Monday, June 22, 2015

Robot Ice Cream in Matsumoto

On our last day in Matsumoto, we decided to take it easy and just spend the morning shopping for souvenirs.  We also wanted to go to a famous ice cream shop in Matsumoto called Kaiundo 開運堂.
Kaiundo is also a Japanese sweets store.  Kaiundo opens at 9:00 a.m., but the ice cream part of the store doesn’t open until 10:30, which we weren’t aware of until we got to the shop.
The sweets section of Kaiundo
The reason why this particular ice cream is famous is because it is made by a robot!

To buy ice cream, you must go to the counter and pay 320 for a special coin.

Once you have your coin, insert it and then choose whether you want a medium or large serving.  It doesn’t cost extra to choose large.  Once you have chosen your size, the robot starts preparing the ice cream!

Unfortunately, they only serve one ice cream flavor a day, but it means that you can try a different flavor every day!  They have many different flavors, including strawberry, chocolate mint, pistachio, Tahiti (mango and passion fruit), green tea, apple pie, banana, espresso, maple, and many more. On the day that we went they served Apricot Yogurt, which was really good!
Apricot Yogurt Ice Cream
For a list of the flavors for the month, please check this link. (Japanese only)  For more information, please check this site (Japanese only).  Kaiundo is open 7 days a week from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., or until there is no more ice cream.  

Please enjoy!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Weekend Trip in Nagano- Kamikochi and Shirahone Hot Springs

On our second day in Nagano, we went to Kamikochi!  Kamikochi is a famous mountain valley in Western Nagano.  The scenery there was very beautiful.

Man painting the Kamikochi mountain range


Getting to Kamikochi can be confusing though.  For those with cars, you are not allowed to drive personal cars into Kamikochi since they want to preserve its natural state as much as possible.  You have to park your car further down the way at one of the parking areas and take a taxi or bus to Kamikochi.  My brother and I didn’t drive though, so we took the train and bus from Matsumoto.  It took a long time, but it was very easy to understand and navigate the train and bus system.

First, we went to the Ario Matsumoto Bus Terminal, across the street from Matsumoto Station.
Ario Matsumoto Bus Terminal
There we could buy the train and bus ticket to Kamikochi.  We also wanted to stop at Shirahone Hot Springs, so we decided to buy the Kamikochi/ Norikura 2 Day Free Pass.  It costs 5,150 yen for adults and 2,580 yen for children.  After we bought our passes, we used our passes at Matsumoto Station to take the ALPICO Line from Matsumoto to Shinshimashima Station.  Once we arrived at Shinshimashima Station we waited for our bus to Kamikochi to arrive.

After riding the bus for about an hour, we arrived at Kamikochi Bus Terminal.  Once you arrive at Kamikochi, I recommend going to the sight-seeing center and getting a seiriken, or numbered boarding ticket.  You will need this number when you take the bus back.  You will have to tell the attendant which bus you want to leave on, so please don’t get lost while exploring Kamikochi because you might miss your bus!

After that, we started exploring and trekking around Kamikochi!

After we made it back to Kappabashi, we decided to get lunch.  We went to Restaurant Konashi (レストラン小梨) and had the spicy tomato curry.  We were both pretty disappointed with the taste though, so afterwards we went to eat dessert!  The first stop was Trois Cinq (トワ・サンク) for their famous apple pie!
Spicy Tomato Curry

Apple Pie

The principal at my school also recommended that we try the cheesecake sold at 5HORN near Kappabashi.  I really wanted to try the baked cheesecake, but they were sold out.  It is one of their most popular desserts.  Instead, my brother and I both had the blueberry cheesecake, which was light and fluffy.
Blueberry Cheesecake
We finished eating and decided to walk a little more before we had to catch our bus to go to Shirahone Hot Springs!  We took the 2:05 bus, and had to transfer at Alpico Sawando Shakomae bus stop.  We finally arrived at Shirahone Onsen bus stop around 3:10.
Shirahone Hot Springs
I love hot springs a lot, so I was really excited to go into their famous white water hot springs.  There were many places where one could enjoy the hot springs, but I ended up going to the cheapest one (510 yen, plus 200 yen for a towel).  The hot spring itself was nice but I couldn’t stay in it for a long time since the weather was so humid.

