All posts by exzekestence

Day 8 – Niigata Aquarium

After a week of travelling, I decided to take it easy today and visit the Niigata Aquarium.  I  wasn’t expecting much as some of the reviews I had read were that promising.  But I d generally enjoy aquariums so decided to just give it a try.

Along the way to the aquarium, it started raining and I took refuge at the Niigata Gokoku Shrine.  The Shrine was really new and beautiful.  The flipside is that it didn’t feel historic like some

Day 7 (cont) – Yoshida Shrine and Mt Yoshida – Unexpected Gems

Yahiko was an unexpected gem! If you are visiting Niigata, I highly recommend this day trip! It’s about an hour away from Niigata station and the two main sights, Yahiko Shrine and Mt Yahiko are worth at least a half-day visit.

A tower just outside the JR station welcomes you once you exit it. I was wowed by the views of the snowy mountains just behind.

Along the walk to the shrine, saw a shop selling these chewy mochi-style skinned red bean cakes. Of course, I had to try one and while not mind-blowing, it was a pleasant snack.

And I was lucky, at least in my opinion, that it started snowing! It’s not my first time seeing snow, but somehow, my impression is that it’s the first time I was actually caught in a snowfall. Really enjoyed walking to the shrine in the snowfall.

The usual red torii gates welcoming visitors and separating the ‘sacred’ from the ‘human’ world.

Stream just behind the Torii gate. The ‘bridge’ is non-functional, just a really nice decoration across the stream.

Path leading up to the shrine – usual corridor of majestic trees.

A pair of stones where you can make your prayer/wish and then try to lift the stone. If the stone feels light, your wish will be granted!

Second Torii gate before the main shrine.

This is certainly a beautiful shrine…

… especially with the snowcapped mountains as a backdrop.

A colletion of smaller shrines next to the main shrine.

I decided to take the ropeway up the Mount Yahiko. I was worried that the ropeway would be closed but was glad to find that it was open. The rope way is jut a shirt walk behind the shrine. It wasn’t cheap, about 1500 yen (if I recall) but it was totally worth it!

View of the snowcapped trees as the cable car went up.

This was the scene that greeted me once I stepped out of the ropeway station. It was definitely not what I had expected but boy was I stoked! It was like entering another world, just 5 minutes away.

On the right of the ropeway exit was a beautiful zig-zag path up to another observation post. I would have loved to have done the trek but my track shoes were really not suited for the walk, especially on the slippery ice. Reminds me that the next time I decide to do a visit to a snowy place, I’d better have the right shoewear.

Do you wanna build a snowman? YES! But without gloves, it was too cold for me to build anything bigger than this little snowamn.

Here’s another path, on the left of the station exit, leading up to some radio towers. Again, a beautuiful view and I would have loved to do the trek… if not for the footwear….

View of Yahiko town. I think Niigata is on the far left.

After about an hour, I finally took the cable car back down.

View of the ropeway station.

After a really cold day, I stopped by a shop on the path back to the JR station and enjoyed an lovely hot bowl of red bean soup with soft tender mochis. Pure heaven.

All in, it was a day I really enjoyed. I didn’t know much about Yahiko but on hindsight, this was really a memorably visit for me! Do consider it if you are in the Niigata area. And remember, you can try to pair it with the Shu-kura sake-tasting train!

Day 7 – Another joyful train! The Shu Kura .

I decided to go to Yahiko to see the shrine there and taking the Shu-Kura joyful train was really purely by chance! I missed an earlier train which I had wanted to take and the next train was an express train which turned out to be the Shu-Kura!

I noticed something a little difference as I walked past the train windows then I realized it was the Shu-Kura! What I wasn’t too sure about was whether this was a fully reserved train… So i apprehensively boarded it and took a seat and what I thought was a public area, keeping my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t be kicked out.

In the refreshments car, there was a jazz band entertaining the guests.

The train had nice big windows to allow passengers to enjoy the view. As the train pulled out, we had the station staff sending us off with festive flag-waving.

Shortly after the train left the station, the area where the jazz band was playing was converted into a sake-tasting area! Since I didn’t drink, I didn’t get to enjoy the free sake tasting. I can imagine how this could be a total wonderland for sake lovers!

The windows in the refreshment car were designed like what I thought were windows that looked like traditional japanese house windows so you can get the whole sake drinking experience.

Similar to the Genbi Shinkansen, the train had their own unique refreshments. It included a traditional niigata meal which I didn’t feel like trying. I simply bought a donut with a cup of coffee.

