Archive for the ‘japan’ Category

Riding the roller coasters at Mt Fuji!

We recently visited Mt Fuji area in Japan. This post shares some of our experience and some tips you may find useful if you plan to travel there yourself to hike or to ride the roller coasters.

Mt Fuji, a symbol of Japan and for many climing to the top is a life long dream.

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It’s only a couple of hours out of Tokyo, what a great spot to do some hiking. Then my youngest son discovered Fuji Q highland amusement park, home of some world record roller coasters and the destination became a must.

Getting to Mt Fuji

I found this very confusing when I did my research. We had a JR Rail pass, but there are no JR rail stations in the Mt Fuji area. It was hard to tell which stations listed on Hyperdia were in the Mt Fuji area. So if you are as confused as I were, here’s what we learned!

Bus

You can catch a bus to Mt Fuji from Shinjuku station in Tokyo. This bus stops in the towns where most people will stay when visiting the area and goes all the way to 5th station during hiking season.

Train

If you are searching for travel plans on Hyperdia, search for trains going to Fujisan or Kawaguchiko station.

The last stretch of the trip is not accessible by JR Rail. So you have to take the Chuo line JR Rail to Otsuki station (covered by JR Rail pass) and then take the Fujikyoko line through to the Fuji area.  We actually managed to catch a train that went straight from Tokyo to Fuji Q Highland station near our hotel. We used our rail passes as far as Otsuki and stayed on the same train. When we got off the train at Fuji Q Highland, we paid the difference in fare for the portion past Otsuki at the ticket office.

Climbing Fuji

You can only climb to the peak of Mt Fuji in the summer, typically July & August. Most hikers start from 5th station. Ideally you want to see the sunrise from the peak, so hikers will start climbing the day before. Reserve a spot in one of the huts for a few hours sleep and then get up early in the morning to make their way to the peak. There is one path for those travelling up, and another path for those travelling down.

We found some great resources and information about climbing Fuji at japan-guide.com

I spoke to a few people who have done the climb before our trip. Reviews were mixed. one said they climbed in pouring rain and were miserable. Another regretted staying in a hut, because it was crowded and uncomfortable so they got no sleep and wished they had hiked straight through. Another went with his wife, mother, daughter, and son. The mother turned around early not feeling well. The mother was exhausted by the time they reached the huts and refused to hike to their designated hut, so they had to pay extra to get her a spot in the first hut. The sone and father did make it to the top for sunrise. The son was suitably blown away by being able to look down at the clouds from the peak. It’s important to remember you can get altitude sickness. Also, it’s not always easy to pass others on the trail, so you the climb may take longer than you think, since you could be limited by the speed of other hikers.

We were certainly interested in climbing Fuji, but it was not a lifelong dream, so we decided we would start from 5th station early in the morning. Climb for 3 hours and then decide whether to push for the summit or turn around.

Even our conservative plans were thwarted when a typhoon moved in the day we planned our climb.

Screenshot_20160822-123617Spending a day hiking in the pouring rain surrounded by clouds, not knowing if the trails would be closed or there would be a risk of mudslides, we had to settle for looking at Fuji from a distance. If you go, I hope you have better luck with the weather. If you do want to climb, make sure you spend a few nights in the area so you have more than one day available for the climb in the event of inclement weather.  Here’s the lovely view we had of Mt Fuji the day we had planned our climb. Somewhere in those clouds is Mt Fuji, it was there yesterday!

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Fuji Q Highlands – roller coasters!

So we went all the way to Mt Fuji and didn’t do any hiking, so what did we do? We made the most of it and hit Fuji Q amusement park for some serious roller coasters!

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We had already decided to treat ourselves to two nights at the Fuji Q Highlands resort. We figured staying at a hotel with western restaurants and a western style buffest breakfast would work well before and after a long day of hiking. In addition, my youngest son was also eager to try the world record roller coasters at Fuji Q. Staying at the hotel meant easy access to the park. We had to book two hotel rooms to accomodate two large teenagers plus two parents. So we booked one room with a view of the amusement park, and one room with a view of Mt Fuji.  By the time we paid for two rooms it was pretty expensive, but we were only there for 2 nights and it worked out. There are certainly cheaper places to stay and cheaper places to eat walking distance from our hotel.

Tickets and Admission

You can pay to enter the park without paying for rides. Our hotel room came with free admission to the park. You can purchase a one day pass to do as many rides as you want for 5700 yen (adults) 5200 yen (teenagers) 4300 yen (kids under 12).  Since we did not have a full day to explore, we paid for individual rides.

We only arrived in Fuji Q at 3 PM, so we decided it made more sense to pay for the individual rides. The roller coasters are 1000 yen each (though you can purchase a fast pass ticket for double the price, so 2000 yen to get a fast pass tickets for the roller coasters. Fast pass users have a different entrance.

