Monday, February 15, 2016

Nozawa Onsen, Jigokudani Monkey Park, Odawara Plum Festival: 8 Days Winter Japan Itinerary!

We're back from our fourth trip to Japan (and our first trip in the Winter)! It was a relatively short 1-week visit this time, just to ski for a couple of days, bother some monkeys, and then cafe hop our way all around Tokyo. Oh, and with some plum tree blossom viewing added in. Before we go into the details of the trip, check out our highlights video reel below:

So without further ado, here's our itinerary. Hope it helps you and don't hesitate to ask any questions you may have in the comments section below!

Day 1 (Fly to Tokyo and travel to Nozawa Onsen):
- Touched down at Narita Airport at around 2:30pm (¥35,500)
- Cleared Customs & Immigration, picked up our JR East Pass* for ¥22,000.
- Caught the N-EX to Tokyo, followed by Shinkansen to Iiyama, followed by Nozawa Onsen Liner Bus (¥600) to Nozawa Onsen.
- Checked in to Mominoki (¥14,000/night for two with breakfast). It's located 20-30 steps from the Shinden (新田) bus stop.
- For the night we just walked around the Nozawa Onsen town and the public baths, and a ramen dinner at Wanryu-Hanten (王龍飯店, ¥1,000).

* From April 1, 2016, the JR East Pass will be split into two: the JR East Pass (Tohoku area) and the JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata area)

Japan Winter Itinerary Wanryu Hanten Nozawa Onsen Ramen

Day 2 (Ski'ing in Nozawa Onsen):
- Ski'ing! Skis, boots, poles, and clothing (jacket + pants) rental cost ¥8,550 for two days; Ski Lift ticket cost ¥9,500 for two days.
- There are many rental shops around town; we chose Sports Thanx because of its' proximity to the Nagasaka gondola. Plus they have lockers for you to store your non-ski gear.
- Lunch was just a random cafe on the slopes; Dinner was okonomiyaki, yakisoba and grilled fatty pork at Osaka Tonkichi (大阪とんきち, ¥1,000).

Japan Winter Itinerary Nozawa Onsen

Day 3 (Ski'ing in Nozawa Onsen):
- Another day of ski'ing and soaking in the hot tub!
- Dinner was delightful hot and cold soba at Yoshimi Soba (良味そば, ¥1,000)

Japan Winter Itinerary Nozawa Onsen Ski

Day 4 (Jigokudani Monkey Park & Tokyo):
- We checked out really early to catch the 7:20am Nozawa Onsen Liner bus back to Iiyama (¥600)
- From Iiyama: Shinkansen to Nagano (covered by JR East Pass), where we deposited our luggage in a huge coin locker (¥800) and bought the "Snow Monkey 1-Day Pass" (¥2,900). This pass includes the return journey Nagano Dentetsu ("Nagaden") bus to the Snow Monkey Park and the entrance fee.
- From the Snow Monkey Park bus stop, we had to hike/walk 30-40 minutes to the park itself.
- At around noon we took the return bus back to Nagano, and the Shinkansen back to Tokyo (JR East Pass), where we checked into an AirBNB near Tsukiji Market (¥10,500 for two, no meals).
- In the evening we visited Pierre Herme Chocolate Bar (¥2,000), Scramble Crossing and Hachiko in Shibuya, and finally Ichiran Ramen (¥1,000) for a late dinner.

Japan Winter Itinerary Jigokudani Monkey Park

Day 5 (Hama Rikyu Tea Gardens & Kappabashi Dori):
- In the morning we walked to Tsukiji Market to have some delicious, hearty battered & fried prawn and sea eel at Tenfusa (天房, ¥1,300), followed by buying groceries (scallops, sashimi, fruits, ¥3,000) from both the inner and outer markets.
- We then visited the Hama Rikyu Tea Gardens (very nice Japanese-style garden), followed by a Tokyo Sumida river cruise (¥740) up to the Asakusa area.
- Having previously visited Sensojii temple twice, this time we skip, and go instead to Kappabashi Dori i.e. the Tokyo Chef/Kitchen street.
- We spent the evening window shopping at the various department stores on the way back, and we cooked up rice, soup and flame-grilled scallops for dinner in the apartment.

Japan Winter Itinerary Hama Rikyu Gardens

Day 6 (Hidemi Sugino & Ikefukurou Owl Cafe):
- It's a Saturday today! First order of business - join the queue at Hidemi Sugino at 10.30am (it opens only at 11.00) for Tokyo's best mousse-based desserts (¥1,500)!
- With our tummies suitably stuffed, we browsed the Ginza shopping area (it's closed to traffic on weekend afternoons)
- We then journey'ed to Ikebukuro to have some play time with the owls at Ikefukurou Owl "cafe" (¥1,400).
- The evening was again spent window shopping - and scored a nicely marbled sirloin steak for dinner in the apartment (¥2,000)!

Japan Winter Itinerary Ikefukurou Owl Cafe

Day 7 (Odawara Plum Festival):
- Day trip to Odawara!! We start the day with a bowl of tuna on rice - akami (lean meat), chutoro, ohtoro and ikura. Yums!
- Although it's a lot quicker to take the Shinkansen, we decide instead to take the much longer JR Tokaido Line, because only the latter is covered by the JR East Pass.
- We explored the plum trees on the Odawara castle grounds (sadly, the castle itself was closed for renovations), and then took a ¥500 bus to the plum tree orchard area.
- The plum orchards were pleasant and surprisingly many of the trees were already in quite an advanced blooming stage!
- After another 1-and-a-half hour train ride, we do some window shopping at Isetan Shinjuku and have some superb tempura at Ginza Ten-Ichi (銀座天一, ¥2,500) for dinner.

Japan Winter Itinerary Odawara Plum Festival

Day 8 (Imperial East Gardens & Fly back home):
- Is it already the end of our trip? We head back to the Tsukiji Market to buy some great plates & bowls at Ueda's (うえだ) shop (inner market).
- For breakfast we try out Sushi Zanmai (すしざんまい, ¥2,000)) to see if there's truth to the saying "Any sushi in Tsukiji is delicious." Conclusion: Compared to Sushi Dai (寿司大) and Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司) it totally isn't.
- We check out of our AirBNB apartment, lug all our luggage to the Tokyo station and hunt down some coin lockers to store them for the rest of the day (¥2,000 - we needed 3 lockers).
- We walk over to the Imperial East Gardens only to find out that it's closed to the public on Mondays (zzzz). So we walk instead to the Echire Bakery, which serves up croissants and other aromatic pastries made exclusively with the Queen of butter (roughly ¥1,500).
- This marks the end of our trip: We go back to Tokyo station to pick up our luggage and catch the Narita Express back to the airport (JR East Pass).

Japan Winter Itinerary Sushi Zanmai

Rough / Estimate Expenditure (¥309k for two people):
- Flight Tickets ¥71,000
- Train & Other Transport ¥56,000
- Hotels / AirBNB ¥84,000
- Ski Costs ¥36,000
- Food & Groceries ¥50,000
- Attractions & Misc ¥12,000

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