Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Best of Hakone - Hakone Free Pass

The lovely "onsen" (hot springs) town of Hakone is a perfect getaway spot from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo city. The locals think so too, so be warned of the crowds during weekends and holidays. If you're a visitor, it would be best for you to plan a trip during a weekday if you prefer a more relaxing getaway without the maddening crowds.

Located around 100 kms West of Tokyo, the best way to experience Hakone is to get the Hakone Free Pass. The Hakone Free Pass provides a round trip return ticket from Shinjuku Station to Hakone as well as unlimited boarding of participating buses, ferries, trains, cable car and ropeway for 5,000 yen (2 days) or 5,500 yen (3 days). If you're not planning to return to Tokyo, consider getting the Hakone Free Pass from Odawara (3,900 yen) and just buying the 1 way ticket from Shinjuku Station to Odawara. I would also highly recommend paying an additional 870 yen one way to upgrade to the Odakyu Ltd. Express Romance Car for a more comfortable ride.

You can book the pass on-line and collect it at the Odakyu Sightseeing Centre in Shinjuku Station. They have a counter for international visitors. Together with your pass, you will get a circuit map which shows you the best way to get around Hakone using the various forms of transportation below:

Hakone Free Pass Transportation:
1. Odakyu Romance Car (pay to upgrade)
- From Shinjuku Station to Odawara/Hakone Yumoto

Hakone Tozan Bus
2. - The most efficient way to travel within Hakone

3. Hakone Tozan Train
A leisurely 40 minute ride from Hakone-Yumoto to Gora.

4. Hakone Sightseeing Cruise (Lake Ashi)
A splendid way to view the beauty of Lake Ashi aboard a pirate ship: Togendai - Motohakone-ko - Hakone-machi

5. Hakone Ropeway
Enjoy the panaromic view of the the mountain and hot springs: Sounzan to Togendai

6. Hakone Tozan Cable car
Take the short ride from Gora to Sounzan on this Swiss made cable car

The Hakone Free Pass is definitely worth getting. When we first arrived in Hakone, it was raining so we did the entire circuit without getting the full benefit of the views. Fortunately, we had blue skies the next morning, so we repeated the entire transport circuit, this time, with full enjoyment of the view. I'll share more about our experiences in the next post.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Best Of Tokyo - Ramen

I love a bowl of steaming hot ramen noodles. Apart from the springy ramen noodles, crisp fried garlic slices and sliced roast pork served in creamy white miso soup, I love the Japanese hard-boiled egg, with its bright orange yolk. Here are 2 places which I found for good ramen in Tokyo. The first ramen shop which came recommended by the Lonely Planet is called Komen. It has a chain of 12 ramen shops in Tokyo. For non-Japanese speakers, look out for the 2 Japanese words encased in a large circle above the shop. I went to the Komen in Shinjuku (3-32-2, Shinjuku-ku, corner of Meiji-Dori and Koshu Kaido). This two storey ramen shop is big by ramen shop standards. They also have a branch in Harajuku.

Komen Ramen at Shinjuku

Big pots of stock for the ramen soup

Ramen with roast pork and white miso soup set - 990 yen

I stumbled onto the second ramen shop quite by accident. We were window shopping on the busy streets of Harajuku when this sign caught our attention. Walk down the stairs to a cosy little basement shop. Unfortunately, I don't know what the English name is but this shop is further down the street from the Lotteria at Takeshita Dori. The ramen is served in a stone bowl, which keeps it piping hot. In summer, the cold ramen is also quite popular. Personally, I found the ramen at this shop better than Komen.

Sigh...I wish I was back in Japan!

"We are noodle folk. Broth runs through our veins."
Mr. Ping, Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Best of Tokyo - Cirque De Soleil's ZED

A friend recommended us to watch Cirque De Soleil in Tokyo, a recommendation that we were glad to have followed. Tokyo's Cirque de Soleil features the performance - ZED, a program that is shown only in Japan. Located at the Tokyo Disney Resort (10 minutes walk from JR Maihama Station on the Keiyo Line or Musashino Line to the Theatre via IKSPIARI and the Disney Ambassador Hotel), the Cirque du Soleil Theatre Tokyo is a resident theatre for Cirque du Soleil, designed specially for ZED.

We opted for the non-peak show at 4 p.m which is cheaper by 1,000 Yen compared to the 1 p.m. peak show performance. For foreigners, if you want to book your tickets on-line, go to the HIS Travel website which caters to non-Japanese speaking clientele.

Since the Cirque du Soleil Theatre Tokyo is located next to the Ikspiari shopping mall, you could spend the whole day here, enjoying some live entertainment shopping and eating first before catching the Cirque de Soleil performance later in the afternoon.

On a hot summer day, pop by Folletti Gerutta for a cool gelato. It's worth your while to brave the queues.

Be sure to look out for the Mickey Mouse buses and trains which ferry hotel guests to Tokyo Disneyland.

As with the theatre, the story of ZED was specially developed for Japan. The main character is ZED, a blonde afro-hair-styled "living poem" in the imaginary world of Arcana. The performance opens with a pair of hilarious clowns, and progresses to various breathtaking acts comprising high wire, bungee, flying trapeze, juggling, lassos, etc, etc. While not a flawless performance, the show is highly entertaining with outstanding special effects and high energies levels. One can't help but be drawn to ZED's adventures.

All in all, catching the Cirque de Soleil performance makes for a nice day trip out of Tokyo city!