Holiday Trip with Family (Part 2)

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Japan Hour - Autumn
Holiday Trip with Family

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Japan Hour (Synopsis Only):

Holiday Trip with Family (Part 2)

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We continue our trips in winter with our loved ones. Our next bus trip is to Minakami Onsen in Gunma Prefecture. We start by travelling for an hour by Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Jomo Kogen Station in Gunma. From the station, we take a 20-minute bus ride to Lake Akayako. Its water is so clear that the mountains are reflected on its surface like a mirror.

We board a bus again and this time go up the mountains to a place with fantastic snowy scenery. We alight at Sukawajuku along the Mikuni Kaido road leading to Niigata. It used to be a town for tourists walking along the Kaido road in the Edo era to take a break before they went across the steep mountain path. It flourished as a post town and still retains an atmosphere of the old days. The mountain town has several shops of craftsmen who teach things such as ceramic art, bamboo handicrafts and soba cooking. For example, there is a place where tourists can learn how to paint natural stones such as granite from Awajishima and yakuseki from Niigata. After they are done, they can take their artwork home as a souvenir.

Next, we go to Minakami Onsenkyo, one of the most famous hot spring towns in Gunma. There are 18 hot springs here with rich water sources. We have lunch at a restaurant called Chako and try its signature dish Okkirikomi udon, a local speciality of Gunma. It features flat handmade udon noodles with 15 ingredients such as seasonal vegetables, beef and mushrooms in a soy sauce soup.

After lunch, someone from the hotel we’re spending the night at picks us up from Minakami Station. It takes us 10 minutes to reach the hotel located at the upper stream of the Tone River in north Gunma. It has 11 rooms and four guest cottages. We stay at a cottage, which has its own hot spring bath with a beautiful view of the snow. We check out a private hot spring bath in the main building too. The rock bath also commands a great view of the winter scenery through a huge glass window.

For dinner, we first enjoy a refreshing red shiso soda first before feasting on over 10 local vegetables served with a homemade sauce of char and sake lees with mustard. Items include purple daikon, Kishin cabbage and shiitake mushrooms. We are also served Masuda wagyu beef.

The next morning, we take a local bus to Ski Resort Minakami Kogen. Besides being popular for its 11 ski courses, the place is also known for its hot springs. We end our trip to Minakami by soaking in an outdoor bath 2,000m above sea level while taking in the gorgeous view of the surroundings and snow.

Our next winter trip takes us to Kanazawa, famous for its snowy park called Kenrokuen and several historical sites. It is 2.5 hours away from Tokyo by Hokuriku Shinkansen. Our first stop is Oumicho Market, which sells things like rockfish and Kano crab. We get to taste some fresh Kano crab. These crabs from the Sea of Japan are only available during certain months, as they are usually caught from November to March.

We then ride on a bus for slightly over an hour to Shogawakyo in west Toyama. After a boat ride to enjoy the winter landscape, we head to Shirakawago by bus and taxi. It takes us about 1.5 hours to reach the bus terminal, after which we go to our hotel for the night. It is in Hirase Onsen in Gifu, near Shirakawago, and is registered on the list of the Greatest Hot Springs in Japan. Its hot spring water comes from Mt Hakusan. The bath is open to hotel guests throughout the day. Dinner is served by the fireplace and we enjoy a delicious meal of dishes like Suttatenabe hot pot - a local speciality with grated soy beans and miso - and grilled Hida beef.

On the second day of this trip, we make our way to Shirakawago, which was registered as a World Heritage Site in 1995. What makes this place special is the houses built in Gassho-style - their steep thatched roof was designed to prevent snow from piling up so that the snow can be easily removed from the roof. We visit Wada house, a Gassho-style house built 300 years ago. It has been designated as an important cultural property. Its first and second floors are open to the public, who can learn about life in ancient times. The house has a loft where silkworms were raised in the past. From the windows, one can see a fantastic view of the snow-topped Gassho-style houses.

We continue exploring Shirakawago and drop by a sweet shop to try some tochi mochi made of chestnuts. We end our trip by going to a famous viewing point in Shirakawago to see the beautiful surrounding mountains.

Tips:

1) Try your hand at various traditional crafts when visiting the mountain town of Sukawajuku
2) Check out the Gassho-style houses in the World Heritage site of Shirakawago


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