This Japan Itinerary was a 3.5-week road trip that started in Osaka, went as far as the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido, and then ended back where we started in Osaka.
Like with Taiwan, it was a family trip with a larger group of 7 people, including my Mom, Dad, nephew, and niece along with our usual trio of Tahia, Julie, and myself.
Personally, it was my 4th trip to Japan (2nd this year), but we were focusing mostly on the Tohoku Region (most of Northern Japan, which is a new experience for everyone) and Hokkaido.
It was the last part of a three-part Summer Asian trip, and it was in many ways one of the more challenging ones due to the language barrier as well as many unforeseen things that happened concerning our health as well as the weather.
Indeed, it was a lesson in improvising and thinking on our feet (though you could argue that all of our trips involve some degree of adversity).
In any case, here’s a brief summary of what we managed to do on this trip…
Ryusoga Waterfall – this was the first waterfall that we encountered on our Japan Summer Road Trip in 2023, and it was quite the intro! Even though it was a roadside waterfall, it wasn’t the easiest to get to due to the long, slow, and twisty drive to get here between Ikeda and Ono in the Fukui Prefecture. But it’s quite impressive enough to even be overwhelming to take pictures of it as we got a very in-your-face view after finding one of two parking areas then walking back to it.
Ubagataki Waterfall – this was one of the main waterfalls on the Hakusan-Shirakawago White Road, which was a toll road on a high mountain area featuring views, cliff-hugging ledges, and waterfalls. This particular waterfall required a short upside-down hike to get to, but it offers a foot spa while being mesmerized by the waterfall’s unusual shape and flow. It’s not often that you get to have this combo let alone a waterfall as unusual as this!
Fukube-no-otaki Waterfall – this was another roadside waterfall on the Hakusan-Shirakawago White Road, but this happens to be a big one that can’t even fit on a camera frame from its lookout area. Hence it has an otaki in its name, but it’s certainly worth stopping at its hairpin turn just to witness this waterfall as well as the canyon scenery around it. Even tour buses stop here, which tells you how big of a deal it is among those in the know!
Matsumoto Castle – we didn’t visit this castle under the greatest of circumstances (my nephew was battling a bad case of food poisoning), but for those that were able to experience it, the castle was every bit as fun and rewarding as our first visit back in 2009 (when it was just Julie and I). You really have to treat these types of visits more like a treehouse adventure with shoes off (which you carry with you in a plastic bag), and they’ve also restricted what photos you can take inside the castle, particularly if it involves steep steps probably due to upskirt reasons. Nevertheless, not only was the inside of the castle fun with nice views around the city, but the moat area and gardens were also quite scenic and photogenic.
Zenko-ji Temple – this was one of the largest and most extensive temple complexes that we’ve visited in Japan. The crazy thing about this place in Nagano was that we showed up pretty late in the day so a lot of the places you could go inside were closed (and there were many of them). So indeed, we could have easily spent the better part of a day in this one Buddhist complex, but even the couple of hours that we were here had been pretty mindblowing enough.
Yonako Great Falls – with this waterfall, we’re actually talking about at least two waterfalls dropping side-by-side from the rim of a caldera just to the southeast of Nagano. We had to earn our visit with a bit of a loop hike to take it all in, but it also included a third waterfall that we didn’t plan on visiting as well as a Shinto Shrine (or at least the former location of it). Our early start was definitely a way to beat the heat of the basin down by the city, and it was a great start to the day.
Karuizawa Shiraito Falls – this was a very wide spring looking like a wall of water that was sort of a smaller version of the Shiraito Falls in Mt Fuji. Except in this case, it seemed like it was very popular since it was in the resort town of Karuizawa (which is well-connected to Tokyo) and is quite easy to experience. It also has nice clear water, where the colors come out when the sun comes out.
Kusatsu Onsen – ever since our visit to the Jofu Falls in October 2016, we completely whiffed on spending time at this resort town, which turned out to be Japan’s premiere onsen resort area (or so it’s said)! So Mom and I didn’t pass up this opportunity to spend time here, including bathing in an outdoor rotemburo, which was our first such experience. I’m pretty sure if we ever have a chance to return to the Japan Alps near Nagano again, we’re going to make it a point to actually spend a night or two here.
