from design exhibitions, novel fashion, seasonal delicacies to a simple cup of coffee. For five splendid days in the supposedly rainy season, we were fortunate to enjoy three full days of sunshine, and encountered only an hour or two of heavy rain on the last day as we were about to leave the Japanese capital on the Narita Express train.
Famed for its scramble crossing, youthful fashion and glittering neon lights, Shibuya (渋谷) of Tokyo also has a tranquil side lying just a block or two away from its vibrant shopping and entertainment scenes, and that was where we stayed for four nights at the periphery of the 24-hour vibrant actions of Shibuya. Since the morning when the Narita Express train brought us directly from the airport after our red-eye flight from Hong Kong, we immediately found Shibuya an excellent base within walking distance to the surrounding neighborhoods such as Harajuku (原宿), Aoyama (青山), Ebisu (恵比寿), Daikanyama (代官山) and Nakameguro (中目黒), and a super convenient hub for public transit, where the JR Yamanote Line (山手線) intersects with several other Metro Lines and Private Railway Lines.
Our Tokyo journey 2017 began in Shibuya, in the midst of magnificent urban dynamic where the stylish young generation flock to the trendy fashion shops, where the locals gather around the statue of Hachikō (the loyal Akita dog (秋田犬) that continued to stay in front of Shibuya Station to wait for its owner for nine years after the owner’s death) to meet their friends, and where exciting tourists would stand in the flock of people at the scramble crossing for selfies in between traffic lights. A slight drawback on staying in Shibuya was the intense construction works surrounding the station due to the upcoming Olympics Games. With the new additions of commercial towers, underground shopping streets, and a beautiful new railway station, we anticipate a dramatic transformation of Shibuya before 2020. The current hoarding around construction sites, temporary walkways and directional signs enhance the maze-like character of this world’s fourth busiest railway station. After all, we came to Tokyo to experience its magnificent urban vibrancy and dynamic cultures, and we were more than happy to call Shibuya home for five fantastic days.