I’ve been to Japan quite a few times; however, my trips have mostly been to large cities such as Tokyo and Osaka (but mostly Tokyo).  This time, I changed things up a bit and decided to venture north of Tokyo to places I’ve never been to before, so here goes…

Day 1.  It’s more like evening one.  I landed in Tokyo in the early evening, and quickly dashed (I really ran from the last possible gate through immigration and customs) to the Japan Rail (JR) counter to buy my JR East Rail Pass and get my reservation for the Shinkansen bullet train to Sendai.  Somehow all the stars were aligned for me that evening and I was on the 1.5 hour ride on the E5 Series “Hayabusa” train to Sendai to meet up with a friend.

Hayabusa Shinkansen Train

After arriving in Sendai it was time for a late dinner.  The region is well-known for its beef tongue, so we went to a great restaurant and had a few orders of those.  The meat was so tender you would not believe.

Beef tongue

Day 2.  We were off to Aomori, which is basically the northernmost (large) city on the main island of Honshu.  Why?  Well, we had seen a video clip of a place that served tuna (maguro) in a very bizarre way.  So we figured we’d give it a try – and the train pass gave us the incentive to do it.  We took the morning E5 Series “Hayabusa” over to Shin-Aomori station (which is a new station built for the bullet trains), and then had to transfer over to Aomori, THEN take another train over to Asamushi-Onsen to get to the restaurant.  Now this last train is called the “Aoimori Railway” and is very cute, haha.

Aoimori Railway

Finally we arrived at the restaurant and I ordered the “small” tuna bowl, and here it was – a MOUNTAIN FULL OF TUNA.  It really took me almost 30 (or maybe it was 40) minutes before I could finish it.  It was a true challenge.

Small tuna bowl

After making our way back to the station, we then headed to Hachinohe, which I had mistakenly thought had good food around the station, but that proved to be negative.  We ended up walking around and then returned to Sendai for the evening, and had some wonderful Botan-ebi.  Apparently I was lucky to have selected one with eggs.  Yum.Botan ebi
Day 3. It was time to part with my friend and onto the solo portion of my trip over to the western side of Japan, specifically to the city of Niigata.  I have never been to the city so I figured I’d check it out (there wasn’t much research done in the first place, but I figured I’d see the Sea of Japan for the first time).

On the way to Niigata, I was reading about a small town called Murakami, which had old streets with well-preserved buildings.  Once I got to the station I went to the information counter and asked about it, and I decided to change course.  On top of that, the woman at the information counter suggested that I go to the station “Kuwasawa” to see the Sea of Japan up close.  Minutes later, I was off again on *yet* another train, this time the “Inaho”.Inaho train

On the way to Murakami you could see rice fields.  Niigata (the prefecture) is known to have the best rice in Japan due to the water supply.Niigata rice fields

 

Murakami did not disappoint.  It was definitely a wonderful stroll in old town, and I spent 30 minutes talking with a shop owner who apparently was also a town historian, and learned much about the town.  One of the most interesting pieces of information I learned is that the cultural influence of the town was actually from Kyoto.  Building after building told the stories of the past, including signage that dates back a bit.

Murakami buildingsMurakami buildings

 

Murakami is actually known for its salmon.  So you could see salmon hanging from storefronts.

Murakami salmon

 

After Murakami I took another 30 minute local train over to Kuwasawa for a brief stop to see the Sea of Japan.  I’ve never been to this side of Japan before so I was a bit curious.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The only thing was that I didn’t have time to see the sunset.  More for next time I guess.

Sea of Japan from Kuwasawa

Sea of Japan drive

Now it’s time to head back.  The evening was planned at Echigo-Yuzawa, which is usually known as a ski resort, but also its hot springs.  I took the double-decker Max Toki train and I was there so fast I didn’t even get to enjoy the train ride.

Max Toki Trains

The dinner.  Well.  It was a-mazing.  Everything was made from local ingredients and it was 8 courses.  I’ll just talk about a few.  Let’s begin with asparagus soup with tofu.

Asparagus soup and tofu

 

Some tempura and then some grilled sea bream (honestly I don’t even know what “bream” was).

Tempura

Sea bream

After dinner, I retreated to my room for some R&R and to digest a bit, before heading upstairs to the hot springs.  Let’s just say the hot springs is a bit too hot for me.  I know its therapeutic value, but it’s so difficult for me to stay inside for more than 10 minutes.  It was relaxing though while it lasted.

Day 4.  It was time to get back to the big city, but not before I get some breakfast and then take in the sights of the Yuzawa valley via a gondola ride.
Breakfast

 

As you can see the view is absolutely gorgeous.

Yuzawa valley

Yuzawa valley

 

Then in less than two hours, I was in Tokyo and at the end of my trip.  It was all about walking and relaxing at cafes such as this one before hopping on my plane home.
Tokyo cafes

 

Until next time…

 

 

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