If you are purchasing tickets as you go, you purchase the tickets at the very top of the line just before you board the coaster. There is a ticket machine at the top of the entrance ramp. You are in Japan, so of course the ticket machines are cash only.

Line ups for rides

Fuji Q is notorious for long line ups. We heard horror stories of 3-4 hour waits! Japan’s train system may be the model of efficiency but Fuji Q could learn a lot about how to design rides for faster loading from Universal Studios and Disney! The roller coaster car arrives, everyone gets out, takes everything out of their lockers, leaves the platform, and then the next group of people enters, crosses to the lockers, puts everything away, gets into the roller coaster, and can finally get on their way. Luckily there are some entertaining videos to watch while you wait in the queue. A series of odd videos plus a group of five characters we dubbed the Fuji Q power rangers teaching you what NOT to do in the park (we aren’t sure which of the Fuji Q power rangers was demonstrating the do not go on the rides naked rule).

Snippet of the Fuji Q Safety videos

 

We scoped out the park to get the lay of the land and to see what the wait times were like for the rides. Most roller coasters had sign indicating a 1 hour 30 minute wait. The park is open until 10 or 11 PM but many of the rides closed at 9 PM. We left, found supper, and returned after supper when we figured those who came to the park from Tokyo would be headed home for the day. The plan worked, the lines were noticeable shorter. Our shortest line was 30 minutes (Fujiyama, King of the coasters), our longest line was 60 minutes (Dodonpa), Takashiba was about 45 minutes. Unfortunately Eejanaka the 4th dimension roller coaster was closed by the time we finished the other 3 rides.

The roller coasters

My husband and my youngest hit Takashiba first. This roller coaster holds the world record for the steepest drop, 121 degrees!

Next up was Fujiyama, King of the coasters. It used to hold the record for world’s longest coaster but that title has since been claimed by another Japanese coaster Steel dragon in Nagashima. As of 2016, Fujiyama is the 4th longest roller coaster in the world. The ride lasts an impressive 3 minutes 36 seconds. That is a long time to be on a roller coaster. We all loved it!

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Next up was Dodonpa which accelerates to 172 kph (111 mph) in 1.8 seconds. That works out to a g-force of 4.2G which makes it the fastest launch acceleration of any roller coaster in the world. This ride will literally take your breath away!

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Sadly Eejanaika was closed by the time we finished the other three coasters. Eejanaika is a four dimension roller coaster and holds the record for the highest number of spins of any roller coaster in the world. We made one more attempt to ride it before we left to continue on our journey, but by 9 AM there was already a 60+ minute wait for the ride, and we didn’t have enough time. by 9:15 when we decided to bail the line was already 90+ minutes. The famous Fuji Q lineups were back!

FYI, they have lockers at the top of the ramp as well for purses, hats, eyeglasses and jewellry, even watches had to come off!  This resulted in a blurry view of the ride for my eldest son who didn’t realie he needed his contact lenses to ride a roller coaster. You are not allowed to have anything in your pockets either, even if the pockets have zippers. There are also umbrella boxes to hold umbrellas since they won’t fit in the locker. Though it’s unlikely you would need the umbrella boxes since the signs say if it is raining, snowing, windy, or there is an earthquake the roller coasters will be closed. Glad to know they don’t run the roller coasters in an earthquake!

What do you do during a typhoon at Fuji?

During the typhoon it rained pretty steadily. Not great hiking weather and the roller coasters don’t run in the rain… so we found two ways to pass the time

bowling

Fuji Q has a bowling alley. The bowling was what you would expect, but the unexpected bonus was some very fitting videos featuring the Fuji Q power rangers when you got a strike, a spare or a gutter ball.

water rides at Fuji Q highland

Hey it’s raining, you rae going to get wet anyway, maybe we should just do the water rides! As is traditional at all major theme parks with water rides, you can purchase a poncho. At the entrance to the ride you purchase a ticket for 100 yen. You exchange the ticket for a poncho. Oddly enough they refused to exchange the ticket for a poncho until we were going to board the ride, so my plan to pick up a poncho while we walked around the park did not work out.  

The previous day, the lines for the water rides were anywhere from 60-90 minutes. Well during the typhoon the lines were non-existant! So we took advantage of the inclement weather to get wet!

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There are lots of signs in English in the amusement park, but there are times when the translation is less than perfect.  This was one of our favorite signs in the park:

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So in sumamry. Fuji Q highlands has some fabulous rides and some impressive lines, arrive early or stay late to avoid the worst of the lines!

Mt Fuji is stunning, but if you have plans to do hiking, give yourself mroe than one day in case the weather does not co-operate!

Hapy travelling!

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Nikko Japan

When we were planning our trip to Japan we found it difficult to get information, so I am writing this post so that perhaps it may help anyone considering a trip to Nikko, but it also describes some of our personal experiences on the visit.

