Viewing Mount Fuji

Mount Fuiji

Japan’s Iconic Mountain

Mount Fuji is the highest and most celebrated mountain in Japan and conveniently located about 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. Known to Japanese people by “Fuji San”, it is an active volcanic mountain surrounded by an abundance of natural scenery that includes scenic lakes, caves, and waterfalls. The area is especially beautiful during the springtime cherry blossoms.

Mt. Fuji is one of the top three pilgrimage mountains in Japan and very popular among hikers, but people have also come to this site to relax and enjoy the hot springs in the surrounding nature. It is very spiritual and sacred place to the locals as well as for travelers. Notable pictures and drawings of Mt. Fuji appears in many Edo period prints of Katsushika Hokuai and other artists, Japanese and non-Japanese alike. Because of its cultural significance, Mt. Fuji is UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Getting to Lake Kawaguchiko

One of the best locations to observe Mt. Fuji is from Kawaguchiko in the Five Lakes area which can be accessed by taking JR train (Chuo line bound to Matsumoto from Tokyo) to Otsuki station and transfer to Fujikyu Line. Fujikyu Line platform is not to be missed as it’s well marked with signs in both Japanese and English.

Standard express train works well from Otsuki but to make your trip worth a while, plan ahead and reserve a seat at one of four luxury trains, Fujisan View Express, Fujisan Tozan Train, or if you have kids ride on the Fujisan Express or Thomas Land Train. The new Limited Express Fuji Excursion debuted in March of 2019 providing much needed direct access from Tokyo to Mount Fuji.

Kawaguchiko is the last station on Fujikyu Line from Otsuki and here are some of the highlights in the area.

Mount Fuji

Things to Do

Arakura Sengen Shrine
Hike up the hillside of Mt. Arakura for about 20 minutes to Arakura Sengen Shrine to see a panoramic view of Mount Fuji. Best to go there in April to see sakura on the back drip of the Mt. Fuji. To avoid crowds, get there early in the morning.

Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park
Kids and families can enjoy rides in the backdrop of Mt. Fuji.

Lake Kawaguchiko Excursion Ship
Enjoy European style cruising ship to make a 20 minutes tour of the lake.

Mt. Fuji Ropeway
Take a 3 minute ropeway to the park and enjoy the view of Mt. Fuji. A folk story “Kachi Kachi Yama” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa was based here.

Ubuya Hotel
If you are spending a night in Kawaguchiko, indulge yourself by booking a room at Ubuya Hotel. It is a traditional Ryokan with outdoor hot spring in many of their traditional rooms. Enjoy the wonderful hospitality and and the traditional Kaiseki Dinner.
Japanese Rain Drop Cake

What to Eat

Raindrop Cake
This delicious yet low calorie dessert called Shingen Mochi is made from mineral water from Mt. Fuji and agar, resembling raindrops. The mochi is then sweetened with Kuromitsu, molasses like syrup and Kinako, soybean powder. Shingen Mochi was named after Shingen Takeda, a pre-eminent daimyo as it was his favorite dessert.

Kamakura Day Trip

Kamakura koko mae station

A Stroll Around Kamakura City

For an unforgettable day trip from Tokyo, consider making the journey to Kamakura City. Located approximately one hour from Tokyo by train, Kamakura is a seaside resort town popular with locals for the sand beaches, surfing, boutique shops, temples and shrines. It’s also home to one of the most famous buddha statues in all of Japan.

History:
Kamakura was the ancient capital of Japan (Kamakura period, 1185-1333) where the first warrior led government was established under the Minamoto shogun. During this period Kamakura was also home to an influential buddhist priest, and the city is a known for its historic temples.

Location:
Kamakura city is located approximately one hour from Tokyo (30 minutes from Yokohama on JR Yokosuka Line). You can travel there with a JR Pass until you reach Kamakura Station, and local trains or buses around Kamakura will be an extra charge.

Kamakura Komachi Dori retail shopping stree
Komachi Ooji

Visit Komachi Ooji for Shopping

Kamakura Station > Tsuruoka Hachimangu > Komachi Ooji > Kamakura Station

From Kamakura Station East Exit, walk towards Wakamiya Oji, a main street that connects to the Tsuruoka Hachimangu, Shinto Shrine. After visiting the shrine, walk back towards station along Komachi Ooji where there are many small shops and cafes. Make sure to snack on dango – a rice cake on stick with sweet red bean paste or sweet soy sauce.

