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Mermaid at the Beach at Unohama Onsen

Mermaid at the Beach at Unohama Onsen

With so many spots still to explore in Japan (see our Hello Kitty map), we decided to take advantage of the newly extended Hokuriku Shinkansen to explore the formerly rather inaccessible Sea of Japan coast for a weekend getaway. The line has been extended from Nagano to Kanazawa. Since we had already visited both endpoints on former occasions, I was trying to decide on one of the places in between. But frankly, it seemed that none of them is touristically very developed. I first thought of Unazuki-onsen (it being a hot-spring resort), but then decided against it as the sightseeing railroad into the neighboring Kurobe Gorge has not yet reopened after winter. In the end, I decided on Unohama Onsen in Niigata Prefecture, because, again, hot springs. That the place is directly on the beach seemed another plus.
View of the Niigata Coast from Kasugayama

View of the Niigata Coast from Kasugayama

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"Photographing" the Temple of Heaven - a new friend - Snapshots

“Photographing” the Temple of Heaven – a new friend – Snapshots

Can or should you bring your small children on a trip to Beijing? We have recently spent a week there with our toddler daughter, so here are my two cents. One concern is certainly the rampant air pollution, which has been all over the news during the last two winters. While for me, this excludes a visit in winter, in summer matters are much better. Spikes in the pollution levels do occur (aqicn.org offers hourly updates), but they often last only a few hours and can be worked around. Windy days (after the first dust cloud has blown off) even offer quite good air quality. We found however the very high temperatures quite challenging and ended up spending more time indoors with our daughter than we would have hoped for (we seem to have been especially unlucky, but maybe one should rather aim for earlier in spring or autumn instead?). (more…)

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View across Kunming Lake to Longevity Hill (Summer Palace)

View across Kunming Lake to Longevity Hill (Summer Palace)

On our way to Japan, we recently spent one week in Beijing. Due to circumstances (chiefly the facts that the Chinese Academy of Sciences is located very far away from most sights, and that we hit a hot spell with up to 41 degrees C), we were only able to see two of the major sights, namely the Summer Palace (the only sight relatively close to us) and the Temple of Heaven in the center of town. These, however, are truly impressive.
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven

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View of the snowy mountain ranges with distinctive volcanic cones from Ikaho Onsen

View of the snowy mountain ranges with distinctive volcanic cones from Ikaho Onsen

Visiting a hot spring town is a quintessential part of the Japanese experience, so obviously we could not miss out on that. Since our Japan map still has many empty patches, we tried a new region this time, namely Gunma (群馬) prefecture. Ikaho Onsen (伊香保温泉) recommends itself for an overnight trip as it can be reached within two hours from Tokyo (shinkansen plus local train plus bus, or shinkansen plus bus). Located on a mountain slope, Ikaho Onsen commands beautiful views of the plain below surrounded by mountain ranges.
The bottom of the Ishidangai, the famous 360 stone steps leading up through the town of Ikaho Onsen.

The bottom of the Ishidangai, the famous 360 stone steps leading up through the town of Ikaho Onsen.

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Shuzenji Onsen

Katsura river in Shuzenji Onsen A stay in Japan would be lacking without a decent soak in a hot spring. An escape to an onsen town with an overnight stay in a traditional ryokan with good bathing facilities and a good kaiseki style dinner is, admittedly, an indulgence, but nothing else gives you this Japanese feeling! With limited time and baby in tow, we were looking for a place within two hours from Tokyo with hassle-free access. The Izu peninsula recommended itself through its easy access via the Tokaido Shinkansen and multitude of hot springs. While we had stayed on the sea shore in spring, we chose a place inland this time: Shuzenji Onsen (修善寺温泉), half an hour by local train away from Mishima which is reached by Shinkansen. Mt. Fuji is looming behind as the local train crawls down the Izu peninsula.

Shuzenji Temple

Shuzenji temple

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Since we’ve been missing the Japanese hot springs, we’ve gone on a little weekend getaway from Tokyo. The Izu peninsula boasts a variety of generously flowing hot springs. Atami (熱海), only half an hour’s ride by Shinkansen from Tokyo, was our first stop. Its main attraction are definitely its seven hot spring sources. The town lies on the hillside descending down to the ocean, sporting a sun beach and beach front that is lit up at night. Its main products are dried fish of all shapes, citrus fruit, and onsen manju, a Japanese sweet that is traditionally steamed in the steam escaping from the hot springs themselves.

Dried fish - Onsen Manju - Citrus fruits

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A while ago I wrote the best-of list of our trips in Japan. And while people are already joking that we’ve been everywhere in Japan, the list of places we’ve not been to is even longer. The picture on the left – our souvenir Gotochi Kitty collection on a map of Japan – shows this well. While the Kanto region is overcrowded with Kitties, the west coast and the North of the country are sadly kittyless. Today, I’ll be sharing with you the list of places I definitely want to visit. These are places I am lead to believe after careful research (yes, I’m constantly organizing an upcoming trip) to be very worth visiting, places I already had a concrete plan to visit. For a variety of reasons, these trips just didn’t happen. But they’re on the to-do list and maybe can give others some ideas where to go. As the map shows, there are many more places I haven’t even gotten around to researching… (more…)

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