A Travellerspoint blog

Tazawako, Akita


Monday 15th October

Hello, have you wondered where we had been. We have been nearing the top of Honshu, in a place called Tazawako. No wi-fi to be had at that hotel so this is being typed in Tokyo. Hooray finally we have wi- fi, but Tokyo's later. What have we been doing the last two days.

We left Utsunomiya around 10:30 on the Yamabiko to Sendai. While we were waiting for the train to arrive two non-stop Shinkansens flew through the station. Phew, no slowing down there, the noise and buffeting wind as they went by was amazing. you'd have no chance getting out of the way of one of them. Then a double train pulled in, two shinkansens attached to each other, very unusual, or so we thought. another came in and then our train was the same.


We Arrived in Sendai at 11:33 with our connecting train due to leave at 11:38. Five minutes with the way we get around the stations was not good news so we were at the train door ready to run. As I hit the platform found the next train we needed, Komachi, and it was on the other side of the platform we were on. Cool. No need to go up and down escalators. It was also a double train. When we stopped at Morioka station the two trains separated and the one we were on went left. to Akita and the other further up the Honshu. They made several announcements about the trains splitting and making sure you were in the right cars. We stepped out to watch the trains being separated but it was already done, so we quickly hopped back on in case we got left behind. Arrived Tazawako at 1pm and straight away you knew you were in a town that had been used in the Korean movie Iris. Now not many of you would know the movie but Chris, Erica and myself watched it and really enjoyed it, a kind of North/South Korea spy, thriller, love story. The main reason we came to Tazawako was to see the golden girl statue, Tatsuko, which featured in the movie and was where the lovers, Hyun Joon and Seung Hee embrace. We did not realise how many places here and in the surrounding areas were used and how big it still was.


Booked our onwards tickets and tried to see about upgrading to the Green Cars (first class) just to experience the difference. The guy behind the counter looked very surprised but worked it out - over 19,000 yen extra for two ($230). I don't think so, that's really expensive. The difference between first and economy in KTX in Korean was only $40.

The station had an Iris Museum, which we planned to return to as our bus was due to leave. Number 1 bus does a 20km circuit around Lake Tazawa and our hotel, Tazawako Rose Park Hotel, was at the ten km mark and the only hotel on that side of the lake. But it was 200m from the statue. Took about half an hour to get to hotel along narrow two lane roads with 30/40 speed zones, very pretty area though.

We were an hour early to book in but they let us in. Hotel seemed very quiet. It is only open from April to mid- November and I'd say we were definitely outside the busy time. Our room was on the top floor, floor 6, with a perfect view across the lake ( Japan's deepest lake at 423.4m)


Went off to see Tatsuko and the Ukiki Shrine, next to it. It was also used in the movie but featured as a different location, where Hyundai Joon talks to the North Korea girl, Sun Hwa who's been tracking and trying to kill him.


We then did our usual trick of finding a set of steps somewhere, these were going up the hill side and we followed them. No idea where we were heading but found a concrete shelter and birch broom so naturally flying poses took place.


Follow the trail to what appeared to be holiday homes and then down a winding road to the entrance. Sign at the bottom said it was a kilometre to Tatsuko statue so at least we knew where we were. It was getting very cold and across the road was a fruit shop and inside it had an open grill for toasting chestnuts. We did not linger too long knowing it would be to much to bear to go back outside. Very refreshed we return in time for some sunset shots of Tatsuko and then back to get ready for our dinner sitting at 6pm.


Only one other couple in the dining room and they were having Japanese style dinner and were in and out quite quickly. We had western and it was 4 courses and coffee and absolutely delicious, oishi. This must be what it feels to be wealthy and buy out the whole hotel.

No evening walk tonight as it was far too cold.

