Kawazu, Nozawa Onsen, Tsumago and Tokyo

Ask me if I’m tired.

I’m sorry, I faded out for a moment there, did you say something?

When I originally sketched out the itinerary for this trip, it was fairly simple: fly to Tokyo; go up to ski fields; come back to Tokyo; fly home. And this – let’s be clear before I show you what we actually did – was an eminently sensible itinerary for a multi-generational trip involving seven people with an age range of three to I’mnotallowedtotellyou. Surpassingly sensible. Exceedingly.

Of course I had to swap it for a complicated rail-hop (with pie-in-the-sky side-trip by minivan along icy mountain roads in the snow) because otherwise it would have been like going on someone else’s holiday. Someone who plans enjoyable holidays, yes, but importantly someone else, and I think when it comes to family trips the top priority is to feel like you’re really with the people you’ve come to know, love and think twice about going on holidays with.

I brought along a nice folder packed with spreadsheets, handouts, and itineraries, but I fooled no-one.

I brought along a nice folder packed with spreadsheets, handouts, and itineraries, but I fooled no-one.

Let me give you an overview before we get into the details.

Who Went? Mum, Dad, Grandma, Grandad, Nanny (other Grandma), one 3yo and one 5yo.

Review: Far-too-hectic dash through cherry blossoms and snow, organised around the JR East Rail Pass and a desire (apparently) to squeeze more train travel out of it than could possibly be enjoyed by most. Plus a wild goose chase through driving snow by mini van.

Highlights: The wild goose chase through driving snow by minivan. Cherry blossoms at the Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival, 2014. Skiing at  Nozawa Onsen on some of the best snow I’ve ever seen. Snow monkeys. Postal towns. Eating candied crickets. Matsumoto Castle. The Tokyo subway and Skytree.

Kawazu, Nozawa Onsen, Tsumago, Tokyo postcard.

Challenges: A group of seven is a lot of people to keep in the one place at the one time, especially when the age group spans from 3 to I’mnotallowedtotellyou (although I can tell you it’s a multiple of three – about twenty-three multiples, in fact). We probably should have dropped a couple of things from the itinerary to enjoy the others more, or arranged to split up more often. But I’m not sure what, or when, or how. Add thoughts, if you have them.

Price Bracket: Expensive. You can’t take a whole family on a ski trip without spending a few bucks. That said, skiing in Japan compares pretty favourably with skiing in other places for expense, especially if you live in Singapore and it’s one of your closest ski destinations (ask me about my trip budget spreadsheet).

Three (More) Photos:

Itinerary:

Day One:

  • Fly Singapore -> Japan (7hrs, arr 1:30pm)
  • Baggage, immigration, customs, ATM visit, toilet stops, snack purchases, buying of JR East rail pass at airport on arrival, seat reservation and route check, finding and boarding of correct train and seats (1hr 30 mins including open-bag customs check – I’m listing this off because getting the five members of the Singapore Party from bums in seat belts to the Narita Express within this time frame is some sort of miracle which, based on our later attempts to get places, I have to attribute to the design and staffing of Narita Airport.)
  • Narita Express to Tokyo (1hr), plus several local trains from Tokyo down the Izu Peninsula to Rendaiji (4 more hours) Tip! Pack light or buy tickets for the Green carriage. It gets pretty crowded on some of those trains. Luckily, the overhead storage spaces were usually free so we didn’t have to bother anyone too much with our bags.
  • Walk from Rendaiji Station to Kurhaus Ishibashi Ryokan, which is fifteen minutes by foot from the station (1hr)
  • Dinner: a long series of snacks such as filled steam buns bought from platform stalls and train station convenience stores, and eaten whilst waiting for connections.
  • Overnight Rendaiji, after a long, hot soak in the onsen

The Brisbane Party arrived at Narita about 5pm via Sydney and were in Rendaiji a bit after 11pm, after a couple of transport delays and some on-the-spot re-routing by friendly Japanese commuters with smart phones.

Day Two

  • Japanese breakfast at ryokan. P was less than impressed with the lack of cereal, but everyone else ate well.
  • Walk to nearby playground.
  • Continue on foot to train station.
  • Train to Kawazu (two stops, less than ten minutes) – held specially for us when the station manager saw us coming down the road!
  • Wander around the Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival, snacking on fresh, local strawberries, roasted chestnuts, sweet potato chips, sausage lollipops, and various unidentified substances
I’m not sure what this is, but I hope you’re supposed to eat it. And if not, you should anyway. Mmmmm.

I’m not sure what this is, but I hope you’re supposed to eat it. And if not, you should anyway. Mmmmm.

Tsunami warning system, evacuation procedures and damage control infrastructure.

  • Lunch at the cafe near the bus stop, where either I managed to order toasted cheese sandwiches in a place serving mostly Japanese food by pointing randomly to a menu written entirely in Japanese, or the waitress decided I was too clueless for words and just brought me a toasted cheese sandwich.
  • Visit to local shrine
  • Train home to Rendaiji
  • Overnight Rendaiji, and another long, hot soak in the onsen.

Day Three

  • Japanese breakfast at ryokan, except for P who ate cereal in the room.
  • Check out by 9am and board a complicated series of trains for Togarinozawa Onsen, arriving at about 7:30pm.
At some point, I decided everyone should go for more, smaller bags so they'd squeeze in to overhead luggage racks and between the seats of our hire car. As a special bonus, this made it extra-complicated to spend the whole day taking about seven different trains with two children under five.

At some point, I decided everyone should go for more, smaller bags so they’d squeeze in to overhead luggage racks and between the seats of our hire car. As a special bonus, this made it extra-troublesome to spend the whole day taking about seven different trains with two children under five.