Our goal was to take the 4:21 bus back to Shinshimashima Station (as was written in the bus timetable booklet), but apparently that bus went to Norikura instead of Shinshimashima Station!  We were told that the next bus to Shinshimashima would be an hour later!!  There wasn’t anything else to do in Shirahone Onsen, so we decided to take the bus going to Norikura and to wait on it until it went to Shinshimashima.  There were so many mosquitoes so we didn’t really have a choice but to take the Norikura bus.  

We were expecting to get to Shinshimashima at 6:10 p.m., but after the bus driver went to Norikura, he drove us straight to Shinshimashima Station so that we could catch the 6:02 p.m. bus back to Matsumoto!  We were so surprised and happy that we didn’t have to wait until 7 p.m.!  The ALPICO workers were so kind and helpful.

Once we arrived back in Matsumoto we dropped off our things and got dinner at Minge Restaurant Moriyoshi (民芸レストラン盛よし).  After our long day of walking around Kamikochi and Shirahone, we were both in the mood for filling food.  This restaurant is very popular with the locals since the portions are big and the price is cheap.  They serve mostly 定食, or set meals which include the main dish, miso soup, and rice.  We were both happy with our dinners.
Crab croquette with side of salad, miso soup and rice

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Weekend Trip to Matsumoto, Nagano

Every year, the third grade students at the junior high school I teach at go on a school trip to Nagano. Every year, they come back and write diaries in English about all the delicious food they ate, as well as the beautiful sights they saw.  Then, they end their diary entries with “Have you ever been to Nagano?  Please visit Nagano!”

Every year, I settled for just getting souvenirs from the teachers and students that went.  But not this year. This year, I can finally say that I have visited Nagano.

My brother and I decided to go to Nagano this past weekend! We spent the night in Tokyo on Friday, and left to catch the 8:30 a.m. bullet train from Shinjuku Station on Saturday. He had his JR Pass, which provides unlimited use of the JR trains across the country for foreigners visiting Japan.  However, I had to buy a ticket for the Shinkansen, or bullet train.  I got the unreserved ticket, which cost 6,380 yen one-way from Shinjuku to Matsumoto station.  We were worried that we wouldn’t get seats on the train, but we were very fortunate that the train started from Shinjuku, so we were able to find seats pretty easily.

After about 3 hours on the train, we finally arrived at Matsumoto Station!
Matsumoto Station
We decided to go to the hotel we reserved online after we arrived so that we wouldn’t have to carry our things with us around the city.  We stayed at Hotel Ote (ホテル大手), which was about a 5 minute walk away from Matsumoto Station.  The room itself was pretty small, but it was pretty cheap and the location was convenient.  It was right across the street from a 7-11, so it made getting breakfast each morning nice and easy hahaha.
View from the door
Twin beds

After dropping off our luggage we went off to find a place where we could eat lunch.  We decided on a Japanese soba restaurant called Soba Kurabu Sasaki (蕎麦倶楽部佐々木), which was a 15 minute walk from Matsumoto Station.  My brother got the Mori Soba, the restaurant’s recommendation.  I got the Kamotsuke Soba, cold soba served with a hot duck meat soup.  Our sobas were delicious, and the people who worked at the restaurant were extremely nice and helpful. For anyone who wants to try Matsumoto Soba, I strongly recommend this restaurant!  (English menu provided, staff also speaks very good English) (Mori Soba- 1,000 yen; Kamotsuke Soba- 1,500 yen)
Kamotsuke Soba from Soba Kurabu Sasaki
Now that we had eaten, we were ready to explore Matsumoto City!  The waitress at the soba restaurant gave us a map and directions to Matsumoto Castle, so we headed there first.  From the restaurant it was about a 10 minute walk (from the station it’s about 15).  The fee to get into the castle was 610 yen.  The views from the castle were spectacular, and I really enjoyed seeing the gun collection inside the castle.  There were 6 floors which tourists could go to, but the staircases in the castle got very crowded.  The staircase from the 5th to the 6th floor were not only crowded, but the steps were very high!  There was an old man who almost slipped going down the stairs just as I was about to go up. Luckily there was a rail so he managed to not fall down, but it was still pretty scary.  I was pretty worried about falling as well.
Matsumoto Castle

