Friday, July 31, 2009

Echigo Yuzawa: Alpine mountains, mist & orchids

The infamous shinkansen (bullet train)

This morning we got on the shinkansen and headed to Echigo Yuzawa, a smallish town in the Japanese Alps half way to Kanazawa from Tokyo. You have to change trains there anyway so I thought it’d be nice to stay there and get some mountain air before heading to another city.

I had booked a rykoan, called Hakugin-kaku near Echigo station as I knew we’d have lots of luggage. By the way a ryokan is a Japanese style hotel, too much to write here about them so I wrote a separate post on staying at a ryokan. I have to be honest the ryokan was a slight disappointment, a bit tatty throughout and smelling a bit mouldy (for about £100 pp dinner B&B I guess I expected better). On the plus side though the staff, all dressed in their beautiful kimonos, were so welcoming as was the onsen and the food was outstanding.

Anyway, today we set off for a long alpine walk. We took this huge gondola from near the centre of Echigo up to the first station up the mountain but it was completely clouded over.

For fear of getting lost we followed the riff raff for a while until we got our bearings. We decided (well more mum than me, I was feeling lazy) to take a long circuit that would take us right to the top of the mountain and along back through the forest. Seemed like a great idea until we got half way. It was so hot and humid, I guess I should be used to it now but I'm really not! Note the amount of MINGING sweat on my t-shirt...

The mist was so bad at the top of the mountain, we couldn’t see much and had passed NO other walkers, eeek. Mum then nearly sat on a big brown snake, didn’t get a picture of it but it was just before we entered these dark misty woods.

Christ, I felt like I was Frodo Baggins accompanied by Samwise (mum) in the Fagorn forest. Not a single bloody person about...the path was sooo dark, steep and slippy. Well watch the video below and you’ll see what I mean.

After about 2 hours of descending the impossibly steep path we heard some children shouting, I have never been so happy to hear children I can’t tell you. The mist had cleared so we went and had a late lunch in the cute alpine looking restaurant overlooking a beautiful sea of orchids.

Finally just before our gondola descent we dangled our tired feet in the onsen. Ahhh bliss!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tokyo: Surviving a Japanese hairdressers, no orange hair please?

The wonderful array of orange, brown and black dyes in Japan (note, no blonde highlights..)

This morning I left mum to spend a relaxing morning in the Ceruluean spa (pool, Jacuzzi, sauna etc) and set off to find Watanabes hairdressers. My roots were getting sooo bad, it had become a necessity. I had gone to get my hair cut in a swank place in Kanazawa a few months back. I was planning to get a cut and have blonde highlights. I'm not that trusting of hairdressers at the best of times so I had even learnt the Japanese hairdressing lingo, see below;

  • Burichi iremasen onegai shimasu- Please don’t put bleach in
  • Ichi ban tsuyoi heteakara no hoka ni burichi- Strongest hair dye without bleach (I mean the lightest blonde you can get without bleach)
  • Kami buatsui arimasu- I have thick hair
  • Tabun motto takusan jikan irimasu- Maybe you need a lot more time
  • Orenji kami hoshikunai onegai shimasu! - No orange hair please!

and I really mean that last sentence, no orange hair please! Most of the Japanese here who “go blonde” end up orange as they use a ton of peroxide due to their hair being so thick. Anyway I couldn’t believe how dumb I was in thinking that a hairdresser in Kanazawa (classed as countryside in Japan) would actually stock non-peroxide blonde highlights for Western hair, DOH!!!.

This brings me to Watanabes in Tokyo. I found the place on another girl’s blog . Firstly when you call to book they speak English, not only do they speak English they EVEN answer the phone in English, bliss!! The salon is smart and in a really cool area of Japan, Harajuku.

Reception at Wantanbe's

The Japanese lady Chie who dyed my hair was not only super “tokyo” cool and chatty but could also handle my stupidly thick hair, always a sign of a good hairdresser..

Watanabe's hairsalon

I came out feeling great, flicking my blonde curled locks all the way down Harajuku Street.

Address: Watanabe Hair Salon, 3-25-6 Jingumae Shibuya-Ku Tokyo, JapanTel: 03-3405-1188. Detailed directions (which I used and didn't get lost!) are on Julie’s blog.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tokyo: Meeting ma larkin & the best collagen (and only?) restaurant in Tokyo!

