Takashimaya is one of Japan’s most famous department chain store specialising in classic and contemporary clothing, housewares, designer makeup and elegant high-end gifts. And just like many other Japan’s leading department store retailers, the company started with a humble beginning when the founder, Shinshichi Iida, opened the first store in 1831 at the tender age of 27 with the sole intention of providing good tailored kimono to his community in Kyoto.
But today, it is the symbol of luxury and elegance, almost like the Japanese version of the prestigious Saks Fifth Avenue in New York (as a matter of fact, Takashimaya used to have a branch at the Big Apple as well but already closed). Yes, the products sold can be quite pricey, but the experience to shop here is priceless. Customers will be treated by an utmost attentive and courteous customer service in true Japanese grace. Besides, the merchandise bought here will be presented so well as if gift wrapping is an art form in Takashimaya (and even the whole of Tokyo), making it a perfect souvenir for your loved one! Also, enjoy tax refund when you spend more than 3,000 JPY here.
Hara Model Railway Museum
The idea of opening Hara Model Railway Museum was triggered over the undying love of Nabutaro Hara towards railways and trains. His passion that began since he was in the sixth grade later grew bigger as he travelled around the world to collect railway models and publications. From time to time, he was approached by several companies that showed a huge interest in exhibiting his collections, but he gently refused with the reason that he could not live without his trains. It was only after his wife’s persuasion that he finally agreed.
The Hara Railway Museum, now managed by Mitsui Fudosan, has eight exhibition rooms, including one with an impressive 310 square metres railway diorama, said to be one of the largest in the world. The diorama represents the Lyon Station in France, decorated with European streets and landscapes and lighted up with romantic illumination. The museum opens from Wednesday to Monday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The entrance fee is 1,000 JPY per adult or 500 JPY per child.
Cup Noodle Museum
Yes, you read it right. There is a museum in this city that is solely dedicated to the instant noodle. But before you raise an eyebrow over the idea, this museum is apparently not the only noodle museum in the world. The museum impresses visitors with the exhibition of 3,000 kinds of cup noodle packages collected from around the world. The entrance fee to this museum is 500 JPY per person but with an additional 300 JPY, visitors will be able to create the Cup Noodles of their dream by selecting 5,460 available ingredients and later design the cup themselves.
Another must-do activity while you are here is to watch the interesting computer graphic animated film on the history of Cup Noodle and Momofuku Ando at the Momofuku Theatre, and be prepared to walk out of the theatre feeling inspired and creative. So if there is one thing I can say about this facility, it is its remarkability that surpasses my expectations.
Hakkeijima Sea Paradise
Hakkeijima Sea Paradise consists of distinct areas namely Aqua Resorts and Pleasure Land. Aqua Resorts comprises Aqua Museum, Dolphin Fantasy and Fureai Lagoon where visitors can witness Japan’s largest collections of marine life with more than 500 species and over 100,000 creatures. There is also Japan’s first ‘Aqua Escalator’ that takes visitors from the surface of the park, right to the very heart of the three-storey aquarium, giving the effect as it they are walking under water.
Occasionally, there will also be special shows involving the marine animals held at the Aqua Museum. When I was there, we managed to watch a spectacular musical presentation featuring a school of sardines dancing to the beat. Do check their official website (www.seaparadise.co.jp/english/introduction.html) for a full list of events held there.
While it is completely free for visitors to enter the park and take a stroll along the promenades or dine at the restaurants, there is a fee that needs to be paid in order to enjoy the attractions available here: 3,000 JPY for each facility. Visitors could also opt for an all-inclusive one day pass worth 5,000 JPY if they want to enter it all at a discounted price.
If travellers yearn for an escape amidst the city away from tall buildings and bustling port, they should consider visiting Sankeien Garden, which is a charming oasis filled with lush greenery and strong history. The place is so quiet that visitors could easily forget that they are actually in one of the most populated areas in Japan.
But, what makes this century-aged garden more interesting is that it exhibits 17 historic buildings from across Japan, some even dated back to the Edo period (1603-1868). Plus, visitors may experience an authentic tea ceremony with matcha (green tea) being prepared by a tea ceremony master at the fee of 400 JPY. Sankeien opens every day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and closed only during the last three days of December each year.
Red Brick Warehouses
Planned by Yorinaka Tsumaki, an architect extraordinaire whose famous work often characterised by fusion of classic Western European and Japanese elements, Red Brick Warehouse is indeed a worthy attraction to be visited in Yokohama. It is artsy, earthy and slightly quirky. There are two main buildings running parallel to each other, with an open space in between.
The first building, or the cultural facility as some called, features hall for theatre performances and concerts, a space for galleries and events, and various craft shops. The second one on the other hand, houses chic boutiques, cafés and restaurants with local favourite being the restaurant called ‘Bills’, said to be serving the best breakfast in the world! Interestingly, the façade of Red Brick Warehouse changes every season throughout the year, for example, ‘Flower Garden’ during spring and ‘Art Rink’ during winter. Do note that retail hours and holidays may vary depending on store.
Yamate Seiyokan (Western-style Houses)
Yamate is an elite area in Yokohama. It is where foreigners built their homes and reside temporarily during the massive influx in the 1860s. However, the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 destroyed most of the houses and those that survived had been replicated and relocated, including the Diplomat’s House and the Barrack House.
The Diplomat’s House was built for the Japanese Diplomat called Uchida Sadatsuchi but was planned by an American architect, which explains the combination of American and Japanese influences in its design. There is a huge wooden door at the entrance that is engraved with the name of the family, a tradition widely practiced at that era. In contrast, The Barrack House features Spanish Colonial Revival Style that can be traced from the floral motifs, decorative iron trim and the use of smooth plaster stucco wall. The architect for The Barrack House was also responsible for Yamate No. 111 and the Marunouchi building in Tokyo.