Posted by tojoken 22:59 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

MotoGP Motegi Twin Ring Circuit, Japan


Sunday 14th October

Up at 5am to catch the first bus, 5:50am, to the race track. Queues already forming so I stood in while Chris grabbed us the good ol Maccers, bacon egg mcmuffin, hash brown and coffee combo to get us through the morning. Funny thing we've discovered, not sure if particular to Utsonomiya, but the locals don't like to stand on buses. The seats filled up before we were anywhere near getting on the first bus but then no one would go on. The call went out to anyone who would be happy to stand, so we worked out because it was all in Japanese, and we jumped at the chance. Not getting up this early to start being fussy. Cost 1,500 yen each one way, about $18.


Ride to Motegi Twin Ring took an hour on quiet, back street roads. You would think that they would take a direct route on a raceday, we passed over the highway several times and saw signs for the expressway but no, we meandered though tiny streets slowly making our way there. The circuit is set in what looks like a national park area, mountains and trees all around. Lots of people milling already there but not so we couldn't go straight up to the ticket counter and exchange our internet voucher for real race day tickets. Good opportunity to buy and look at all the merchandise tents before walking to our stand.


Stand Z was in the back of beyond, much like when we buy rugby tickets, we always seem to have the seats furtherest from the entrance. Seat all in shade at this time and still a bit of condensation on then so once we knew where we were we went for a wander.


The only practice session was in the morning for each class and started at 8:40 and by that time our seats were dry. Nice and cool spot with the sun just starting to warm our backs. The stand opposite us, think Stand G, was facing the sun and didn't look to catch a lot of breeze and the people there were already fan themselves.

Stand Z only saw a straight coming into a corner and while there was the occasional running off or spill, was not a big enough area for enough of the race. It had come recommended in my google searches as a good spot. Yes, it was but there were definitely better ones. Stick to the main stand or even next to the main stand was general admission seating with great views of majority of circuit apart from our section.
Clouded over before the main race at 2pm. Thought we may have had some rain but it held off. The National Anthem of Japan was played and only about half the crowd where we were sitting stood up which surprised me. Then two fighter jets did there fly over a couple of times. The crowd was so awed by them that the GP boys barely got noticed as they went around for their sighting lap. Boy, these bikes cover the circuit quickly. In the previous 2 races I would turn my camera on as they hit the hairpin before coming down our straight and I would focus on the corner and wait for the bikes to appear. With the MotoGP guys they were there before I had focussed the camera.


The flag marshalls went to extraordinary lengths to celebrate the end of the race and the bikes came around for the victory/thank the fans lap.


Got the first bus home from the circuit. We probably would have been waiting on the third bus, judging by the numbers ahead of us but again not one wanted to standing and we hopped on. Half an hour into homeward journey it started to shower with rain so glad we weren't standing in that. Quite a bit of traffic around and took over 100minutes to get back, again driving through all the back streets. This driver was definitely on a go slow though, looked like he was called in to help with the raceday passengers, he was not making an effort for anyone.

Cannot believe they do not have a better transport system to and from the track. In a country so advanced in running trains on time to the minute, I cannot understand why they do not have a rail system that runs out to the track. Raceday numbers were only about half full from the look of the stands and I would think that getting to and from the track would be a big deterrent. A hundred minutes on a bus trip after a great day really puts a dampner on it.

But ending on a happy note, we did get to see Casey Stoner race and as we left the circuit there were a dozen of so workers standing with signs in different languages saying goodbye, well, the English one said SEE YOU AGAIN. Lovely touch.

Posted by tojoken 16:02 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Utsunomiya - MotoGP Here We Come


Saturday 13th October

Another glorious clear morning. Room affords such a great view of Mt Fuji


I think they must have taken pity in us because breakfast hot pot was ham and we added the egg, still quite a bit of fish and its strong tasty like mackerel or smoked herring, not what I find pleasant to start the day on. But the ham and egg was plenty along with the steamed rice, juice and coffee.


We farewelled Hotel New Century and caught the Fujikyu train from Kawaguchiko Station to Otsuki Station. Only travels 26km but took a hour as it passes through built up areas. This fare not included in the JR pass but only 1,110 yen each. It was the local train stopping at all stations. There was an express (40mins) for an extra 300 yen but it left an hour later and we would be in Otsuki by then.