Where is it and how do I get there?

Nikko is a town North of Tokyo about two hours by train. It’s higher altitude than Tokyo so a bit cooler, which is wonderful in August.  There are two train stations in Nikko: Tobu-NIkko and JR Nikko. The two stations are easy walking distance apart, so it doesn’t make much difference which station you select unless you are using a JR Rail pass, in which case you will want to use JR Nikko so you can use your rail pass.

Exploring on foot

Nikko is very pedestrian friendly. If you enjoy walking there are two nice 5 km loops you can follow to explore the city. One takes you along the river to see beautiful rapids, a row of buddha statues, and of course shrines and temples Smile. The other takes you past the main temples of Nikko. The 5 km loop that goes along the river also makes a good jogging route if you are so inclined. As an added bonus, stopping to pray at the buddhas or a shrine makes a great excuse for a break during your run.

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Cash machines

There are not many ATMs in Nikko. So I recommend you take advantage of the 7-11 ATM in Tobu-Nikko station. As all foreigners learn very quickly, the 7-11 is your best friend when you need cash, and you need cash in Japan, especially in a smaller town like Nikko.  We were staying at the other end of Nikko from the train station and had to make a special trip into town to get cash because all the 7-11 machines are past the train station (none in the Shinku bridge Tosho-gae temple area).

Why visit Nikko?

There were three reasons we selected Nikko as a destination: The town of Nikko, Edo Wonderland and Nikko National Park.  Though many people visit it to visit the hot springs in the mountains. In winter these are the hot springs where the snow monkeys have been known to take a hot bath but we did not see any when we visited in August.

The town of Nikko

The Toshogu shrine is one of the most lavishly decorated in Japan, I’ll be honest though, we never made it there, stunning temples are everywhere in Japan, so we didn’t make visiting each one a priority.

I don’t know what it is about moving water that I find so peaceful and relaxing. I can’t get enough of the sound of rapids flowing past the rocks. As a result, I loved walking along the river in Nikko and having the beautiful Shinkyo bridge spanning the river seems only fitting. This was one of those sights that is so simple, and yet I find myself drawn to it and taking pictures of it over and over.

 

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The walk along the river towards the Kanmangafuchi abyss was equally peaceful, the rows of buddha statues with their red bibs along the pathway. It’s easy to understand why someone chose this location to pray.

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Edo Wonderland

What is it?

Edo Wonderland is a touristy historical village.  It’s aimed at Japanese tourists (limited English signage) but still fun for tourists like us who don’t speak the language.  You can easily spend a half day or possibly a full day here.

How do you get there?

You have a few choices. If you are in Nikko there is a free shuttle bus that travels from JR Nikko station to and from Edo Wonderland about once an hour, but it doesn’t leave until after 9 AM so if you want to be there when it opens, you should take the train. You can take the train to Kinugawa-Onsen from Tobu-Nikko. This is not a JR train line, so you will have to pay for tickets if you have a JR Rail pass.  Once you arrive at Kinugawa-Onsen you can either take a taxi (about 2,000 yen) or a shuttle bus (410 yen per person when we visited). The shuttle bus stop is to your right when you exit the station and leaves every 30-60 minutes depending on the time of day. We took the train and a taxi. There were taxis waiting outside the train station and outside the park and the difference in price between the shuttle bus for four people and a taxi was worth the convenience.

What do you do at the park?

The main highlight of Edo Wonderland is the shows, so make sure you check out the show itinerary when you arrive and plan your day around it. There are 4 shows that are recommended for those of us who do not speak japanese: Ninja theatre (20 mins), Magistrate’s office (20 min comedy), water show (20 mins) and ninja show (10 mins). Even these shows do contain dialogue in Japanese, but watching a ninja fight or neat tricks with water is entertaining even if you don’t understand the jokes Smile. You should line up between 10-30 minutes before the show is scheduled to start to ensure a seat. Be forewarned, many of the shoes will have you remove your shoes and sit on the floor ( a challenge for my 6+ foot teenager and husband). If the weather is good there are some additional outside shows, parades and busker acts. The grand ninja theatre was our favorite, the choreography and timing with the sound effects was impressive!

The staff are very friendly and do their best to be helpful. There are moments reminiscent of Disney such as posing for a photo when you enter the park which you is printed and available for purchase later in the day. We were also amused when the ‘police’ came by with a wanted poster and decided I was clearly the villain they were seeking and arrested our family. Luckily they did figure out I was innocent and let us go, but it made a great photo op. We spotted the actual villain later in the day sneaking around the village bribing children with stickers so they would not give away her location to the officials.

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In between shows there are different attractions you can explore. We enjoyed the ninja maze with it’s trick doors, and the ninja house. We were a little disappointed with the dungeon and mansion displays. We also toured the sword museum. But each of these exhbitits only took us between 5-10 minutes to explore. Plan your day around the shows, and visit the attractions when you have time to pass between shows.

