As many of you guys might’ve noticed, I’ve been awol/afk for a while. Sure I’ve returned from my little excursion to Japan a little over a week ago, but I’ve had lots of stuff to catch up. Plus, uploading all these DSLR images to WordPress’ server was no easy feat. Regardless, I finally found a time that I could feel comfortable sitting down and churning out what could be one of the biggest entries I’ve ever written.
Anyways, this isn’t exactly a gigantic image dump; I’ll be including ample commentary to highlight my short 5-day escapade to Karuizawa, Kinugawa, and finally Tokyo.
If your webpage loads incredibly slow, I apologize in advance as there’s lots of images and the image files sizes are quite large!
For the specific Tokyo-based photos, please check my instagram!
On the first day / arrival in Japan, the tour’s primary destination was Karuizawa. For those of you who don’t know where that is, it’s on the Northwestern side of Tokyo. Karuizawa is a rather small area that features onsen, world class golf courses, a gigantic outlet, and the more famous tourist-y streets.
Essentially, the streets are not your typical Tokyo streets that are lined with conventional stores. Instead, the entire Karuizawa area is more or less tailored towards tourists- Japanese and other nationals. The stores are essentially shops that sell the area’s specialties. In particular, Karuizawa is apparently famous for their jams. The most famous store is called “Sawaya Jam” and features a wide selection of jams that have real fruit inside them.
Alternatively, there’s also jam stores that offer different selections such as pudding jams. Honestly, I really thought they were pudding, and when I put it in my mouth…well that’s when I realized I just swallowed a huge chunk of jam and…it was too much.
Aside from stores that sell jams and other goodies to take home, Karuizawa’s shops also include various kinds of delicacies. For example, I had one of the best ice creams I’ve had at a cafe called Saku G.
Jesus Christ it was delicious.
Not to mention the decor of the joint was pretty upscale too.
In addition to the long list of dessert shops, there’s also a famous “cheesecake shop”. Well…at least that’s what the tour guide / everyone said. Like I mean, the damn place’s name has “candy shop” in it. Not sure what they meant by cheesecake. Or…I did see a cheesecake, but that seems to be hardly the flagship item.
I ended up ordering an egg tart and a pudding. The pudding is one of the freshest I’ve tasted, but …the egg tart? Let’s just say, I’m Taiwanese and I’m biased to think nothing beats KFC’s egg tarts in Taiwan. It comes close though, I’ll give it that.
Aside from sweets, Karuizawa is somehow also known for it soba.
Yeah that’s right. You might wonder, a place that only focuses on sweets and omiyage is also known for soba?
Let me tell you.
Shut up and go eat it.
The soba is the best I’ve ever had, and the way they make it? Decadent. After my experience there, I reconfirmed with my Japanese professor (who was also visiting Karuizawa at the time), and she affirmed that it was the #1 soba place in Karuizawa.
Well, what do you make of it?
After our tour of Karuizawa’s streets, the next stop was the gigantic outlet. The outlet featured a lot of name brands at a good discount % and was mostly tax-free. While the shops and the merchandise was nothing special, you could say the view was amazing!
Aside from shopping, Karuizawa is also known for its great scenery. After the outlet, we were taken to some peculiar “waterfall” that was crescent-shaped. I swear it looked like one of those movie backdrops!
After the waterfall, we settled into our hotel for the evening. Honestly, a ryokan isn’t supposed to be small like a typical Tokyo hotel…but…this has literally got to be the biggest hotel I’ve ever been to. With a full shower and bath tub, living room, 2 separate bedrooms rooms (each the size of a normal hotel room), and 2 bathrooms, I would definitely have to say it’s the largest hotel room I’ve ever been to.
And it’s not like I was accompanied with my entire family. No, I was just with my mom. This just happened to be the “standard room”. Anyways, as with all ryokan, they have onsen somewhere in facility, and I can assure you I was there for quite awhile. No, I’m not gay.
In accordance to my habits of observing traditional customs, I myself bought a few cans of beer after my onsen experience. Interestingly, Karuizawa has their own brewery based here, and of course, I just gotta try the local brew!