At Otsuki, the JR passes are able to be used. The trip from there took another hour on the Kaiji train, ending at Shinjuku.


Here we needed to catch a local train from Shinjuku to Tokyo, about 13 minutes. We never saw anywhere to buy a ticket and finally managed to garner that we could purchase ticket in Tokyo, from the conductor. So we boarded the Rapid train to Tokyo and crushed on with all the locals, standing room only.


Got off at Tokyo, never passed through the ticket machines as we needed to board the Yamabiko Shinkansen from Tokyo to Utsunomiya. So it seems we had a free ride on the local train or maybe it was included, we will never know. This was our 4th and final train and another 50 minutes. Had a wonderful toasted sandwich and coffee lunch out of paper bags while waiting 20 minutes for train. This double decker train called Max heading to Tanigawa pulled in. Love to go on one of these but not on our travel plans this time.


Passed through Omiya Station where both girls went when homestaying in Japan. Arrived Utsunomiya an hour too early to check-in, so we went and booked our onward journey for two days time. The trains have been really full so I dont like to leave it till the day if I can help it. As it was the Otsuki-Shinjuku trip we were both in aisle seats and not together. Not a problem but of course the other passengers have their gear spread across the spare seat thinking its all theirs and then you turn up. The guy where Chris was trying to sit was fast asleep and had to be woken up to move his bags.

Found out where to catch the bus for the Motegi Twin Ring Circuit, right outside Utsunomiya Station and across road from our hotel. Will catch the first bus out if we can at 5:50am as its bound to be crowded. Its a 90minute ride from memory. Our hotel far right in photo and station far left.


Staying at the Chisun Hotel. Were about 20minutes early of the 2pm check-in time and they were sticklers so we left our luggage and went for a walk. First time this strict check-in time has been enforced. Had read about how strict they are in Korea and Japan so have tried to not be early. Hasn't been a problem so far.

Not a lot to see at Utsunomiya, it seems to be a gateway to other places but there's always a shrine to be found and an interesting mall.


Not much in city about the MotoGP, found this one poster, plenty about a Japanese Bicycle Race next week though. Chris went out to get coffee and said the crowds were starting to build and plenty of people in the hotel lobby trying to get directions on how to get to the circuit. Staff not to knowledgable so Chris was able to give the information we had got earlier.


Posted by tojoken 04:20 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

We Go To the Mountain


Friday 12th October

Beautiful morning and a clear view of Mt Fuji, Japan's highest mountain. Surprised it does not have snow on top, thought it was one of those mountains that always did. Discovered we could open the window so we pull back both halves and sat in the early morning fresh air taking photos as the workers below walked to work.


After another fish dominated meal for breakfast, we took the courtesy van back to Kawaguchiko Station to catch the No. 6 bus to Fifth Station, the highest the bus takes you up the mountain. We caught the first one at 9:20am which seems a little late if you were wanting to climb to the summit, would probably have to organise private transport. Anyway, not our intention.

You could feel the temperature drop as the bus climbed and you would have thought we were in the artic as Chris piled on jumper, jacket and scarf. The 5th Station is 2,305m above sea level. We took a few photos before walking part of the Yoshida Trail up to the 6th Station.


The weather went down hill pretty quickly as cloud blew up the mountain. We stood and watched as it moved passed us. The walk was a mixture of scoria and layed stones so some bits we easy going and others quite slidey. Got to 6th station, 2,390m and decided that was far enough.


As soon as we started to descend the weather started to clear, but by the time we got back to the 5th station it was coming in again.


Just missed the 11:50am return bus so had to wait till 13:20. Had lunch to pass the time but the food was pretty average though they did put the rice in a mould to look like Fuji. You need to order food via a coin operated ticket machine with pictures and then hand the printed ticket to the person behind the counter. Quite cold by now and thankfully the bus let us on 20minutes early to sit in the warmth.


