Nozawa Onsen snowboarding

It is a year since I first went snowboarding with Arnault at Nozawa Onsen. During January and February 2013 we made numerous trips into the deep fluffy snow on the north west slopes of the Torogi pass in Nagano Prefecture. Arnault, a university friend of Nicks’ from Singapore has been a regular at Nozawa onsen for the past 7 years and returns year on year for the ease of access from Tokyo, deep powder, often unused off-piste trails, and local, non-touristy feel that the place has. He stays at the same family Ryonkan each year, and they view him as a favoured son. Ina ddition, the town is historic, with 17 public onsens scattered throughout the tiny town, it is one of few places  where these public onsens are still maintained, free of charge.

We had blue skies for 2 of the three visits, which is apparently pretty rare, and good snow. On one occasion, we had almost too much snow! Check out the gallery and two video clips I have put together below. Unfortunately, both times I went off-piste with Arnault and Delphine, I crashed too many times to make sure the camera was operating appropriately! One of those occasions I managed to get a little air just prior to hitting a tree at pretty decent speed, so a good thing it is not on camera!

Click to see the pictures in large format.

Asakusa Samba festival

I do not know how the ties between Brazil and Japan were originally made, and even Wikipedia is a bit slim on information. However,  Brazil holds the second largest population of Japanese outside of Japan. I cannot really imagine too dissimilar cultures but it seems to work. And it works a little bit both ways. Whilst Japan does not have the second largest population of Brazilians outside of Brazil , they do seem to really appreciate Brazilian culture. One of the ways they do that is with the Asakusa samba festival – a little version of carnival in Tokyo.

Unfortunately, it seems they have not quite got the hang of the after party yet. Still, the costumes, the energy and enthusiasm were all very impressive. Also, going on the crowd that showed up, I’m sure it was also an economic success for Asakusa.

These photos are from the festival held in August 2012. I’m sure it will be on again in 2013. Keep your eyes out in Metro magazine event listings or for posters in the sub-way.

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Food from home

The food in Japan is renowned for its quality. What people may not realise, is that it is not just the food in the restaurants that is good – it is the food in the markets and the supermarkets and the basement floors of the department stores.

For me the food in Japan represents two of the virtues most synonymous with the Japanese –  value and quality. Lucky for me, I think that flowed through to my cooking!

My favourite secret place in Tokyo

Bar Lupin is a stellar little hide-away with a mysterious ambiance and marvelously mixed cocktails. Don’t bother ordering from the menu, just tell the head cocktail chef your preferred base and ask for his recommendation.

My favorite secret spot in Tokyo
My favorite secret spot in Tokyo

This dark, alley-way basement bar is simple and old. Its history dates back to about 1915 and has been kept in-tact with some pain-staking renovation work and true Japanese dedication. The full story of the bar is available in english and Japanese on arrival.

So where is it? You know what, its that good I’m not telling. But these guys are. If you go, go early – they stop serving about 11:30 pm.

Chiba and Ibaraki prefecture re-cap

Chiba prefecture and Ibaraki prefecture have been two of my favourite spots for a quick weekend ride. They are easy to get too, offer quiet twisty roads, cute seaside towns, beachs and sunshine. Great relief from Tokyo. Stories and pictures from my three trips to this are are below.

One rainy day I did a day tour of the Boso peninsular by train, never bothering to leave the station. The whole round trip from Tokyo cost me and my friend only a local fare and provided great views of thundering surf, and wind swept waves – all from the comfort of a warmed train carriage. Thats how I like to ride in the wet! You can see some of the photos from that trip in Golden week on this post.

One quick weekend trip to Ibaraki did not go so well. It was October and damn cold despite being sunny. My gloves at the time did not cope well. I was heading to Oarai but before arriving stopped to warm my hands and belly at this family restaurant‎. Once I got talking to them and they found out I did not have a reservation for the night they promptly freaked out and started calling all the hotels in Oarai to see if there were free rooms. Little did I know or understand at the time that the Oarai marathon was on the next day! Every sold out hotel was met with shrieks and tut-tuts worthy of any mother. Eventually a room was found for me in hotel sawaya in Hokota and I was led their by some departing customers!