Shinkansen (high speed bullet train), Japan

Boarded the shinkansen (high speed train) at 7am and got to Narita airport by 10am. Felt oh so sick on the train. Think it was a combination of hangover, no sleep for 3 days and the sheer g-force force of the shinkansen. (There’s a reason they call it the bullet train, speeds can reach

By the time I met mumma I felt soo much better, thank god! Was so great to see her. Took the airport limousine bus to our hotel, the Ceruluean Hotel in Shibuya. The bus was so easy, costs \3000 (about £20) for a single trip and is by far the best, hassle free way to get from Narita into central Tokyo.

Outside of the beautiful Ceruluean Hotel, Shibuya

Having had a wander around Shibuya we headed back and decided to go to a restaurant called One Garden that specialises in collagen infused food, yes the collagen that people inject into their lips to make them look fuller! Brilliant. Maybe I should bring it to Bristol…it’d take off (but no doubt be full of women)
Part of our dinner course, note the "Collagen tofu"- fuller lips here I come!

My collagen tofu- it's amazing how the Japanese make a piece of tofu look appetising

Now this is a typical “it could only happen in Japan” story. We asked the concierge if he know where the restaurant was. He wasn’t exactly sure but knew it was nearby so just asked us to follow him. Not only did he leave the hotel but he led us up a few streets around the back of the hotel, asked a few people and found it for us. Now that’s what I call service!

One Garden was just what we jet lagged/partied out people needed. It had an English menu, bonus! I've become so accustomed to not knowing what I’m ordering in Kanazawa. We ordered the set menu (¥6000, about £40pp) and it was absolutely amazing. The waiters were so friendly, giving us the lowdown (in English, hurrah) of what each dish was. I was astounded that mum managed to use chopsticks. I guess if you’re that hungry.....

One Garden resturant map is at

Monday, July 27, 2009

My first onsen (at Fuji Rock Festival): a wobbly experience!

Both of us felt rough this morning so decided to copy the boys and go to and have lunch followed by an onsen (natural hot spring) to get scrubbed up more than anything, we were looking and feeling minging. We walked into Naeba town (about a 15 min walk from the main festival site) and found a restaurant that were doing an all you can eat offer. I filled up with the carbs but still felt wobbly.

The onsen was next door, sorry peeps can’t remember the name. For my first onsen experience we got lucky, no-one else was in their apart from me and Sarah. Perfect!

Now for those not in the know you have to go to onsens naked. Yep stark, butt NAKED! When you go in, there is always a line of washing areas with soap, shampoo and conditioner provided. Sit on one of the little stools provided and give yourself a good scrub with the little wash towel that you rent (or bring) when you pay. Most Japanese I’ve watched tend to treat this wash like a Buddhist type ritual so make you don’t scrimp on the wash!

Once you’ve washed and rinsed down you can get in the tub. You usually put the little towel on your head.

This one had a lovely rotumburo (outside tub) where we sat and listened to the little stream and did some butterfly spotting. It would have been idyllic had I not suddenly started to feel really sick, the hangover was really kicking in, so we got out and took a very very slow walk back to the festival site.

Onsens are definately a fantastic way of refreshing yourself at a festival, sooo different than my scuzzy mixed naked sauna experience at that's another story.

Fuji Rock Festival: The finale & advice to anyone going

Highlight of Sunday was Basement Jaxx although I was totally flagging. Had a few beers which picked me up. A real performance, tons of different acts on stage, women on stilts, some cheeky butt shaking, outrageous outfits and of course fab songs to dance our fuji rockin socks to!

Round up of the festival: Good fun but if you’re expecting Glastonbury type craziness don’t and when I say "craziness" I'm talking about seeing 55 yr old corporate directors dancing about in bumblebee costumes off their rockers! Japanese festival goers are a sensible lot, a fairly ( dare I say) subdued crowd and they slept EVERYWHERE, but then this is Japan and sleeping is their no 1 favourite pastime.

The craziest thing I saw was an ozzie guy sliding across the mud in front of a crowd of stunned Japanese.

Note to anyone attending Fuji Rocks festival:
  • Take waterproofs even if it’s a throw away anorak and take a jumper unless you’re planning to rave all night.

  • Get there early, the Thursday if possible. Friday is crazy busy especially if you’re getting the train

  • Use the onsen in Naeba town as opposed to on site. We had it to ourselves. See other post. There’s hardly any mobile phone signal (I use Softbank) so decide on good meeting places from the start.

  • No cash machines on the festival site but there are in town (15 min walk)
  • Must experience: Miniscule of Sound!

