We took a short motorcycle trip to Sakurayama Koen in Onishi to see the fall colors and winter-blooming cherry blossoms (fuyuzakura). The blossoms were still a bit early while the colors were already on the way out, but I still enjoyed it and I think got a few nice pictures!
area: kita-karuizawa, city: annaka, city: karuizawa, city: nagahara, fall colors, monument: megane-bashi, motorcycling, mountain: asama, mountain: myogi, museum: motorcycle museum, onsen, park: onioshidashi koen, road trip, temple: kaneiji, waterfall: asama ootaki, waterfall: shiraito no taki, waterfall: uodome no taki
This past weekend was yet another three day weekend. We had a typhoon roll in on Friday and Saturday, but as Sunday and Monday were supposed to be nice, we did some last-minute planning and decided to take a two-day motorcycle trip to Onioshidashi Koen on Mt. Asama, which straddles Gunma and Nagano prefectures and is near the resort town of Karuizawa. For a hastily planned trip, it turned out really well!
We started the morning by heading out early towards Mt. Myogi, the same road we took two weeks earlier to see the cosmos flowers. The flowers are most likely gone by now, but the fall colors still haven’t started to show much in the lower elevations, so the mountain was still mostly green.
We then headed past Myogi to the Usui-Karuizawa pass road, which has the famous Annaka Megane-bashi bridges on it, left over from an old railroad track. These nice brick bridges are now a walking path spanning the length of the road, but you can also park and walk up to the main one, which we did. The colors were more prominent in this area, but still not at peak.
From there, we headed into Karuizawa for lunch at an Italian restaurant, then, bypassing all the weekend traffic, headed north up a toll road to reach Onioshidashi Koen in the early afternoon.
Onioshidashi Koen is a park enclosing magma formations caused by an explosion in the 1700s which cooled to form interesting and unique rocks. There are plants growing in the rocks that are in full fall colors now, as well as a temple to visit, and some walking paths around the park. It is a really neat, interesting place!
After exploring the park for a couple hours, we headed into Kita-Karuizawa (really the town of Naganohara on the Gunma side) to check into our hotel and to walk to dinner. We had dinner at a Western curry restaurant which was very good, then headed next door to a French bakery place for an excellent dessert. We were pretty tired by then, so after enjoying the onsen at the hotel, went to bed pretty early.
Mostly green still on Mt. Myogi
Day two found us eating a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and heading to the onsen one last time before leaving. We went back to the Onioshidashi Koen area to see the motorcycle museum, then went to a few different waterfalls before heading back to Gunma in the late afternoon.
Trees outside our hotel before leaving
On December 1st we made a trip to Joumine Kouen, a park on the Saitama side of the border, known for its winter-blooming cherry blossoms, called “fuyuzakura”. While the entire area is known for these cherry blossoms, the Gunma park Sakurayama Kouen is the more well known of the two. We had never been to Joumine, and despite the weather being a bit cloudy, decided to check it out. It was WELL worth the extra drive, and is a great compliment to Sakurayama! But before that, we also explored a few other places on the way, as well as on the way back!
First up was the drive on the Saitama side of the river towards the park. I drive it every day to and from work, so I pointed out a few nice spots to stop and take pictures at.
Next up we caught sight of a stand of maples with AMAZING colors, so of course we had to stop there as well!
The trees had all the colors… green to orange to red. They were so beautiful!
Finally, we headed to the park… just in time for the sun to hide behind the clouds. Oops! It came out for a bit, just in time for us to get some fun pictures, before going behind the mountains. The sun sets so early these days!
Lastly, as we were driving home, we came across another magnificent set of trees… unfortunately we lost the light, so you can’t tell how great they were! Too bad…
Fall is generally a busy time and it can be hard to find time to take nice fall pictures, especially when the sun sets at 4:30 in the afternoon! However, I was able to get some nice pictures of the Ginko trees around my school, as well as a nice park and temple in the area one Friday after Hoikuen. Here are some of the nicer pictures from this past month:
The mountains behind my school, while not wildly colorful, were still very nice this year!
The following pictures were taken with my iPhone5 which, while it takes pretty good pictures, can’t compare with my D5100. Ah well, they are still pretty nice, although they could use a bit more work.