  • P goes nuts over snow and insists on spending a couple of hours playing in it before bedtime
  • Overnight Shirakaba, Nozawa Onsen

Day Four

  • Bought lift passes, organised ski hire. A discount was available through Shirakaba Hotel (where we stayed) for both, and we were able to store our ski equipment in the hire shop at the foot of the slope.
  • Morning ski lesson – a family private from the Nozawa Ski School in English works out to be not much more than putting three people into group lessons. T joined in for about ten minutes, then left Nanny and P to it. As beginners, they were well matched and progressed nicely together over the week.
  • Snow, kid’s snow park, etc
For kids of all ages.

For kids of all ages.

  • Takeaway dinner in room
  • Overnight Nozawa Onsen

Day Five

  • As for day four, but with the sky full of drizzle and sleet, we ditched the slopes in the afternoon to head out on a half day tour to see the Snow Monkeys.
  • Overnight Nozawa Onsen

Days Six and Seven

  • More or less as for day four. The intermediate skiiers started out early to get a couple of runs in on the virgin snow. The beginner skiiers headed up the lifts to the higher slopes once lesson time rolled around, and the non-skiiers headed up in the gondolas for the views, the hot chocolate, and the pickled seaweed and apple and custard pizzas.
  • On the afternoon of day seven, the non-skiiers took the bus and train back to Nagano to pick up the hire car.
  • Overnight Nozawa Onsen

Day Eight

  • Load car, remove snow
Someone from our hotel kindly shovelled our car out, probably out of their goodwill and professionalism and not because they were keen to see the back of us.

Someone from our hotel had kindly shovelled our car out, probably out of their goodwill and professionalism and not because they were keen to see the back of us.

  • Wild goose chase through the snow in search of Kiriake Onsen.
  • Lunch: roadside convenience stops.
  • Drive to Shimosagaya Guest House, Tsumago, arriving only 1.5hrs later than they told us to get there if we wanted dinner. Luckily we had called ahead from the car to explain, using broken Japanese cribbed out of a damp phrase book, and they graciously served our tardy stomachs dinner (including candied crickets!).  It was the best place we stayed the whole trip and the best candied crickets any of us have ever tried.
  • Overnight Tsumago

Day Nine

  • Another amazing meal at our ryokan, this time breakfast.
  • Morning wander around Tsumago
  • Afternoon drive back to Nagano and the realisation that our plans to visit places like Matsumoto Castle and Daio Wasabi Farm were incompatible with getting the hire car back on time. In the end we dropped A and his Mum in Matsumoto to enjoy the castle (on an impromptu guided tour care of a friendly local), and took the sleeping children and other adults on to Nagano. A and his Mum joined us later by train.
  • Overnight at Moritomizu Backpackers near Nagano station (with a train view room for P)

Day Ten

  • Self-catered breakfast at hostel
  • Walk to train station, reserve seats for bullet train to Tokyo
Oh yay. More trains.

Oh yay. More trains.

  • Arrive Tokyo, pile Grandad, Grandma and luggage into a taxi for our flipkey.com apartment at Tokyo Towers
  • Rest of family stretch legs in park, then subway “home”, with the leading party somehow managing to arrive last
  • Overnight Tokyo

Day Eleven

  • Various attempts to enjoy riding around Tokyo subway despite three-year-old’s stroppy insistence she would only take pink trains
  • Imperial Palace East Gardens and random playground in the middle of I’mstillnotsurewhere
  • Tokyo Skytree
  • Overnight Toyko

Day Twelve

  • Cancelled Mount Fiji day trip by train owing to extreme train fatigue and also general fatigue and also we fair dinkum saw it in the distance on day eleven from the Tokyo Sky Tree, so it counts.
Mt Fuji as viewed from Tokyo Skytree at dusk.

Totally counts.

  • Instead we bummed around the apartment in the morning then took the subway to Oji station for a romp in the next-door Otonashi Shinsui Park.
  • Noodle bar for dinner
  • Karaoke night for mum and dad
  • Overnight Tokyo

Day Thirteen

  • Morning pack up, check out, store luggage
  • Playground! Trainspotting at Tokyo station!
  • Farewell lunch with Dad, who stayed on in Tokyo for work and is still not home but promises he will be veeeeery soon. Very soon.
  • Narita Express to airport (1hr)
  • Fly Narita -> Singapore (Mum, Nanny and kids – 7hrs) and Narita -> Brisbane (Grandma and Grandad)

I also have stories, but I suspect you’ll have to wait til next week, when school resumes and Dad returns. At present it’s urge;navoigjrbugeirab’/reoaGfjm. Sorry, that should read “an effort to stay awake at the keyboard”. In the meantime, I’m open to requests for which bits I should focus on, unless you’d rather leave me to blather on at will about whatever pops to mind.

Related:

Read how our itinerary started going awry. I also blame all the wonderful bloggers and websites on Japan for giving me too many ideas for one journey.

Hear about The Quest For Kiriake Springs – a wild goose chase through ice and snow ploughs (as requested by Robin of Around The World With Kids).

See my postcards from Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival, 2014 (as requested by Sharon of Where’s Sharon).

Ski with terrifying dolphins and visit the Snow Monkeys (as requested – minus the dolphins – by Richard of Living In The Langhe).

Find out how to take a bath in Japan, possibly whilst cooking an egg (not requested, just a bonus).

All this and some pre-trip planning and cultural notes under my Japan blog label or (with extra appearances from around the web) on my Japan Pinterest board.

This post appeared first on Journeys of the Fabulist

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