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We spent the money to try all the activities: spinning darts, ninja star (shruiken), and archery. There is an extra fee for these. You purchase tickets to try the activities in the booth, and then give the tickets to the person working the booth. You can use the activities to collect a few souvenirs.  My husband and I won fake daggers and my eldest son won rubber nunchuku at the ninja star throwing booth. I won a fan at the pinwheel darts. we won postcards everywhere else. My youngest son stunned the staff and the audience by getting 5 out of 5 pinwheel darts and won a metal sword! I think this is the equivalent of winning a giant teddy bear at the fair. He was absolutely thrilled! This has caused interesting complications for the rest of our trip since it does not fit in our suitcase and has to be carried in its box every where we go. Even when we use the luggage lockers at train stations, the sword is too big to fit! But when Carter got 4 darts in the target and they told him if he gets 5 out of 5 he wins a sword and he got that 5th dart in the target you could not wipe the grin off his face! So it is all worth it!

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You can also rent Edo-era costumes to wear for the day. There were several kids around in ninja costumes, and you could pose with some of the characters from the shows after the performances. We had an opportunity to dress as Samurai elsewhere (Samurai museum in Tokyo and Kembu Samurai Theatre in Kyoto) so did not feel the need to splurge on the costumes here.

What do they have to eat?

There are lots of places to grab food at Edo Wonderland. For the less adventurous you can find some basic skewers (Yakitori), we found skewers of duck, chicken, pork, potatoes, and fried dough. On our visit, the English guide book was inaccurate. The food station marked for yakitori chicken and meat and rice bowls only sold potato and dumpling skewers. (NOTE: You can buy just about any food on a stick in Japan Winking smile, the potato on a stick was basically hash browns on a stick, quite tasty but not what we expected). We had walked past a stall selling chicken skewers earlier and eventually found what we were looking for, but not at the restaurant indicated in our guide book. There are lots of places to sit down with your food. There are also three sit down restaurants in the park even though the guide book says there is only one.

Nikko National Park

Whether you are a serious hiker, or someone who just enjoys admiring waterfalls and a light stroll through the woods, Nikko National Park is a must!

Nikko is known for it’s many waterfalls (although we had no idea this was the case until we arrived and our AirBnB host told us and provided us with an awesome map of the hiking trails!).

You can take a tourist bus from JR Nikko station (or various other stops in Nikko) to Chinguya-Onsen. You probably want to purchase the 2 day bus pass at JR Nikko Station, it’s cheaper than a return trip to the park and back, and it also gives you the ability to take the bus up and down the main strip in Nikko as well. It’s about a one hour ride from the station to the park but well worth it! I recommend boarding the bus at the start of it’s journey at JR Nikko station so you get a seat. When our bus stopped at Tobu-Nikko (the 2nd stop), not all the passengers waiting could board, and some had to wait for the next bus. Though there are some neat fold down middle seats on some buses if you find yourself standing in the aisle.

Hikes and waterfalls

When you get off the bus you can stroll 5 minutes to see a Kegon waterfall. if you want to splurge you can take an elevator to the base of the falls. Pictures never do justice to a waterfall, you have to see it and hear it to appreciate it.

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There were a number of restaurants and souvenir shops in the area around Kegon falls. Then we walked up the road and took the pleasure boat across the lake. You can rent a paddleboat and explore the lake at your own pace if you wish.

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We got off at the far end of the lake and hiked along an easy trail all the way up to  Ryuzu waterfall.

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Then we hiked along one of the trails for 2 km through some beautiful forest. The trails were a pleasant stroll, nothing strenuous.

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There are much more serious hikes if you want them. There are a number of peaks you can climb up and down in a day taking anywhere from 2 to 8 hours. Keep in mind some of the peak climbs may be closed outside the summer months due to snow.

If you purchased a bus pass, you can catch the bus back to Nikko from a number of diferent stops further up the mountain, so you can hike one way and take the bus back. If you plan to do this make sure you purchase a bus pass that covers the extra distance. There are three different 2 day passes you can purchase each provides travel further up the mountain.

Would I recommend Nikko?

20160818_200659If you like getting a little closer to nature, either as a serious hiker or simply because you enjoy an easy stroll through the woods I think you will enjoy Nikko and I recommend it! Be prepared to spend a fair bit of time either walking to get from one place to another, or waiting for the bus (it doesn’t run that often). Of course as a Canadian, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend that if you visit during hockey season go cheer on the Nikko Ice Bucks! We met one of the players, Kevin Mitchell, when we were having dinner one night. It turns out he used to play on the same team as my husband’s cousin. It’s a small world after all! Japan is known for it’s baseball, but they have hockey too!