Sotaki Waterfall – this was really a waterfalling excuse for us to experience the Tsubame Onsen area, especially since we couldn’t get closer to the waterfall (though it was still impressive even from its distant lookout), but there was a free rotemburo that we could go right into and enjoy. Even the rest of the family was able to do it so they at least got to experience what a natural outdoor hot spring was like. And it was a great way to relax before the long drive to the north of Japan.
Juroku Rakan Iwa – even though the city of Sakata was more known for rice and its storage warehouse museum, I thought the Buddha carvings into the sea stacks at this coastal spot was more interesting. It was a nice change of pace from the usual temples, waterfalls, and cities, and I felt it was one of the sleeper attractions that snuck up and grew on us as we looked back at it. Even the kids had a fun time trying to count the Buddha faces to see if they could identify 16 of them (though there were apparently more than that here).
Tamasudare Falls – I actually made two visits to this waterfall since it was close enough to Sakata to do that. The first time, I came when it was dark because I incorrectly thought they would light it up (apparently that only happens specific times of the year). However, when Mom and I came back the following morning, it came after an overnight heavy rain storm, and the falls seemed to have grown twofold since the previous night! Mom also got some of the holy water at the Fudoson Shrine fronting the falls.
Ginzan Onsen – this was one of Japan’s most charming onsen resort towns with a bit of a silver mining past. Indeed, it was worth the splurge to spend the night here while also enjoying the Shirogane and Raion Waterfalls as well as the refreshingly cool silver mines further upstream.
And when we were winding down the day, we had dinner and breakfast at the Ginzan-so (one of the resorts here) while also enjoying a private soak with the view of the Ginzan River outside of our tatami-style room.
Hottai Falls – this waterfall on the northeastern slopes of Mt Chokai in the Akita Prefecture was a bit out-of-the-way for us, but we were glad that we did make the detour because it was one of the more impressive waterfalls in Northern Japan that we did. The weather was a bit jekyll-and-hyde with us, but that meant we got to see it different moods and lightings.
Choshi Otaki – this was the most significant waterfall in the Oirase Gorge, and even a heavy rain storm didn’t put a damper (pun intended) on this visit though it would have been nice to spend more time in the gorge to explore its other waterfalls. Heck, even tour bus crowds came to this waterfall despite the conditions, which tells you how big of a deal this place was!
Jigokudani (Hell Valley) – this was pretty much the scenic centerpiece of the Noboribetsu Onsen, which was a well-touristed onsen resort town in the south of Hokkaido. Like with many spots around Japan, it’s a geologically active spot so you do get the Yellowstone-like experience witnessing hot springs, bubbling mud pots, and steaming vents as well as crater lakes around the area. However, I felt witnessing this valley while also bathing in one of the nearby onsens was especially what made the experience. They even have an evening fire performance with people dressed in demon costumes wielding fireworks-like torches, which was a well-attended performance with crowd control.
Ashiribetsu Falls – this double-waterfall was one of the few excursions that we were able to do as the entire Cheng Army, and it was a nice waterfall to boot with a pretty easy walk to get to it. That flat walk came in handy because of the muggy weather. And though we didn’t do it, we did have the opportunity to extend the excursion to visit other neighboring waterfalls. Indeed, it was a nice suburban park near Sapporo, Hokkaido’s largest city.
Makomanai Takino Cemetery – we actually stumbled upon this place when we were driving from Ashiribetsu Falls to Sapporo City. However, we couldn’t ignore the impressive Moai statues fronting the entrance, and it turned out that there were more recognizable stone monuments here like Stonehenge and a giant Buddha Statue after an atmospheric walkway to get there!
Tanukikoji Shopping Street (Sapporo) – this shopping street went for like 7 city blocks, and it seemed like all of Sapporo descended on this covered arcade at the Susukino District. It was quite the atmospheric experience that we happened to miss out on during our 2009 first visit to Japan, but I was glad that we stumbled upon this spot (though we wondered if Tahia caught COVID here given the sheer quantity of people).
Nakafurano Flower Park – this was another case of stumbling upon a famous spot, but at least in this instance, we showed up at the right time as there were lavenders in bloom.