Pick up a few supplies from the 7/11 I spotted as the bus brought us back, essentails like Sapporo and Asahi Beers, chips and scorched almonds. Yum. Dinner was pretty much a similar version of last nights though we understood what we needed to do this time though still too much fish. This one put Chris off I think.


A short, quick walk after dinner as it was very cold. I wonder if there will be snow tomorrow.

Posted by tojoken 03:35 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Mt Fuji

Thursday 11th October

Awoke to showers and a grey looking day but by the time we were heading to Kyoto Station, blues skies were peeking through. Off to Mt Fuji today so want it to be clear so we can see the mountain. Had breakfast this morning at the hotel, deciding we needed a large substantial meal to see the day through as I wasn't sure how long the trip was going to be once we reached Mishima Station. JR Rails last stop was Mishima and then you need to catch a bus to Kawaguchiko Station, which is where our hotel was. It does seem strange that there isn't a train that goes all the way to Fuji in this train dominated country.

Left Kyoto 9:56am (yes, they do have strange times, nothing is ever 10am or on the half hour, its always a few minutes either side) and arrived at Mishima Station at 12:55pm. Had a good view of Mt Fuji from the train. We walked out of the station without seeing an Information Centre and to the local buses, looking for No.2 as per my internet instructions. Found another lost tourist wandering around and we pooled resources. Headed back into the station and he went to the ticket counter and us the guy who checks your tickets as you go through the ticket gates. Both came back with the same information, yes, we needed a local bus No.2 but it was through the South Exit (otherside of station to where we were looking). There was a bus already there and after a hefty cost of 2,200 yen each ($27) we headed to Kawaguchiko Station.


A 90 minutes ride later we arrived. Quaint little station with Mt Fuji, top obscured by cloud, behind it. We were too early to check into the hotel, which was at 3pm, so we had lunch and coffee and Mt Fuji cookies at the station before inquiring and purchasing tickets for the bus to My Fuji tomorrow morning. Couldn't do the same with the rail tickets for the day we leave as they need to be purchased on the day or pre-purchased over the phone. Yeah, we'll give that one a miss. Information Centre very helpful and we discovered, while asking how to get to our hotel, that a courtesy van picks you up and takes you there.


Our driver was very funny, little English but made up for it in his funny ways. Had a red flashing wand to show you across the road. There aren't any pedestrian crossing signals around Lake Kawaguchiko and it makes for a lovely peaceful environment. You have no idea how noisy everyday life on the street is in the city. The crossing signals have two types of sound, one a beep and the other like a cuckoo, both alternating the whole time the green walking man is on. Then there are the vans that drive around announcing things, the big screens on the buildings squawking away in high pitches and the bus drivers have microphones that announce outside to passengers in their deep dulcet tones. It reminded me of the movie Blade Runner.

We stayed at Hotel New Century in a Japanese room. So when you walk in there are tatami mats on the floor and a table and chairs but no bed. We asked the driver, who doubled as porter, do we make our bed. He shook his head and acted out that when we are at dinner he sneaks in and put down our beds, and true to his word when we came back the beds were on the floor. Meals and breakfast were included here and they were all Japanese style. Lots of fish, Chris even gave raw tuna a try, and some very strange bits and pieces. No idea what we were eating as the waitresses did not speak English. It was so funny as they talked away as though you understood, explaining how to cooked the meal (Japanese Nabe - hot pots) and when to add the other ingredients. We looked blanky at them and then they started cooking the food for us. Least we will know what we are doing tomorrow night.


Had a walk around a small part of the lake. Quite overgrown and needing maintenance. I wonder if they wait for the snow to kill everything off for them. Still very lovely and peaceful. Plus the concierge told us tomorrow would be a good to see Mt Fuji. Basically pointed at mountain covered in cloud and hid his face then said tomorrow and gave thumbs up. Hey, who needs to speak Japanese, we all know what thumbs up means. Had to include a photo of Chris standing at the door, not made for tall people.


Posted by tojoken 02:39 Comments (0)

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