Snow Onsen in Yuzawa + Girls Meetup in Tokyo

JAPAN: Day 5 – Yuzawa and Tokyo (Friday, 23 January 2015)

Guys, sorry for letting the Japan story hanging for a few weeks. I was unable to access internet on my laptop due the bad wi-fi connection from our apartment in Bangkok. I mean, it worked well on our mobile phones, but not on the laptop, I don’t know why. So we finally decided to buy a portable wi-fi device and subscribe monthly internet package from one of Thai providers: True. As you can see, I can blog now 🙂


So as I opened my eyes to welcome our fifth day in Japan, I got chills when I saw snow for the first time in my life. I saw it through the bus window, and that was a few minutes past 6 AM in the morning, and we almost reached Nagaoka. I think I went silent for a few minutes, leaned my forehead on the window glass, and just watched the snow on the streets peacefully.


If you wonder why we went to Nagaoka, please read my previous post. Basically we were just avoiding having to spend more money and time if we had to go to Tokyo first and then go back and forth to Yuzawa from the capital city. We took the night bus from Kyoto to Nagaoka, then the JR train from Nagaoka to Yuzawa, and finally Shinkansen from Yuzawa to Tokyo. It cost much less money, and took less travel time.
Nagaoka in the morning.

So we arrived at 7 AM in Nagaoka, then walked directly to the train station. I honestly don’t know what Nagaoka has to offer for travelers, as my Japanese friends didn’t even know this town either, and we were just there for a short transit. My apology for the blurry picture, but this is how Nagaoka looked like when we arrived:


However, we experienced something nice while we were there, which was to take the JR Joetsu Line with the Japanese kids and teenagers who were going to school in the morning! It was just lovely to see how they communicate with each other in the train… how they study or do their homework on the way to school (just reminded me of my school years, haha)… how stylish their uniforms are… I managed to take a picture of one of them, who really looks like a doll:
Students in the train from Nagaoka.

The scenery from the train on the way from Nagaoka to Yuzawa was also the best one we had during our Japan trip. There was thick snow all the way and we saw countryside style traditional Japanese houses and buildings, along with snowy mountains as the background…


Anyway, the journey took 79 minutes, and here is the view from Echigo-Yuzawa Station entrance when we got there:
Yuzawa

It was snowing in Yuzawa that day, and the temperature was colder than all the cities we’ve visited before. It was 0 degrees Celcius, or probably minus.


Our main plan for Yuzawa was to try one of their hot springs: Kaikake Onsen. Before we got into the bus to go there from the station, I called their landline number, using a public telephone, to inform them that we were coming. They noted the notification and told me they would pick us up at the bus stop. Sweet.


The journey to Kaikake Onsen took around 20 minutes, and when we arrived at the bus stop, a friendly-looking guy was already waiting there for us, standing beside a mini van. The road to the onsen from the bus stop was small and covered with 2-meter snow on both sides. Crazy. It was a 3-minute drive only. Kaikake Onsen turned out to be an inn, run by a Japanese family, and not just an onsen. We didn’t stay there, though, but I wish we had!


A woman at the reception, whom I already had a contact via e-mails before coming to Japan, welcome us and asked us if we also wanted to have lunch there after the bath. We definitely took the offer as we realized how far this place from downtown, and we knew that we would be starving after the hot bath in the onsen.


So Jutet and I split. No, not broke up, LOL. I mean, he went to the men’s onsen, and I went to the women’s. Yes, we could not go together cause there was no mixed onsen. And no, you can’t wear ANYTHING when you go to Japanese hot spring. That is number one rule. You gotta be totally naked. Well, at first it was kind of awkward for me, because there was a woman, completely naked, and I dared myself to just show up in front of her, totally naked, too. After a while, I got used to it.


The women’s onsen had 3 different sections. Two are indoor onsen, one has normal warm water, the other one has hotter water. The other one is outdoor onsen, where you can experience getting naked under the falling snow but still keep yourself warm 🙂


I had a light conversation with the woman when we were bathing together in the outdoor onsen. She was a woman from Tokyo who was spending the weekend with her husband in Yuzawa. She told me both her husband and her son already visited Indonesia, and that she wished she could visit my country, too, someday. She was such a nice person. She also willingly took photos of me in the onsen:

Kaikake Onsen’s outdoor hot spring in winter.
Japanese hand pose for Japanese onsen!