It was kind of fortunate that we showed up when we did because there was foul weather, but it calmed down just enough for us to enjoy this spot and look across Nakafurano towards Mt Tokachidake.
Shirahige Falls – this was a case of fortunate timing as there was a short break in the foul weather allowing us to see this colorful waterfall backed by Mt Tokachidake and other neighboring mountains before clouds rapidly covered up the scene again. We didn’t have a chance to soak in any of the onsens in the town above the falls, but the falls itself was impressive enough to even be considered as one of our contenders of Japan’s Top 10 Waterfalls!
Shirogane Blue Pond – even though I was disappointed to learn that this was a man-made pool, I guess there’s no denying the scenic allure of this impossibly-blue lake that gave me a lot of Jiuzhaigou vibes. So even though there’s a lot of people here (especially tour bus crowds), at least you know it’s with good reason that this place is this popular!
Ginga and Ryusei Falls – Julie and I loved this waterfall pairing when we first saw it in 2009, but when Mom and I saw it 14 years later, it was still scenically alluring and every bit busier than it was back then. And that’s why places like this don’t get old with me, and I had to consider this a highlight of this Summer trip.
Yamabiko Falls – we missed this waterfall near Maruseppu on our first visit back in 2009 so we made sure not to miss it this time around. A distinguishing thing about this falls is that we were able to cleanly go around the backside of the falls, where there were some small shrines and offerings. And even though we didn’t do this, we also could have extended the walk to check out a neighboring waterfall called Rokumei-no-taki.
Sakura Falls – this waterfall represented our first time actually witnessing a salmon run where they would try to jump up the waterfall to keep swimming upstream to spawn. It was kind of Nature’s quirky way of proving who’d be fit enough to pass on their DNA, and it acted as a bit of an addicting entertainment to onlookers like us as time would fly watching these fish flying out of the whitewater into the waterfall.
Lake Mashu – although we witnessed this crater lake on our first trip in June 2009 under much better weather, it was still scenic despite the overcast conditions (and later foggier conditions that took over the main lookout area). That’s saying something for the less-than-ideal viewing conditions.
Mt Iozan – this venting mountain with lots of yellow-caking sulphur on its vents added bright colors to the otherwise bleak landscape on this geologically active mountain. There were some hot water springs coming out of the vents as well as the familiar rotten egg smell, and it was quite the photogenic spot that was every bit worth the time spent here (as we managed to miss it on our first visit back in June 2009).
Oshinkoshin Falls – a recurring theme on our repeat visits during this 2023 Summer trip in Japan was whether such repeat places would stand the test of time. And in this case, it certainly did by remaining on our Top 10 List by the end of this trip. Indeed, the family enjoyed this one, and despite the COVID issues, it was also another one of the few excursions the entire Cheng Army did as a family!
Kamuiwakka Falls – the first time that Julie and I witnessed this waterfall, it was from the Sea of Okhotsk on a sightseeing boat tour. When we came back 14 years later, we finally got a chance to interact with this waterfall, and we did it in the form of a waterfall climbing adventure up all but one of its tiers. Even the foggy weather put a bit more mood and atmosphere to our visit, and oh yeah, the lukewarm water also felt quite good.
Seseki Falls – we explore the less-visited eastern coast of Shiretoko Peninsula for this waterfall, and the main excuse was to check out the Seseki Onsen, which was an outdoor hot spring that can be inundated in high tide. The waterfall was kind of our waterfaller’s excuse to go out this way, and soaking in this seaside onsen was one of the more memorable experiences that we had on this trip!
Hachimantai Fudo Falls – this waterfall was a break from the long drive between Aomori and Sendai, and we kind of knew it was a holy place the moment we left the main road and were greeted by a huge torii gate as we crossed the railroad and entered its access road. A visit to this waterfall allowed us to check out the Sakuramatsu Shrine while also doing a nice loop walk to take in the Nature in addition to the falls fronted by its bold red bridge.