 The next day I did get to sit on the beach in beautiful sunshine around Konaji. Eventually though I made it to Oarai and spend some time at the Oaraiisosaki Shrine (oarai-isosakijinja.or.jp‎) before going a little further up the coast to have lunch by the beach in Ajigaura (阿字ケ浦海水浴場 more info‎) and head back to Tokyo on the Higashi-Mito Express-way. All was fine and wonderful for the whole weekend until I stopped about at a road-side stop on the expressway and when returning to the bike, it would not start. The neutral light, oil light and temperature light did not even come on when the ignition was on. How could I have a flat battery after 2 days of riding? Eventually I found the answer was that my regulator had blown and was pumping 18v in the battery, which killed it too! That night I had to catch a train home and come back with a mini truck a few days later to pick-up the bike! Ah, adventures!

My most recent trip was in March and I shot down to the Boso peninsular using the Tokyo Aqua line and stopping off in the middle of the bay‎ for some nice photos and a Mt Fuji bread roll.

That weekend we managed to get down to Tateyama and visit the Sunosaki lighthouse, the Boso flower line in Konuma and enjoy some local hospitality, especially on our way back at CLs Cafe in Katsuyama (スナックブルーマリン). We stopped in this little seaside cafe for an hour or two for breakfast on the Sunday. The collection of books and photagraphy magazines and the general homeliness of a place that seems in the middle of nowhere was brilliant. You can read the owners blog, mostly in Japanese, here. The place is well worth a visit as you can hopefully see from the pics.
On the ride home that Sunday morning we were joined by a Harley motorbike club for a few kilometers, along the cliffs of Route 127, the Uchibo-Nagisa Line prior to rejoing the Tateyama Expressway via route 237 in Kanaya. The ride back over the Tokyo Aqua line bridge in strong winds was one of the scariest I have done, with the gusts pushing the bike side-ways, making it hard to maintain balance and line.

 

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For more information of the places recently visited please refer to the Nomad-odyssey map

Osaka trip teaser

March was an action packed month. Highlight being a 10 day return trip down to Osaka, incorporating Hakone, Koya-san, lloyd-san, Wakayama, lake Biwa, Yoro, Route 19, camping, onsens, world heritage sites, temple ryokans, monks, meditation, mountain passes, snow, storms frozen lakes, raging rivers, swing bridges, Kobe beef, sesame tofu, deer and monkeys.

To give you an idea of some of the beautiful riding, I’ve compiled these little gif teasers. Detailed posts and photo gallery to come soon plus other catch up posts covering at least Nozawa Onsen and snowboarding, Chiba and Ibaraki and the Tokyo bay ocean pass.

Scenic route around the North West corner of Lake Biwa
Scenic route around the North West corner of Lake Biwa
Lake Biwa
Lake Biwa
Entrance to Ina camp ground off route 152 near Chino (Nagoya)
Entrance to Ina camp ground off route 152 near Chino (Nagoya)

Dinner diary: 130301 Casual dining in Gotanda

March has arrived with a warm, wet spring shower. Nourishment for all. So I went in search of beef (Gyu-niku no arimas ka?) and a warm, dry cave to eat it in. After walking around the backstreets of Gotanda and being offered multiple ‘massages’ of practically any nationality (Who ever said the Japanese are not multicultural?) I eventually found KanKan*.

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KanKan, Gotanda

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It really was a cave!

Yet again I was rewarded for adventuring into the unknown in Tokyo. You really cannot go wrong, as long as your spirit is in the right place and your willing to eat pretty much anything. Horse sashimi was on the menu here but I was looking for something more comfortable tonight.

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The roast beef, BBQ potato, Onsen black pork and roasted camembert and salmon all went down a treat

You can find KanKan on the south side of Gotanda JR station, around the corner from Mos burger. Its on the 6th floor of the first large cluster of Izikaya and will have a gaggle of menu boys out the front. Of course its opposite a pachinko parlor. Menu available in English.

Not the very best in Japanese dining but that’s why they call it casual dining. All part of the experience.

* Kankan is not the actual name or a translation of the name but was the only part of the name I could recognize!