If you have extra time, start off your trip by getting off the train at North Kamakura Station and visit less known Tokeiji Temple. Built in 1285, Tokeiji Temple or divorce temple was run by nuns and gave refuge to women who separated from their husbands and lacked the resources to support themselves. After strolling around the beautiful garden, take class on sitting meditation, tea ceremony or flower arrangements.

Attractions

Tsuruoka Hachimangu
Kamakura shi, yukinoshita 2-1-31
Hours: 6:00 am -8:00 pm
Admission: Free
Tokeiji Temple
Kamakura shi, yamanouchi 1367
Hours: 8:30-4:30
Admission: 200-400 yen
Kamakurabori Museum
Kamakurashi, komachi 2-15-13
Hours: 9:30-4:30
Admission: 300 yen

Kamakura Great Budha
Great Buddha of Kamakura

See the Great Buddha of Kamakura

Kamakura Station > Great Buddha > Yuigahama Odori > Onari Dori > Kamakura Station

Back at Kamakura Station, take a Enoshima Line to Hase Station to go see Great Buddha. Hase station is the third station from Kamakura. There is also a city bus service is also available to Great Buddha. From Hase station, just follow the “Great Buddha” signs. Admission is 200 yen.

(Note: Hase Temple, known as Flower Temple is also along the way and highly recommended. Enjoy lunch or snack at cafe located in the premise.)

From Great Buddha, walk back towards Hase Station. At Hase Kan-non Bus Stop, take left on Yuigahama street and keep walking and you will hit the Yuigahama beach in about 20 minutes.

Yuigahama street is less known to tourists but has many great cafes, sake shops, senbei (rice crackers) shops and historical buildings. Kamakura Literature Museum with rose garden is also worth visiting and is only 5 minutes away. Continue walking until Onaridori and take left (there is a meat shop on the intersection). Onaridori is a shopping street for locals and you can find shops, bookstores, cafes, and bakeries.

Attractions

Great Buddha
Kamakura shi, hase 4-2-28
Hours: 8-4:00
Admission: 200 yen
Kamakura Literature Museum
Kanagawa ken,kamakura shi,Hase,1-5-3
Hours: 9:00-4:30 (Closed Monday)
Admission: varies 300-400 yen
Yuigahama Beach
Kamakura shi, Yuigahama, 4-4

What to Eat in Kamakura

Shirasu Don

One of the most popular dishes in Kamakura is shirasu or young sardines served raw or half-boiled. They are in season April through December, and there are restaurants all over Kamakura specializing in variations of shirasu.

Don’t forget to stop in Yokohama on the way back to Tokyo and have ramen for dinner.

More Photos

Tsuruoka Hachimangu
Tsuruoka Hachimangu

Kamakura Divorce Shelter
Tokeiji Temple

Matsumoto Day 3

Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin

Matsumoto and Yayoi Kusama

Click here for previous posts: Day 1& Day 2
Two hours before my departure from Matsumoto, I made my way to Matsumoto Art Museum exploring internationally acclaimed artist Yayoi Kusama’s exhibits “All About My Love” and “Eternal Life”.

Matsumoto is the birthplace to many talented artists including Yayoi Kusama. How inspiring it was to see so many of her original artworks on display showing her devotion to art with her signature bright colors and repetitive patterns. You can feel the energy in her art. As I walked through the exhibits, I learned that much of her art is derived from years of her struggle with mental illness. It was heartbreaking to see some of her childhood drawing showing her mental struggle at very young age such as a sketch of her mother covered in black small dots.
Japanese Bakery, Matsumoto

Walking to the train station, I picked up Sakura Manjyu (a bun filled with sweetened red beans and topped with pickled sakura flower) and a Russian Piroshki made with buckwheat and stuffed with mushrooms and reflected on my two day visit to Matsumoto.

