Oh Toyama!

To be honest Mel was a sceptic when Suan first crafted the 5-day itinerary to Toyama (富山).

toyama-japan-map
Not East nor West…

Afterall, where IS this place anyway? Located on the northern stretch of Honshu (本州), this coastal plain is buffeted by the Tateyama mountains on the east, where we had seen the famed ice walls. We took a Shinkansen that hurtled us 300km away from a sunny Tokyo in order to get there (Toyama we mean).

If one peruse web literature about the city and provincial area, it is a story about how this rich agricultural plain was once a battlefield many a time. You know a prized asset is always fought over right? Well, that’s the story of how royalty and nobility have been treating plebian folks like their property over the ages…

The city of Toyama was flattened at the end of WWII because it was an industrial center. But as a provincial area it re-emerged quickly in the post war years. In fact, Takaoka (one of the cities of Toyama perfecture) was a medieval seat of the metal casting industry, so that tradition has carried on and over into other technological areas as well.

What did we do while in Toyama?

We picked up a rental car near Toyama city train station and made a mini road trip. The drive took us to various historic centers, stopping invariably at roadside seafood markets and enjoying the scenic views along the way. It was also a time to do some hot naked baths again in the Ryokan Onsens (Japanese traditional inns). You have to try it some day too!

Key highlights:

  • Enjoyed Onsen baths with a quite a few having wonderful views
  • Ate Firefly squid and famed beef croquette from Japanese TV…
  • Took in a beautiful panorama of the Tateyama mountain range

Did Mel become the converted from this planned journey by Suan? Let’s read more about this road trip here!

The Long Journey Q2-17

Salutations to all ex-colleagues and friends,

Time flies when you are having fun, someone said. Don’t know who did, but that person sure was a genius who said it. Because it’s true. You know there are days that seem so long that the seconds feel like hours? Well, the exact opposite is true when you are on the move!

In the last three months, we’ve gone on a culinary overload in Thailand and a mini road trip along the northern coast of Japan. On both journeys we were blessed with good weather and smooth travel. For five consecutive months since last October we had been on the move each month. Time to recuperate. LOL!

We are still trying to finalize when we can touch Petra and how…It’s coming soon to summer and all advisers we sought recommend not being there when it is at the height of the heat. Sigh. How now brown cow? Watch this space! On the other hand it seems Cuba could be coming closer than we originally thought! Well, never give up! Persevere and we shall prevail.

In any case here’s our latest newsletter: The Long Journey Q2-2017. Until next time,

Good Health

Safe Travels

Stay Positive!

We ordered wonderful weather for Tokyo

Heheh…the weather we ordered seemed to have been delivered as we wanted…sunny and cloudless skies and temperatures reasonably toasty at 3-4°C. So we cannot complain about it. You’ve read about our earlier post where we shared the “frenzy” of women preparing for the big Valentine celebration. We too had a wonderful dinner at one of them rooftop restaurants (no, not open air).

Today however we are sharing with you some wonderful pictures of the city, from the imperial palace to the Hamarikyu gardens (entry cost ¥300pp) …

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Beautiful moat around the palace

Because it is too late to register online for it, Mel could only walk around the perimeter of the palace during lunch breaks (the office is near Tokyo station). So a nice stroll to get away from the office humdrum…but these views are already very nice!

Ah Tokyo Tower (¥900pp to the top). So many times we’ve seen it. Finally done it. Got to the top and spotted a glimpse of Mr Fuji in the distant. Ok, not quite like the poster where Mr Fuji looms large over the city. That one might be photo-shopped…either that or it’s another city. Definitely not Tokyo we think! LOL. Ok, it is really the angle and the place one takes the photo. Just don’t expect that from Tokyo tower or Skytree!

Finally Mel is done with pounding the corporate floorboard and we will soon be on the Shinkansen to Toyama where we will pound the accelerator of our rental car around the coast! Journalogs will follow. Ciao!

The annual pilgrimage has begun

We are not overly religious just in case you wonder. But you see this word ‘pilgrimage’ aptly describes what we’re about to do. We are once again on a journey to the land of the rising sun. Our annual road trip will begin soon!

But first, Mel will need to pound the corporate floorboard. And while he’s busy doing that, Suan will be setting herself upon the city’s shopping. Look out Tokyo shopping, here comes HRH Suan!

This pilgrimage will take us to the northern coast of Japan.


Toyama (富山市), ~300km northwest from Tokyo will be our base.

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Go there in April!

It will be approximately 2 hours+ of a Shinkansen ride to/from this city on the sea of Japan. We will be making our road trip all along the coast, staying in ryokan onsens. Yes, naked hot baths again! Heheh… If you are wondering, nooooo we are not nudists. Just to clarify.

The last time we came close to Toyama was when we visited the ice walls of Tateyama. We could have continued onto Toyama from the mountain, but that would mean leaving our car behind in Omachi! So, this is in a way, a continuation of that journey.