Well…it’s nothing really “special” and it’s not exactly “cheaper than the rest” either, but…it does sort of has its own distinct flavor. But that’s about it. Oh, and the cans looks sorta cool too.
The next day, we headed to a local attraction that is based on volcanic rock formations. The view and the scenery was very different and I’m sure…if it were at night, I could swear you can feel something eerie about the place. After all, the place is known to be where “ghosts” or “demons” live.
However, during the broad daylight, the attraction was a very nice stroll and offered several opportunities for good scenery shots.
At this point into this entry, if you’re wondering why the next few photos might be all scenery, it’s because Nikko was once a famous “summer resort” for the Tokugawa shogunate. In fact, there is THE Tokugawa family shrine there where his supposed tomb is. However, to be completely accurate, that is not where his cremated remains are. For more information, there’s Google-sensei.
As with my first night’s location, our second hotel was also a ryokan. Apparently 20 years ago or so, Kinugawa used to be a popular onsen location; however, as times moved on, more onsen locations around the country were exploited. Thus, Kinugawa turned into somewhat of a ghost town with a handful of residents and occasional tourist groups. Meanwhile, the surviving ryokans and shops are all highly recommended, so the quality of my stay was rather enjoyable.
While Kinugawa’s fall is somewhat understandable, I still don’t understand how people can pass up the great location though…
In contrast to the first evening’s onsen experience, I can say I prefer Kinugawa’s much more. While it’s the same format of an indoor and an outdoor tub, the quality of tubs are so different. Furthermore, the outdoor tub at Kinugawa…holy cow it’s the same view as the pictures I took above.
I’m sure people saw me buck naked (that aren’t the other guys) from other hotels or streets, but like I give a damn. The view was gorgeous! I probably spent a bit too long in the onsen admiring the view…
The third day was pretty much dedicated to the Tokugawa shrine and then heading back to Tokyo.
The shrine…well, there’s not that much to explain really. You’re just there to observe the legacy of the Tokugawa and the ancient architectural accomplishments.
After spending about 2-3 hours at the Tokugawa shrine, our tour begun the long drive back to Tokyo. Our first stop and last “destination” as a tour group was at Odaiba.
While Odaiba has several shopping complexes, why would you need to visit all of them when you can just go to Diver City and look at the Gundam? Sure we went to Venus Fort and the Toyota exhibit as well, but really, let’s be honest. Who goes to Odaiba and doesn’t take photos of the Gundam?
Pending image dump:
While I had no qualms about staying at a somewhat 2-3 star hotel, I came to understand the price they were charging. At a 10M (meter) walk away from the Tokyo Metro station (Ryogoku), it really is incredibly convenient. Also, the Ryogoku station is close to several other transfer stations so you can get to major stops in relatively little time.
For example, I visited Ikebukuro for some famous ramen there, and also Akiba for anime/electronics. I also visited Shinjuku for the department stores. I even visited Roppongi for Midtown and their famous Puma Black store. Lastly, I also spent the last day at Skytree and shopping at the mall (Solamachi) downstairs for the entire last day.
Unfortunately, I did not bring my DSLR for the final days as lugging around a big camera in the city while buying stuff is incredibly inconvenient. Thus, I opted to take lots of photos on my phone. Said photos can be seen at my instagram.
Anyways, that pretty much wraps up my 5-day Japan trip. I particularly enjoyed this trip because it was a perfect balance between shopping and admiring the country. However, the trip was jam packed in to 5 days, so you more or less got only a “taste” of what each location was like.
Even for shopping in Tokyo, blitzing 4-5 major locations in one day is incredibly tiring. Not something I’d recommend for some with the faint of heart or weak knees.
Of course, I didn’t write too many details (not that all of y’all would be interested anyways) into the post about the locations I visited. However, if any of you guys have questions regarding the locations I visited, the food I ate, or the shops I went to, let me know! I’ll be happy the answer any question to the best of my ability!~