A tiny shrine behind my hoikuen
Maples are unique in fall. Their gradual change from green to yellow to orange to red give the interesting impression that someone has lit the tree on fire. As such, they are interesting to photograph in all stages of change. The following pictures are from a small temple in Onishi with some nice, if early, colors:
If only this picture hadn’t turned out a bit blurry, it’d probably be the best of the lot! Oh well…
There were several weekends during October where we went on road trips on the motorcycle. This particular time our goal was to go to the Gyoza festival in Utsunomiya City, Tochigi prefecture. Our route took us through Kiryu City in Gunma to Ashikaga City in Tochigi, then on to Utsunomiya. We stayed the night in Utsunomiya, and then the next day swung up to Nikko to see the autumn colors and then returned to Gunma. So basically we did a big circle.
We got up Saturday morning and headed strait out to Ashikaga. I thought maybe we could stop in Kiryu, but we decided to press on. After eating in Ashikaga, however, while trying to get back to the main road, we accidentally went the wrong way down a one way street, where a newbie cop happened to see us and give us a ticket. The guy was new so it took forever, and really was something that should have just been a warning, so that put a big damper on us for Ashikaga. We were going to see some temples and shrines there, but decided instead to just get the hell out of the city. Our first real sight-seeing stop was a bit later on the road to Utsunomiya, in smaller Sano City, at an interesting temple overlooking a few man-made ponds. It had a great view of the surrouning areas, so finally our mood began to improve!
Spotting the temple was pretty easy due to its position on the small mountain
It was a short walk to the top area, and from there a nice temple and a fantastic view of the surrounding area! The only thing that would have improved it would have been more fall colors, but it was still really nice.
After that we continued on to Utsunomiya, and hit our second snag of the day. Our hotel had only a single room booked, and wouldn’t let us double up (We had done it before no problem, so I assumed it would be fine this time as well, but apparently not… because bad things come in threes, you know). So I ended up having to book another room, the thought of which still annoys the hell out of me.
By the time we finished at the hotel, I was in a bad mood, and Kenji just wanted gyoza. We walked to the festival only to find all the booths closing up for the day. We were too late! ARG! Neither of us was happy at this point, so instead we found a regular gyoza restaurant to buy from, then wandered until we found an interesting restaurant, had dinner, then headed back to the room to go to sleep and hope the next day would work out better.
Shrine with many food booths around it, although they were packing up by the time we got there
The next morning was a nice day, and we woke up refreshed and determined to make the most of the rest of the trip. We headed immediately for the shrine we saw yesterday to kill time in the morning before the festival got started, then headed right after that to the gyoza festival, got in line, and got our gyoza, and enjoyed ourselves before heading out towards Nikko.
We were still a bit hungry but didn’t want to wait in the now 80 minutes plus lines forming for lunch, so we started back. When we caught sight of these giant hunks of meat being grilled, we also stopped to eat there as well before getting back on the bike and heading to Nikko.
The road to Nikko wasn’t terribly crowded, but Nikko itself was PACKED. We were lucky we were on the motorcycle and able to pass all the cars, but I can’t imagine coming in a car. You’d spend most of the day in it, and barely any time enjoying the temples and fall colors! Trying to get to Lake Chuzenji was a nightmare, and by the end of it we were exhausted and just wanted to go home… and still had to head back to Gunma.
A popular picture spot
The ride home was exhausting and cold. We stopped for ramen, and then finally reached home with relief, had a nice hot bath, then collapsed into bed. Altogether, while parts of the trip was fun, it wasn’t the most successful. But ah well, it was a good experience!
calligraphy, city: annaka, city: karuizawa, city: kusatsu, city: nagano, city: shibukawa, fall colors, food: onsen manju, lake: shiraneko, mountain: shirane, onsen: kusatsu, onsen: shiba onsen, onsen: yudanaka onsen, park: sai-no-kawara, posta collect, season: fall, temple: zenkouji
Late Friday evening Kenji and I decided to try our first motorcycle road trip, and chose a nice, fun-looking road through Gunma’s famous Kusatsu onsen on to Nagano City and back. It was an experiment of sorts; neither of us had ever been on the bike that long and didn’t know what to expect. In the end, we learned a lot and had a ton of fun… though both of us had very sore shoulders this week!