WHAT CAN POSSIBLY BE COOLER THAN THAT???

What it’s like in the onsen area.

So Jutet and I both spent 2 hours in the onsen, then met again for lunch at the inn’s restaurant area. The decision to have a lunch there turned out to be one of the best decisions we made during our trip, haha. The lunch provided was so excellent. Take a look at this:

Cold Soba Set
…with this scenery from the restaurant window 🙂

I really wish we could have spent more time in Yuzawa (since, I had fallen in love with snow), but we had to “move on” to our next destination: Tokyo! So we said goodbye to this really nice family who owned Kaikake Onsen, took the bus back to Echigo-Yuzawa station. While waiting for our Shinkansen departure time, we visited this sake shop: Ponshukan!

Ponshukan
Drunk men in front of Ponshukan.
117 options of Niigata sake!
Our favorite here.

By only paying 500 JPY, you can try 5 different sakes from Niigata region. I gave up after 2 shots, since I’m not really a drinker. Since we both bought 5 tokens, Jutet in the end had to finish the rest of my tokens, haha! He was so so happy.


Before leaving the station, I took a photo of this:

Yuzawa style winter kimono.

Shinkansen was, indeed, expensive. It cost us 6,460 JPY each person for a 1.5-hour ride only to Tokyo. But yeah, it was really fast. It also had typical airplane services like on-board food and beverages, magazines, and shops. Surprisingly, many of the passengers looked like working men who just came back from work. You know, with all the suits and ties and everything. The guy who sat beside me in the train even looked like he was doing some kind of work on his laptop during the trip. Hmm.


We got off at Ueno station and took Tokyo Metro Ginza Line to reach Asakusa, where our hostel was located. Yes, we finally tried one of the cool hostels in Japan: Khaosan World Asakusa Hostel & Ryokan. We booked a private room, though, not the dorm. It was still cheaper than if we booked 2 different beds in the dorm. Plus, we got our own bathroom. So, it was perfect.


We just dropped our bags and did a bit of refreshment before going out again that night, since we had appointment with my Japanese girl friends! They were Yuri Yamada, Akiko Nagata, Aska Ishii, and Kimiko Tomiyoshi; the girls that I met during my Service Learning Program (SLP) in Cambodia, back in 2010. So it was so great to meet up again! 🙂


The girls took us to an izakaya in Shinjuku area: Tsukada Nojo. Izakaya is a type of informal Japanese drinking establishment that serves food to accompany the drinks. It is a casual place for after-work drinking. It was an awesome experience, as we got to try the Japanese food we have never ever tried before (imagine, they even served chicken sashimi!), and it was almost impossible for us to spot this place since everything was written in Japanese alphabets, from the entrance to the menu. So… thanks to my girl friends for taking us here!

Tsukada Nojo’s Welcome Appetizer
On the left: Aska, me, & Jutet. On the right: Akiko, Yuri, & Kimiko.

Tsukada Nojo has a very interesting concept. They give new comers some kind of “membership card”. As this was our first time coming to Tsukada Nojo, Jutet and I were assigned as “Managers”. On the other side, Yuri, who had visited Tsukada Nojo several times more, had been promoted as “Vice President” that night! The “position” determines what kind of bonuses (in forms of meals and drinks, of course) you get. Exciting, eh? So since Yuri already held a quite high position, we got lots of bonuses from our dedicated waitress!

Those are our membership cards and next to it is Soy-Sauce Ice Cream!

It was amazing how the restaurant staff could take care of our table so well when it was actually very very crowded there. Our friendly waitress (I forgot her name, unfortunately) even took her time to chat with us, asked us where Jutet and I came from, explained the menu, and even told Aska that she would soon be moving to Finland to study about women rights there. Wonderful. Just wonderful. Excellent food. Excellent service. Excellent people. This was our “sayonara” dessert:

We love you, TSUKADA NOJO.

After the lovely dinner, we said goodbye to each other. This is what I hate the most: saying goodbye! I still missed them, but the night had to end… Yuri told us that she would meet us again the next day, and that she would try to contact our other friends from SLP 2010.


It was just a small piece of Tokyo, buddies. This city has so many more to offer for travelers. Make sure you get the updates for my next posts about Japan. The journey is not yet finished!


それじゃ、また。Soreja mata!

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