Akiu Great Falls – this was another waterfall that Julie and I saw on our first visit to Japan back in May 2009 (in fact, it was our very first waterfall in the country), but back then, trail damage prevented us from experiencing it from its base. Well fast forward 14 years, and we were finally able to witness its power from its base as well as from its familiar lookout. And now I feel like our experience here was complete, and as a result, we had to consider it a highlight of this trip.
Sendai-jo – even though the castle isn’t there anymore, I’d say the hill upon where it used to rest was itself still a highlight of this vibrant city largely due to the commanding views that you get from here. Granted, we had to hike a bit to get up to this spot (otherwise, it would have been better to self-drive or take a bus up there), but it was one of the more worthwhile things to do in the city that didn’t involve shopping.
Otsujigataki Falls – this wide waterfall on the Abukuma River had Niagara-like qualities in that it had a horseshoe-shaped brink and it was a pretty high volume waterfall. It was easy to experience along the Michinoku Cycle Road, and it was kind of an urban waterfall that was actually relaxing so it was a worthwhile thing for Mom and I to visit as it was within a half-hour’s drive from downtown Koriyama.
Namekawa Great Falls – this unusually-shaped waterfall took me two tries in order to experience it properly. With that success, I got to see it looking like a robe from a distance as well as like a wraith as seen from its base. And when all was said and done after going on the adventurous hike that involved cliff scrambling and stream wading, then I got to soak in the hot springs of the historic Namekawa Onsen spa. This was by no means an easy waterfall to visit, but it was certainly one of the most rewarding experiences!
Choshigataki Falls – this was one of the few waterfalls that bear the name choshi that actually lives up to its name. You see, when it has high flow, the shape of this waterfall could very well looking like a symmetric sake decanter. However, in the state we saw it, we witnessed a more one-sided sake bottle (which also exists). In any case, we had to earn our visit with this waterfall, but at least it was a peaceful hike, and certainly a nice detox from the cities to the east.
Tatsuzawa Fudo Falls – this was actually a two-part waterfall that had a male part and a female part to it. Mom and surprised by how popular this place was as people were still showing up here even though it was very late in the afternoon (after 5pm) when we were about to leave. That’s saying something for this waterfall near the Nakanosawa Onsen.
Hossawa Falls – it’s not often that you get to say you’ve visited a waterfall in Tokyo, but that’s exactly what this waterfall lets you do! Granted, we’re talking about the Tokyo Prefecture and not the city itself (that would be a bit of an oxymoron), but given that, it just showed that there’s a different side to Japan’s largest city, and it’s even accessible (heck it’s even recommended to come here) by public transportation (though we self-drove and endured the heavy traffic to get here).
Fuji Shiraito Falls – this was another repeat visit for Julie and I, but unlike that first visit under overcast skies using an inconvenient public transportation schedule, we self-drove this time under better weather. And the end result was that we liked this place even more than that first time (even despite the change in overlooks and crowds), and I even considered this to be our new top waterfall in Japan as of the end of our July 2023 visit to Japan.
Jinba Falls – this was the last waterfall of our epic Japanese Summer 2023 trip, and it was probably the kids’ favorite one because they got to play in it. Of course, as you can see in the picture above, it also had its own scenic allure with a series of springs falling alongside each other. And unlike the neighboring Shiraito Falls, this waterfall definitely let us touch it while the other one didn’t (the latter of which actually seems to be the norm). Anyways, we had to call this a highlight on the trip given the good vibes that it provided.
Fuji Q Highland – while on the theme of making the kids happy, they were really looking forward to visiting Fuji-Q Highland, and this place certainly didn’t disappoint (despite Do-dodonpa not being open). Indeed, in the short time we had there, we got to go on 10 rides, including Eejanaika twice, Fujiyama three times, Takabisha twice, Zokkon, Tondemina, and Attack on Titan (VR-ride). It was the highlight of their Japan part of the trip until the next day when we went to…
Nagashima Spa Land – this was the other of two major amusement parks that the kids got to enjoy in Japan, and this happened on the penultimate day of the Summer trip as we were driving back to Osaka and made a stop at this man-made island just to the west of Nagoya. In this instance, we went on many rides including Steel Dragon 2000 (twice), Hakugei (twice), Acrobat (twice), Arashi, Freefall, Shuttle Loop, Corkscrew, and Space Shot. We went on a very hot day, but that didn’t deter us from us from enjoying the park while the rest of the adults were shopping or chilling out in the mall part of the park.