There is something that touches your heart here; people and their stories, food, culture, history, nature and art that can not be experienced elsewhere. Deep down I hear my voices telling me to share my experiences with the world but another voice is telling me to keep it a secret. As I left the train station bound for Yamanashi, I made a secret promise with myself to return to this town many more times in the forthcoming years.

Yayoi Kusama Textile Art
Here are my favorite places in Matsumoto and also places where we will visit during our 2019 Spring Art Tour to Japan:

Matsumoto Castle
One of Japan’s historic premiere castles, also known as “Crow Castle” for its color.

Matsumoto Art Museum
Featuring Yayoi Kusama’s artwork as well as local and national artists. Only ten-minute walk from Matsumoto station.

Shioribi Book Store
A small independent bookstore located near Matsumoto Art Museum. A small cafe on the first floor offer drinks and pastries. Upstairs holds rare independent books and gifts. Next to Shioribi is a small art supply shop and Alps Gohan restaurant also recommended.

Nakamachi Dori
Old merchant’s street near Matsumoto Castle lined with art and crafts stores.

Chikiriya Folk Art Store (located on Nakamachi Dori, no website)
Mingei shop started by Taro Maruyama of the Matsumoto Folk Art Museum. Many selections on local and national crafts including Okinawa and Kyushu glassware, baskets, dishware and potteries.

Tabishiro Guest House
Guest houses are not only for budget travelers any more. Tabishiro offers an wonderful atmosphere make you feel like you are staying at your friend’s house. Wood burning fireplace in living area warms you up on chilly nights. Located near Matsumoto Castle and a popular destination among hikers and non-hikers alike.

Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum
https://taiken.co/single/matsumoto-folk-craft-museum-the-legacy-of-the-folk-art-movement
Located in Utsukushigahara neighborhood next to famous hot springs.

Marumo Cafe
Located near Matsumoto Castle on Nakamachi Dori. This “Arts and Crafts” cafe was built in 1956 along with Marumo Ryokan (also highly recommended). The cafe is filled with folk art furnitures makes you feel as if you felt like going back in time

The Japan Folk Crafts Museum

Japan Folk Craft Musuem

Japanese Folk Crafts Museum

After breakfast at my hotel, I set foot out the door on a beautiful early summer day to go visit the Japanese Folk Crafts Museum in Meguro, Tokyo. I transferred trains at the Shibuya Station to the Inogashira Line which took me to the Komada-Todai-Mae station. From the station, it’s a quick 10 minute walk across one of Tokyo’s residential neighborhoods. At ten o’clock, I arrived to The Japan Folk Crafts Museum to see a featured exhibit by Samiro Yunoki, a well known textile artists.

The two story Arts and Crafts building sits along the quiet street of Meguro-ku and was built in 1930’s by Soetsu Yanagi (1889-1961). A well known philosopher and a the founder the folk art movement in Japan known as mingei. At the museum, you’ll be able to see has vast folk arts and craft collection from across Japan and Okinawa.

Exhibit at Japan Folk Crafts Museum

On the second floor is Samiro Yunoki’s textile exhibit. He is an dyeing artist and was greatly influenced by Soets Yanagi and folk art. He is known for his use of bright and lively colors combined with traditional styles and techniques.

With help of the Iwate Folk Textile Museum, the second floor has an extensive collection of breathtaking beauty of fabrics and textiles from the northern part of Japan. Many of Samiro Yunoki’s fabric were dyed with technique called katazome and feature unique geometric patterns.

Japan Folk Crafts Musuem
Their annual “New Works Competition Exhibition” in December is worth checking out as many of hand-made crafts become available to the public for purchase.

Japanese Folk Craft Museum
4-3-33 Komaba, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

Visiting Asakusa in Tokyo

Nakamisedori, Asakusa Tokyo

Guide to Asakusa

If you are one of those lucky people visiting Tokyo, chances are that you want to spend some time exploring Asakusa, “lower town” of Tokyo. Located in Tai To District along the Sumida River, Asakusa is easily accessible by taking Asakusa or Ginza Subway Line.

Asakusa is home to Sensoji, the oldest temple in Tokyo as well as crafts and shops that have an Edo era nostalgia. The area was a settled by craftsman and working class families who added charm and vitality to Asakusa with old traditions and unpretentious food.