More views of the other car.

The general seating car (I think!). Here’s where I camped for the hour-long journey.

External view of the train at Yahiko station.

Overall, it was another enjoyable experience. This is definitely one for the sake drinkers but it was still something any train lover should try. I think with this second ‘joyful train’ I’m quite inspired to try other joyful trains if I get the chance! Japan really makes taking the train such a fun experience.

Day 6 – To Niigata on a Very Special Train

Today, I said good bye to Nagano and made my way to Niigata.  To be honest, in hindsight, I think I should have stayed more days in Nagano.  There seems to be quite a few interesting side trips I can make around the area.  But I think I’ll keep that for another trip.  It does seem that I can easily spend 5 days in Nagano.

Finally, clear skies, but just when I’m leaving Nagano.  Sigh.

I stopped at Takasaki and switched trains to Echigoyuzawa.

I had a two hour wait at Echigoyuzawa before the highlight for today, a hour ride on the ‘joyful train’ – Genbi Shinkansen.  More about that in a while.  While waiting for the train, I window shopped around the station and saw this huge spinning display.  It was really amazing, the number of handsewn (I think) dolls that went into this carousell of wonder.

This was an ultimate advertisement.  Looking at it just made me want to buy some to bring home!  I did yield and bought a good luck cat :-).  I had also wanted to kill some time by taking the cable car up to Yuzawa onsen to see the snow and treeline.  Unfortunately, it was off-season and the cable cars weren’t running, not for another week at least.  So I found myself a cafe and sat around for about 45mins, updating my blog.

at 12.44, it was time for my ride on the Genbi Shinkansen.  I had planned my day’s itinerary around this as the train only ran 3 times during the weekend from Echigoyuzawa to Niigata.  This was basically a train with the cabins specially designed to look like a museum of art.

Walking towards my carriage, I caught a glimpse of the artwork in one of the carriages.

Here’s the sole reserved car carriage.  I was quite lucky to be able to get a reserved seat on it.

The people travelling on non-reserved tickets had these really comfy sofas!  The only downside is you couldn’t reserve them so it was up to your luck if you can get a seat.  This car had steel mirrors to reflect the outside landscape

This one featured artwork on the wall inspired by train lines.  There were protrusions, symbolizing what I think are mountains the trains were going around.

The cafe car was also beautifully decorated with a unique dessert menu.

The next car had the most interesting art work to me.  It was suspended on fishing lines and I think the intention was for it to have slight movement as the train moved.

The final car was the least interesting.  I believe it feature photos of K2 peak.

I had to of course try a dessert – as simple lemon icing cheese cake with a cup of coffee.  And no visit to such a unique museum would be complete without a nice souvenir – a pair of Genbi Shinkansen fork and spoon.

The journey was over in about an hour.  It’s wonderful how the japanese has made the train experience such an enjoyable one, and at no extra cost!  The train ticket on this train cost the same as any other train I could have taken to Niigata from Echigoyuzawa.  I’ll definitely aim to try some of the other ‘joyful trains’ when I get the chance!

Pulling into Niigata, I had my first experience of snowfall in Japan.  However, the snow melted when it touched the ground, making the place kinda slippery and wet.

My first snowball of this trip.

I made my way to a garden called Ikutopia as it supposedly had a night illumination.  Had to take a bus as there wasn’t any nearby train station.  The entrance was only 500 yen and though there was a slight drizzle, it was an enjoyable walk around the garden (other than the occasional cold puddles I stepped into).

There was an indoor pavilion where the trees in the middle were lighted up in time to music that was being played.  Around the trees were different displays for people tot ake photos.  As it was in a nice cosy enclosed place, it was a nice place to take a break and shoot some pics.

Lots of hearts for all!

After the visit, I realized that there wasn’t a bus anywhere nearby for me to get back to my hotel!  Niigata station (from which I could probably find my way back) was a 5km walk away and I wasn’t going to make that walk in the drizzle and cold.  I contemplated on taking a taxi for around 1600 yen but ended up deciding to do a 3km walk to the nearest bus stop where there was a bus going to my hotel (thanks again to google…).

It was really cold and wet walk.  Thankfully, my jacket kept me reasonably dry.  But my shoes enjoyed quite a few dips into cold puddles of water along the way… I finally reached my bus stop after about 30mins and the bus came on the dot!

Dinner near my hotel was a nice hot bowl of ramen!  I don’t think ramen ever tasted so good, especially after the chilly walk in the drizzle!