  • Alcohol sold everywhere but you can take plastics in so can take your own spirits.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fuji Rock Festival: Looking after Sarah & Miniscule of Sound

Looked after Sarah today. She drank far too much whiskey last night and fell into mud. Her face was covered and her one ear was filled it. Nice one!
Afternoon walked to the Field of Heaven to see the Easy Star All Stars. The walk to the stage was fab, reminded me of Glastonbury a bit.

The Kanazawa gang: Paul, me, Sarah and Mike

Little lanterns hidden in the trees making crazy patterns everywhere and then this long board walk through the forest on the way. Think we annoyed a few Japanese with our very loud vocal rendition of the Drifters "under the boardwalk..." Oh and the Easy Star All Stars put on a cracking performance, I'm their new biggest fan!

PM. The Miniscule of Sound has coined itself the smallest club in the . I had gone last night with Gav and didn't even look at the sign saying "smallest club in the world". The bouncers (a toothless policeman and a nurse with some disturbing medical instrument) were telling us that it was pretty busy that night and there were a few floors so be careful you can get lost. We waited with anticipation.

Got in eventually and it’s the size of an average household’s downstairs toilet, you could probably squeeze 8 ravers in there at a push. Hilarious!! Couldn’t believe it. The atmosphere was wicked though and everyone was jumping about going crazy. Not for the claustrophobic! You can only stay in there a few mins anyway, the smoke machine starts choking you after a while.

WICKED though!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fuji Rock Festival: Rockin our British socks off!

Beautiful weather in Echigo Yuzawa but as the courtesy bus ascended up to the site it started raining, boooo. Still really humid though, hurrah! Note to anyone thinking of going to Fuji Rocks, get there EARLY to avoid having to hike up and down the vertical slope of the golf course come campsite every day. We got there Friday around 2:30pm, we weren’t planning on getting there so late (we even missed the Doves playing) but the queues for the courtesy buses were absolutely huge in Echigo.

We ended up pitching our tents at the highest point of the campsite (it’s a golf course on a steep slope of a mountain- you wouldn’t believe the number of people who had pitched tents at 90 degree angles!)

The rain stopped and after cracking open a bottle or celebratory red we went for an explore to the site. The site wasn’t as big as I expected but has some cool things; a park, called the Palace of Wonder with lots of huge menacing looking metallic dinosaurs, a make shift swing made of tyres (very un-Japanese from a health & safety POV) and a few called “”miniscule of sound” I’ll get to that another day. The festival setting is so pretty, surrounded by mountains and quite literally a “river runs through it” where you can bathe or paddle your feet. I’m sure they wouldn’t let a bunch of Brits at a festival anywhere near a river, we’re just not responsible enough!

A slope runs down to the main Green Stage, a pretty impressive sight, not huge but had a cosy kind of feel. Loads of food tents and even a British one serving fish and chips (but with chopsticks, no knife and fork to be seen..) and Newcastle Ale.
Another (very Japanese one) selling whole grilled fish on these huge long skewers, amazing!

I had read somewhere that this is the only festival where the queues for official merchandise are longer than the beer tent queues. Yep this is true, in fact the official merchandise queue was permanently long. It’s also the only festival I’ve been to where people have worn full on waterproof gear, matching jackets and trousers, sensible boots and those little foldable chairs. It’s also the only festival I’ve been to where you can take a gondola ride to the top of the mountain, watch alpine monkeys and get bitten by ticks.

After a few vodka and red bulls (wow, I’ve missed that drink) we were feeling fab. Then I lost Sarah..but spent a fun night with Gav and Nick and we partied at the Chrystal Palace tent until 5am (they had to shut the rest of the site for the night because of heavy rain). Saw Oasis play, didn’t realise that it’d probably be the last time they’d play live together, it hammered it down with rain during the entire performance and you could tell there wasn’t much chemistry on stage. Meanwhile I’d necked a few more vodkas. Dying for a wee and we were stuck in the mosh pit. Tried to leave the boys but the crowds were crazy. The boys told me to wee right there and then. I refused multiple times, tried to fight it but in the end succumbed. Yes, soooo un lady like and not a thing to be done at a Japanese festival!

That night I managed to lose my hat (only bought it a few days before) and funky red shades but amazingly still had my camera even though I had left my bag for hours on a table in the club. It says a lot for the Japanese, they are so trustworthy it’s frightening, do that in the UK, your bag would be emptied!)