Orbi is a joint venture between BBC Earth and Sega aiming to draw visitors into the heart of the natural world by using both Sega’s cutting-edge technology and BBC’s popular nature contents that are presented in all of their visual, sonic, sensational and aromatic glory – as can be seen in the Theatre 23.4, where the films are projected on a huge 8×40 metres curved main screen and two rear 5×3 metres screens, accompanied with equipment that generates wind, fog, vibrations and even odours.
Orbi is described as immersive and interactive in nature, making it different from the typical one-way visual presentation experience. Another exhilarating installation that should be experienced is the Arctic Room where visitors can be in a minus 20 degrees room and feel the wind chilled through an industrial refrigeration system pummelled into them at 20 metres per second. Orbi opens every day from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and the entrance fee is 2,600 JPY.
During the Edo period, Hakone used to be an important post town where Sekisho acted as its checkpoint to control traffic along the Tokaido highway linking Tokyo with Kyoto, as well as to inspect travellers and loads. Today, this place has been restored after 140 years and now features components similar to the original site including gates, fence, housing for officers and foot soldiers, a prison chamber and a lookout tower. Hakone Sekisho opens every day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Then entrance fee is 500 JPY.
Sight Seeing Cruise
Go on board one of Hakone Sightseeing Cruise ships and enjoy picturesque views of Hakone including Mount Fuji as the pirate-style ships cruise the Lake Ashinoko, a 3,000-year old lake formed after the volcano’s last eruption in the area. Today, this prominent natural site has become the symbol of Hakone. There are three models of ship used altogether named Royal, Victory and Visa, which are inspired by France’s Royal Louise, England’s HMS Victory and the Sweden’s Vasa respectively. The fare depends on which port you depart from, but roughly costs from 360 JPY to 1,840 JPY per way. Hakone Sightseeing Cruise operates every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
No matter how you call it – Owakudani, Great Boling Alley or even Great Hell – this place is without a doubt a very popular tourist site for its remarkable views and hot springs. It is also well-known for the Kuro-tamago – blackened chicken eggs after being boiled in the thermal pools. Apparently, the eggshells react to the sulphur and minerals in the water, causing it to change colour. More interestingly, legend has it that eating a Kuro-tamago will prolong your life by seven years. Interested visitors could get their hands on these magical black eggs at the shops there; a paper bag containing five eggs (equal to 35 years) will cost you 500 JPY. Access to Ōwakudani is via Hakone Ropeway, Hakone Tozan Railway and Hakone Cable Car. On clear days, Owakudani offers a great view of the majestic Mount Fuji.
Express Romancecar Train
Embark on a luxurious journey to Japan’s popular holiday spots like Hakone, Enoshima and Kamakura by riding on a ‘Romancecar’ train and enjoy spectacular country site views along the way. ‘Romancecar’ is Odakyu’s limited express train; limited here means that every seat should be reserved prior to the journey. When it started in 1957, the train broke the world speed record for a narrow gauge train by having the ability to go 145km per hour. To go to Hakone, it took approximately 85 minutes to reach from Shinjuku. The ticket for a ride on Romancecar starts at 1,210 JPY.
Japanese cuisine has been an international favourite around the world. This can be seen from the growing number of Japanese restaurants across the globe. But when in Japan, rather than eating the cuisine at a typical restaurant, travellers who may want to have a slightly different experience can make the dishes themselves with the assistance of the actual experts: the locals. This kind of cooking class can be made possible if travellers contact their local travel agents directly. However, if you are a free independent traveller (FIT), do head to any Japanese tourist information centre for a list of available cooking classes near to your place of stay.
During this familiarisation trip, we had the honour of attending a cooking class led by the well-respected chef from Kanagawa named Mrs. Haramisako, who taught us how to properly make sushi roll and Japanese vegetable soup. At the age of 72, Mrs. Harasako claims the title as the number one chef in the district, specialising in traditional Japanese home-cooked meals.
Urari Fish Market
Misaki fishing harbour is known as one of the Japan’s premier tuna landing port. Near to this harbour is one of most popular fish markets in the area called Urari, a place where both locals and foreigners come to buy fresh produce of the sea at reasonable prices. A reliable source even told me that the sellers usually give a bigger discount to foreigners compared to the locals as a courteous gesture towards guests.
Toshiba Science Museum
At Toshiba, the organisation is committed to spreading knowledge while continuing to develop smarter technology for a sustainable society. The opening of Toshiba Science Museum therefore is one of the efforts that lead to such direction. The museum was initially opened in 1961 but closed in September 2013 for relocation. On 31 January 2014, the new Toshiba Science Museum was reopened in the Kawasaki Lazona area.
There are three zones in the museum including the History Zone that focuses on the journey of Toshiba from 1900s to the modern age (and see the first washing machine and TV models in the world); the Science Zone where visitors can learn science and technology; and finally the Future Zone that allows visitors to come into contact with the future idea of ‘smart communities’. But, my personal favourite part of the museum was the demonstration of the ‘Principles of Superconducting Maglev System’, a method that uses magnetic levitation to move objects without touching the ground. Admission to the museum is free. It opens every day except Monday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays and 7:00 p.m. on weekends.
WHERE TO EAT?
- Hana Sagami
- Port Café Terrace
- Sappori Ginrin
WHERE TO STAY?
- Hakone Hotel Kowakien
- New Grand Hotel
- Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu
Gaya Travel extends our heartfelt gratitude to the Kanto Transport Bureau and Relation Japan Inc. for this unforgettable, eye-opening and educational six-day experience.