First thing Saturday morning we took the highway to Shibukawa to the start of the road. We were using our trusty navi, who didn’t quite understand which road we wanted, so we had a little trouble with directions, but figured it out in the end. This seemed to be a common theme to the trip, so planning out routes ahead of time and not relying only on the navi was our first lesson. Anyway, the road to Kusatsu used to be a small, winding, crowded road, but several years ago they started construction of a dam up-river and therefore built a new road much higher up the mountain. It took us awhile to realize we were on the new road, so we detoured to a bridge to take some pictures and get us back on the old road.
But first! A quick 7/11 run to buy neck warmers we had forgotten
Our next stop was further up the road, at one of the highest points, Shirane mountain and the famous creamy-blue colored Lake Shirane in a crater at the top. We climbed the mountain (ugh it was windy and cold!), took our pics, then went back down to the base to have a late lunch before heading onward!
Slowly snaking their way up the mountain, a steady stream of people
The last stop for the night, of which none of my pics came out, was Shibu Onsen in Nagano, where we had a quick back, then found a hotel (after some stressing) in nearby Nagano City, about 30 minutes away by highway. By that point, we were cold and tired (note: need more clothes than you think you do!) and both our backs were hurting (note: buy a better backpack for more support!), and taking the highway was difficult because of the constant wind in your face (note: highways suck on a motorcycle!), so by the time we got there we were exhausted.
We still needed to eat, though, so we headed out of the hotel for a bite, came back, had another warm bath, then collapsed into bed.
The next morning we woke up a little later than we intended because both of us were sore, but after some meds and yet another hot bath, we headed to a family restaurant for breakfast again, and I also went to the post office for my Prefecture post cards. In Japan starting in 2009, the post office has made special post cards for each prefecture, and every year they come out with a new one. So now there are 4 to collect for each prefecture. Usually we go to Nagano for snowboarding, so it is hard to find a post office and buy them. So I have missed the last 4 years worth. I was really determined to get some this trip! While waiting for our food I ran to Nagano’s central post office (luckily just around the block from the restaurant!) to get the post cards. They only had three on display, so I grabbed those and as I was paying, I asked the lady about the fourth. “We are out of that one… oh wait!” she said, “we might have one more!” and she comes back with the LAST 2009 post card! Ahhh, lucky! Then as I was about to leave, she calls me again, and hands me the 4 mini-cards they have started to make as a bonus! Usually you have to buy 4 big cards to get one mini version, but she gave me all 4. I was so happy!
Next on the agenda was going to see Nagano City’s main temple, Zenkouji. I got my shuuin (calligraphy) done, and took pictures of the many cute kids in kimono there celebrating Shichi-go-san, a children’s festival for girls 7 and 3, and 5 year old boys. Also a lot of newborns get blessed at this festival too!
Finally after seeing the temple, we started for home. It was a long trip back, but we stopped to rest a few times and to get some pictures, the first place being a cool waterfall, and later at a big outlet mall in famous Karuizawa for dinner. After that we went strait home, tired but happy!
This year to see the fall colors (kouyou), Kenji and I drove up to one of the Gunma mountains, Tanigawa-dake, and hiked to a gorge said to have really good colors. The day started sunny, but ended up a bit rainy by the time we got there. It gave us, however, some gorgeous pictures. Perfect timing for us!
Driving up to the mountain
This is a random post of pictures from the past month or so. I’ve been bad about taking pictures, it is so cold I talk myself out of pulling out my camera most of the time these days! Also, we haven’t really been anywhere special lately. Just every week kinda the same stuff. Which is nice, though I miss traveling.
Kenji and I are still doing our pottery classes, and are hoping to start learning the pottery wheel next year. It is fun doing all the different styles, and most fun is painting, but now I have a ton of weird shaped cups and plates at home. Don’t know what to do with them… The second picture is from on the way there, the day was gorgeous with some beautiful fall colors!
For the past few months I’ve been taking care of a sick kitten. It was at my apartment for awhile, then Scott and Naomi agreed to take care of it at their house for a little while until it could heal up and we could find a foster home. So we finally took it to Tokyo and spent the day there. A short trip, but worth it! I miss the kitten though!
Still going to my kimono class, and getting better every time! One time we went Shimizu-sensei made homemade udon! SO GOOD!
Lastly, it has gotten really cold. My mornings are usually greeted with frost at some point:
This past weekend was a nice one, especially because it was a three day weekend! Kenji, Shauna and I took a day trip on Saturday to Myogi-san, one of the three most recognizable mountains in Gunma, to go see the fall colors. The day was absolutely beautiful, and it was nice to take a bit of a “road trip”, even just a short one.