During the Queensland part of our trip, there were definitely things that happened that were not planned for that ultimately had impacts to the trip experience, forcing us to make on-the-spot decisions, and making assessments for risks that we never perceived going into the trip…
Climate Change & Weather: This trip was quite heavily affected by intense thunderstorms that almost behaved like tropical storms given the longevity and intensity of such downpours (that produced flooding in parts of Japan). It definitely prevented us from doing some hikes we had intended to do in the Aomori Prefecture, and such storms also produced flooding that killed people further to the southwest in Kyushu. So are these Global Warming-enhanced storms? It’s hard to discount, but it was definitely one of the things we had to consider and react on-the-fly in order to keep the family safe even if it meant an adversely impacted itinerary. So we definitely paid attention to the weather every day (even hour-by-hour).
In other instances, the increased water vapor in the air from the loss of ice around the world may have also increased the likelihood of haze, mist, and cloud cover, which actually impacted waterfall experiences even on fair weather days! Case in point, it was sunny on the coast between Sendai and Fukushima, but it was still drizzling and foggy at the Sankai Waterfalls (which we weren’t successful on) and the Namekawa Great Falls (which took us two attempts to properly complete)!
Hokkaido Ferry: We had to make advanced bookings in order to handle the Aomori-Hakodate and back ferry crossings. However, since we were international visitors, we had to use the Aferry service, which didn’t make the online booking until within a month of the sailing time. So that made for some anxious times because it was the lone uncertain aspect of our itinerary, and it wasn’t until we were in Taiwan when we finally got to make our advanced bookings. Do note that we also had to check into our ferry 90 minutes before the actual sailing time because they had to manage traffic for the people that were getting off the ferry, which also took time.
Summer Sushi: We got a pretty quick indication of how impactful food poisoning can get on a Japan trip when my newphew was “enjoying his sushi” in hot weather in Kyoto only to be laid out with a bad case of food poisoning over the next week! It kept him from visiting Matsumoto Castle, Ubagataki Waterfall, Zenko-ji Temple, and even Ginzan Onsen! Mom and Dad even took him to the hospital in Nagano (though the antibiotics they gave may have also induced an adverse reaction)! Indeed, just because it’s Japan doesn’t mean eating sushi is without risks! In this instance, it was wiser to wait to have the sushi in colder climates and not under a heat wave! Moreover, if you do eat raw food, you should eat it as soon as possible so as to not let the parasites multiply to the point of making you sick. Definitely respect and don’t underestimate the importance of food safety!
Onsen Showering: If you’re staying in an onsen, one trick that we learned if you’re not into showering in small bathrooms is to just do it at the onsen facility’s shower. Over there, you have much more space, more product, and more control of water temperature (except maybe you have to keep it going since some have auto-shut-off mechanisms). The only thing you don’t have is privacy, but if you’re intending to bathe in an onsen, you’re not going to have that anyways. So you mind as well get over the awkwardness (no one cares anyways) and embrace and enjoy this quirk of Japanese culture.
Road Toll Costs: Having been used to driving in Korea and encountering its road tolls, driving in Japan is a lot more expensive. Indeed, while the exchange rate in Korea was about 1300 won to 1 US dollar, in Japan, it was more like 130 yen to 1 US dollar! Indeed, it was an order of magnitude difference! At the end of our 3.5-week road trip, I spent about 74k yen while Dad’s vehicle was about 70k yen (an amount that’s like $700 USD). Indeed, freedom isn’t free in Japan as you’re paying either way whether you take bullet trains and deal with schedules or you self-drive and deal with tolls as well as parking and gas on top of the rental itself!
GoogleTranslate is your Friend: Japan generally has good internet (maybe not as extensive as South Korea’s) and you’ll definitely want to take advantage of this because you can’t expect people in Japan to speak good English. In fact, there are only so many sounds that can be made in the Japanese language, which makes English rather difficult for native Japanese Speakers to grapple with if they don’t use it every day (something they don’t have to do living in Japan, of course). