Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Kinosaki Onsen

The first stop on our Japan tour was Kinosakionsen; we had a one night layover waiting for both of our boyfriends to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto to meet us. Both suffering a little from the after effects of the Special Tour, I think we were glad to spend the day in Nagoya, taking our time to say our very teary goodbyes.

We went for one last meal with a few Omotenashi students, Teams and organisers at a place Ino recommended - a Nagoya speciality, even - Yabaton Misokatsu! You can find out more about it from their English Website, and if you're ever in Nagoya it's an absolute treat, so don't miss out!

From here we experienced Suitcase Wars Episode VI: Return of the Baggage. This ordeal again. Somehow we made it to Kyoto in one piece, and luckily our Hotel - Hotel Hokke Club Kyoto - was directly opposite the station. The rooms are fairly big compared to most other hotels; the staff friendly and helpful and the free wifi a godsend. They have coin operated washers and dryers on the fourth floor, too, which we were able to freshen up some of our laundry with before leaving the next day.

As this was just a stopover, we didn't get up to much in the city. The next day we were able to store the majority of our luggage until our return six days later. As Kinosakionsen isn't a large city by any stretch, we needed to take a local train rather than Shinkansen to our destination.

The journey itself was painless, we managed to get a rapid express train, it was air conditioned and it was covered by our JRPasses. When we arrived there was a post-rain dewiness about the air, moreso than in the city, and we were worried with the hot springs it might bring bugs and biting insects. Surprising to say, but we had zero problems with mosquitos or their like the entire time we were there. Greeting us at the station, too, was a free shuttle bus to our hotel provided by the town for all visitors. 

Although the town itself is small, it always helps to get your bearings having someone take you right there. We stayed at a Ryokan named Morizuya, which was at most a ten minute walk from the station up the river, and right in the middle of all the action. The beautiful decor outside of fountains with crabs and fish, umbrellas and soft lighting continued inside where a tatami waiting area is fitted with a turtle pool.

Check in was pretty easy, the staff didn't speak much English again. but they welcomed us warmly, providing a full tour of the inn and taking us to a room where Emi and I were able to choose from a variety of yukata to rent, as well as accessories like kanzashi, hair clips and fans. The boys were stuck with the same mens-standard (yet rabbit-print) yukata. 

Once seated in our room, we met up with the other four members of our mini-trip, decked ourselves out in yukata and headed out to try our first bath! The hotel provided us with an English-Language map of the town with lists and locations of all the onsen and their specialties.

We chose Goshono-yu, as recommended by the hotel staff. This is the newest and largest of the main seven baths, and the outdoor area backs onto a beautiful waterfall which makes for a very relaxing bathing atmosphere. Of course, as most public baths are, Goshono-yu has gender-seperated bathing spaces, so our party split in two.

As it was a festival night, when it hit 8pm we could hear the Taiko drums in the shrine begin to beat, drawing us back outside to the festivities. In the shrine area there were festival games like catch the fish, crab racing, and the drummers were calling onlookers up onto the stage to have a go. After a look around we headed down to the river to watch the firework display.

All of the yukata-clad visitors crowded the arched bridges and banks to watch the fireworks - it was pretty spectacular. Between the excited, dressed up crowd and the town jumping right out of a Shinsengumi-Era drama it was really magical.

After the display and the bath we were pretty hungry. I'd left our guidebook of the town in the hotel room, so we just wandered around looking for the first place to catch our eye. It didn't take us long to stumble upon Naru, a BBQ restaurant where we were able to select our type of meat, any sides and grill it to our liking. For simple food, it was probably the tastiest we've had so far in Japan!

Bellies full, we went for a wander down the river to grab some ice cream and sparklers. We played around for an hour or so before succumbing to tiredness and heading back up to the ryokan to sleep.


The next day, we checked out, the staff were accommodating and let us store or luggage while we went out for breakfast at one of the recommended cafes, Sorella. We were really impressed with their iced coffee and latte menu, as well as the delicious honey toast they offered - probably the closes thing to a western breakfast we could get!

We had a bit of a journey ahead of us, so we departed Kinosaki in the sunshine around 1pm, said goodbye to our friends and moved on to our next destination - Hiroshima!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Post-WCS Introduction

Long time no blog! I guess we overestimated the amount of spare time we would have to blog about things whilst WCS was ongoing (not gonna lie, either, we spent all of our free time hanging out with the other teams!). Now World Cosplay Summit is finished we can take some time out to share what we're doing now the competition is over - our adventure in Japan! We have so many notes and photographs still left from WCS to share, so we will do maybe an in-depth weekly-round up of each day of it when we both get back from Japan.

For now, I think we will concentrate the here and now! Each night we hope to do a small, yet informative blog on our travels through Japan, with the hopes that it will encourage people to come and visit and give some insight into the things you can see and do while you're out here! We have a number of resources helping us along the way, and it'll be nice to share this info with all of you.

The easiest way to do this, I guess, is to address it geographically. We began our tour in Nagoya; starting at Nagoya Station. Here we claimed our Japan Rail Passes, which we had applied for prior to leaving the UK. You need to do this through an operator; we used JTB who were not only extremely helpful but incredibly informative (additionally we booked our Studio Ghibli Museum tickets via them, too, but I'll go into that process later). JTB also have a number of resources on their website you can use to scout out tourist spots and helpful tips for travelling in Japan.

If you head to their FAQ page, all your questions on what the JRPass involves can probably answered there, but for a quick explanation, basically it's a pass available to visitors from outside Japan that allows you to travel for a number of days around the entire country at an extremely discounted price. You can cheapen it further by limiting the destinations to East, West, Central etc or by cutting down the number of days which you would like to travel. Emi and I are travelling around at the moment on a 7-Day JRPass, it allows us to travel anywhere within Japan on the train and Shinkansen (bullet train) starting from the day which we activated it - so although we were in the country for 2 weeks prior to travelling, it didn't begin until we activated it at Nagoya station. 

We would both highly recommend it, as it's an insane value for money. To put it into perspective - we paid 11,000 yen each for a single ticket between Tokyo and Nagoya, which works out at around £50 I think. That's 1/3 of the price of our pass done already, and we've only traveled one journey. Throughout the holiday we have planned seven journeys all across the country, it's definitely a worthwhile investment.

Train isn't the only way to see Japan, either, there's also the Experience Japan Fare by ANA which is a set-fare for foreign visitors to use air travel within the country. You can find more info on their Website, but we will also be blogging about this later on when we visit Yufuin! (Also, I'm not gonna lie, that site is super useful in general for finding cool places to eat and visit, will probs write about it later, too!)

Aside from all the travel malarkey, we have been gifted with an NTT Docomo portable wifi hotspot to update and share pictures, as well as help us get around here! You can pick these nifty gadgets up from a number of websites and at any airport in Japan. I'm pretty sure the way it works is by connecting to a 3G signal and working as a data-tethering thingy. I'm not hot on the technical details, I'm sure you can find out on their website (one of a few out there) - what I do know is that it works so well and I'm not sure how we would get around without it!

At the moment we're on the second night of our holiday, we visited Kinosakionsen yesterday, and traveled to Hiroshima today. I think it's safe to say we're seasoned Shinkansen veterans right now, and we're both pretty relieved that the bullet train is almost a pleasure to travel on - it's a million miles away from National Rail in the UK where you're lucky if you have a working toilet on your cross-country voyage. Just as well, since we have a lot more travelling to go!

Tomorrows blog update will include a full write up of our trip from Nagoya to Kinosakionsen, and our Shinkansen adventure from there to Hiroshima. Please look forward to it!!