This will be another epic road trip for us. The day light will be short and the roads fester with snow. However the distances we have chosen this time are short and we’ll have plenty of time to spend at each of our road trip stops.

A journalog cometh soon. Look out for it!

Getting from Narita to Tokyo

What are your options if you are at Narita airport and want to get to Tokyo in a jiffy?

Yes Haneda is an alternate gateway too. But say you are using the larger gateway (which most intercontinental flights seem to be on) with a longer layover and wish to see a little of Tokyo. Can you? In Singapore, the airport conducts short city tours that you register for. Those run for 2-hours, Read here for more.

In Narita however, such options do not exist. Well, not exactly. In 2015, Narita launched a layover program. These cover only the area around Narita itself and not Tokyo. Thus the following is for folks who have a stopover rather than a layover.

We have seen from our trip advisor posts that many questions surround how to easily get to the city from the airport.

For us, thes are the options to get to Tokyo :

  1. Limousine bus. This costs ¥3,100pp for a one-way trip (same cost back and good as at time of this posr). The main drawback is that the service is usually for folks reaching out to designated hotels. However there are services with the major train stations as alighting points.We normally try to book hotels that are served by this network or are in close proximity.
  2. Narita Express train. This takes you direct from the terminal to Tokyo main station. It also continues on to Shinjuku station. Take note of the service that brings you to Yokohama. Best of all, it takes just 50 minutes and is not pricier at ¥6,040pp for the roundtrip to Tokyo, it is a good option if your hotel is in the vicinity of these stations. Mel took this in March 2016 on a business trip.
  3. JR connect to Metro/Subway. Not highly really recommended unless you are traveling light and know the connections. This guy‘s got a good guide to taking cheap train to your destination. If you have large suitcases, then it may be a chore to haul them up some of the older stations that do not have lifts or even escalators at the exits.

narita-to-tokyo-centralDefinitely will not recommend the normal bus service (take too long) nor the taxi (too costly). However if these are options, then consider the Access Narita bus or Tokyo access bus. These are all in English now, so making an informed choice is no longer a serious challenge.

In case you were wondering why the taxi from the airport to the city is soooo expensive, its good to look at the geography. Narita is almost 70km away! Do you get much cheaper fares for such a taxi distance?

Enjoy Tokyo, Suan’s favorite city! We’ll be there soon!

Go road tripping in Japan

Mel had a conversation with a colleague one day. The topic was travel (of course) and invariably it veered into how we (ie Mel and Suan) explore the destinations that we journey to. For the most part, we do not drive in cities or in countries where self drive can be tricky due to the traffic etc or hard to rent (that’s only a few countries) – but…

For the rest, it’s fair game. Give Mel a rental and we will brave the open roads.

So it was a curious thing to hear : “my husband has a phobia of driving overseas” or “he feels it’s not safe to drive outside of Singapore”. As if it was ever that safe driving on the roads of the little red dot especially with recent incidents of folks driving in the wrong direction…consolation – well perhaps it’s kind of ‘safer’?

Getting a rental in Japan

In this day and age it is a surprise that many still do not consider this to be an option high on the list of choices – mode of transport that is in Japan outside the large cities. We are not advocating driving per se and are not paid by auto companies, but if one were to travel…

First up, it’s surprisingly affordable. At our favorite N*ssan, you can rent a compact for about ¥7,000 per day. This translates to a 1.4 litre N*ssan N*te. Enough horsepower to bring you to the mountains. And it comes with the GPS built into the car, so you don’t pay extra. There are other sites such as Toc*o.com, but they carry additional charges and have a hold on your credit card unlike our favorite (no bias here).

Our first rental was in a city called Shirahama (read story here). It is true that for folks driving on the other side of the road it can be intimidating at first. Especially when most of the roadside signage (commercials etc) are not in English. But then you only need to focus on the road – other cars and pedestrians + the traffic lights. Within an hour of driving on the roads in Japan, you’d soon come to know its NO DIFFERENT from anywhere else.

Plan your trip

Obvious step.

There are now many sites on the web that offer advise to craft your own itinerary. It is plain obvious we are biased towards using Google maps. You will see references to embedded maps all over our pages and posts. This is just an example:

For example (above), Suan had mapped out her journeys and saved them, “printing” them into the cloud and referring to them along the way as we drove. Of course it helped that the cars in Japan usually come with in-built GPS devices which meant you can programme in the waypoints ahead of time. And if you are not sure how to do it, just ask the rental agency folks. They will be more than happy to help you find your way and return the car unscathed.

Don’t believe us that it’s fun? Read Traipsy Pixie’s road trip to Shirakawa, one of our to do destinations in Japan. They do the drive too!

Once you have the car and a plan, you’re on the way. Enjoy the fun and the freedom that comes with driving your own. It might be soon when driverless cars become mainstream and ‘take away’ the fun of driving!

We enjoy exploring Japan this way. Will you?