Wearing Kimonos in Asakusa

Enjoy rickshaw ride, river cruise dinner or rent a kimono and stroll around the temple. This is also a great place to shop for gifts for friends and family before you head back home. There is an energy to Asakusa that you can not experience elsewhere in Japan.

Day visit to Asakusa is included in our Art and Culture Tour to Japan (Spring of 2019) as well as in upcoming Textile Tour (coming soon).

River Cruise Boat in Tokyo

Asakusa Highlights

Asakusa Temple (浅草寺)
It is believed to be the oldest temple in Tokyo it was built in 628 and features a Gojyuto “five- story tower”, Kaminarimon “thunder gate” and Nakamisedori, “beautiful approach to the temple”. Make sure to apply incense smoke to your body as it is said to cure illness.

Nakamisedori (仲見世通り)
Nakamisedori is a 250 meter walk from the Kaminari Gate to the temple. There are over 90 shops lines the approach selling Asakusa speciality such as Ningyo Yaki (doll-shaped pound cake stuffed with red beans, cooked in front of you) and other treats and souvenirs. Kimuraya Shop is the oldest store selling Ningyo Yaki since 1868.

Ekimise (駅店)
A department store located above the Asakusa Station. The basement is filled with shops selling regional foods. delicacies, sake and beer. They also carry electronics, clothing, stationery and books. A great place to wander around before you ending your journey to Japan.

Asakusa Cultural Tourism Center (浅草文化ツーリズムセンター)
Conveniently located across the street from Kaminari Gate. This tourism center should be able to help you with any questions you might have around Asakusa. From the viewing deck on the 8th floor, you be able to see the Tokyo Skytree as well as Namamisedori.

Taiyaki

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)
Asakusa is known for casual everyday food and Okonomiyaki is not to be missed when visiting Asakusa. At restaurants specializing in these “as you like” savory cabbage pancakes you’ll be able to make your own on a hot griddle at your table.. You can also enjoy this delicious street food at home. Here is the recipe from your food blog.

Kappabashi (かっぱ橋)
Located between Asakusa and Ueno is Kappabashi or “Kitchen Town”. This entire district features over 170 shops selling cooking supplies, knives, dishes and almost everything you need for starting and operating a food business. Kappabashi is only 10 minutes walk from Asakusa and totally worth a visit.

To Tip or Not to Tip in Japan

Tipping in Japan

Tipping in Japan

Generally speaking, tipping in not an accepted custom in Japan. This might feel odd coming from United States, but workers in Japan do not rely in tip income for their salary. In fact, handing cash to someone is considered a pity and you might actually offend that person. Another reason is that Japan is a nation of hospitality and people do not put a cash value on providing hospitality to one’s guests. Instead, people will exchange gifts, show appreciation by bowing and saying thank you..

Before your trip, it’s helpful to gain an understanding the practices of tipping in Japan. Below are a few guidelines to help you know when it’s ok to leave a tip and how to show your appreciation for a job well done.

Here are places tipping is NOT accepted or in some cases consider rude:

  • Restaurants (servers, host, bussers, etc)
  • Cafes
  • Taxi drivers
  • Porters
  • Hair stylists
  • Bartenders
  • Hotels

Here are places (very few) where you might want to tip:

  • Ryokan-where you have a server (nakai) assigned to your room who goes extra miles or do personal favors to help you enjoy your stay.
  • Personal guide, interpreter and translators. Again, if he or she goes beyond his or her means to assure you a great experience, then you might consider tipping them.

How to tip:
As mentioned above, it is considered rude to hand someone cash. If you decide to tip someone, money should be placed in an envelope then hand it to them.

I really want to show my appreciation, what should I do?
Japan is a country of gift giving. It is always a good idea to bring some small souvenir from you home country. From where I live in Midwest, I always take small bottles of maple syrup, locally made crafts such as dream catchers or silver jewelry by Native Americans (keep it light!). People in Japan love to exchange gifts and your locally made or sourced gifts will be greatly appreciated.

Also, bowing and show appreciation in kind words are great way in Japan. Learn few phrases such as “Arigato gozaimasu” or “Oishikatta desu” and this will go a long way.

Happy Travels!