Kenji Car Penguin starts the trip off right.
We first stopped by the main shrine, but due to some damage in a landslide last year, the main part was closed to visitors. We weren’t up for some heavy hiking/climbing, so we opted to visit the smaller part then continue on the way to the mountain.
Shauna on the road to the shrine. I’m not sure why she’s out of focus, but its still a cool picture!
It was during the time of the Shichi-go-san festival, or 7-5-3, where young girls ages 7 and 3, and boys aged 5, dress up and visit the shrines for blessings. Not sure what the hand motion was here, but he was really cute!
We were looking for some rock arches, but ended up passing them (I think, anyway…). Instead, we stopped at a small enclave with a giant gold statue of… someone or another. We found the path beyond it and started up… having no idea where it was going, but that was part of the fun!
In the parking lot.
So we climbed and climbed and the “we don’t want any heavy hiking” went out the window as we just kept going up! But once we got up there, well… the view was spectacular! The fall colors were beautiful, the sky blue, and we had waaaayyyy too much fun with our cameras (all four of them. yeah.)
Me taking a picture… according to Kenji I hold the camera weird XD;
So all in all it was a good day! We had udon for dinner and called it a day, everyone was pretty tired, and Kenji had homework to turn in. I can’t wait to go back, it was sooooo pretty!
Busy weekend, busy week, always busy busy busy! Luckily I got a decent sleep last night, and have a (generally) free afternoon, so I can catch up on things like laundry (also packages, yay!).
So last Friday, Nishichuu had their Bunkasai, or Cultural Festival. Mostly it was a lot of singing and music, so I guess it is more appropriately referred to as an Ongakusai (Music Festival), but that’s not how they told me about it.
I played koto in it, as well, and did pretty badly though I don’t think anyone noticed!
Other than that, I had fun! So here are a few pictures:
Some of my girls in Yukata before the dress rehearsal
At one point the band played the Ponyo theme song, which is adorable to begin with. Then they brought in a bunch of Yochien (I think… kindergarten/preschool age anyway) to do the hand motions. The crowd looved it!
All together, it was a nice day, even if I didn’t get my normal half day off on Friday. I don’t have any pictures of me playing on stage, but I think Kenji took one, so if I get my hands on it I’ll post it!
Next off was Saturday, where Ken, Kenji and I went to Sakurayama to do a little hiking. Shauna wasn’t feeling well, so she decided not to go. It was a good trip even if we were missing one. Sakurayama is somewhat famous in Gunma because it is one of the places that has winter cherry blossoms. So when the time is right, you get full out sakura blossoms with a background of the fall colors. We came early in the season, so didn’t get the full effect, but have plans to come back early when it really starts to look pretty! Kenji was also happy because he found one of the signs he’d translated for the BOE on the mountain.
Fall colors over the koi pond
So that was a good trip even if it was short. We went to eat, did Sakurayama, and then after still had plenty of time to shop for halloween costumes! I sorta took the easy way out, using my daiso devil horns from the last Halloween party again. Ken was daiso man, and Shauna a stop light (yes, a stop light). Kenji had more trouble finding his costume, but ended up being a construction worker with the amazing pants they wear here! I don’t have many pictures from the night, so I’ll have to grab some from Shauna to post.
Looking for costumes at the discount store, we ran across this amazing hat. Too bad I couldn’t find maracas!
So the Halloween party was a success, and it was awesome to see so many new people. We left rather early (no one is really sure why…) and crashed back home.
Sunday was a bit of a recovery day. We ran errands, went and got pizza, and bummed around a bit. We did make a trip to go see the keyhole burial mounds. They’re 5-6th century mounds, and you could walk up to the top. There were also a lot of cherry trees, which will be really beautiful in the spring. At the same time, the gloomy fall weather was a good background for the visit!
Walking up to the mounds
One of the sad things about the mound was that apparently several years ago, a vandal knocked all the heads off the little statues that they have on the mound, so there were rows and rows of eery headless sitting statues…
A head sitting next to one of them
So that was the weekend. We had a good time, though I didn’t get much done. This past Tuesday (yesterday) was Kenji’s, Shauna’s, and my trip to Disney Sea, so that will be the next updated post, and then this weekend is Shauna and my Kyoto trip! Exiting!
Last but not least, The Kenji Car Penguin, 80 yen at the discount store. Who knows where its been, but it is cute!