Part of the artillery collection inside Matsumoto Castle

View of the castle grounds from the Moon Viewing Room of Matsumoto Castle
Once we left the castle, we went to the museum that was right in front of Matsumoto Castle.  The 610 yen admission fee that we had paid for the castle also included admission to the museum.  The museum had a lot of interesting things showing the history of Matsumoto, as well as yearly events that occur.  I really liked the treasure ship with the seven dolls. 
Treasure Ship

It was still pretty early, so we decided to visit the Former Kaichi Primary School, the oldest elementary school in Japan.  I wasn’t expecting it to look so nice on the outside, but I was surprised to see that it looked a lot newer than the elementary schools that I teach at hahaha. 
Former Kaichi Primary School, the oldest elementary school in Japan
Afterwards, we made our way back to Nawate Street to look around and to buy a taiyaki!  One of my teachers recommended eating taiyaki from Furusato.  I got the anko (sweet bean paste) taiyaki which cost about 150 yen.  It was good, but really filling.
Anko (sweet bean paste) Taiyaki

For dinner, we decided to eat another one of Matsumoto’s famous dishes, sanzoku-yaki, or fried chicken.  We went to Hyakurotei (百老亭), which was about a 10 minute walk from Matsumoto Station.  We got the sanzoku-yaki and rice set, which was about 1,100 yen.  There was way too much food for me though, so I ended up giving half of my chicken to my brother.  The chicken was good, but the portion size was too much for me.  If you decide to go here, I would recommend that you get the rice set if you like to eat a lot of food.
We had both eaten a lot of food that day, so we decided to walk to the other side of the city that we hadn’t been to yet.  As I was walking through Matsumoto City, I felt that it was the perfect combination of both traditional and modern.  My brother and I had spent most of the day in the traditional part of the city, but the other half of the city had department stores and other big buildings.  Tourists can enjoy seeing temples and castles during the day, and end the day with a couple drinks at one of the many bars that are in Matsumoto.  However, instead of going to a bar, my brother and I decided to end our first day with a creampuff from Masamura.
Masamura, view from outside

Inside Masamura

Cream puff from Masamura
There were many kinds of creampuffs to choose from, but we decided to get a normal creampuff with whipped cream filling (216 yen).  My brother said that it was the best creampuff that he had ever had in his life.  I thought that it was pretty delicious too.  It was definitely the best way to end our first night in Nagano.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Beautiful Roses at Hitachi Seaside Park

Yesterday (June 7), I went to Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki with my brother and one of my friends.  My brother said that he wanted to visit there while he is in Japan, so we decided to go for the day.  For flower enthusiasts, I highly recommend going there! It makes for a lovely day trip.  Even if you don’t like flowers, there is also an amusement park with a Ferris wheel as well as a large open space to play sports.
Ferris Wheel and Poppies
We left around 10:30 am and arrived there around 12:30 in the afternoon.  I had driven my car, so we had to pay 510 yen to park my car at their parking lot.  There are three parking lots (West, South, and Seaside) and the price is the same for all three of them.  We parked at the Seaside Parking lot, which is furthest away from the rose garden, but we were able to find a parking space pretty easily.  We could also see the coast as well which was very nice.
View of the coast from top of the hill
About once a month, they have a free admission day, so we were very lucky that it happened to be on the day that we went.  Admission is 410 yen for adults, 80 yen for children, and 210 yen for seniors.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find information about the free admission days on their English website, so please check their Japanese website for more information!

Roses are currently in bloom, so we could see many beautiful roses.  We could also see some poppies too when we first entered the park.  

The park is very big, so if there are lots of things that you want to see but if you don’t feel like walking around the entire park there are some convenient modes of transportation.  Bicycles can be rented there at 500 yen for the day, or 400 yen for three hours (it’s an extra 50 yen for every 30 minutes after the three hours). (For children it’s 300 yen for the day, 250 yen for three hours + 20 yen for every 30 minutes after) [As written on their Japanese website].  They have many kinds of bicycles that can be rented, including tandem bicycles.  If you decide to rent a tandem bicycle you and your partner will both have to pay to use the bike.  There is also a cute train that goes through the park as well that one can ride for 500 yen for the whole day.

The flowers change every season, so please check their website to find out which flowers are blooming!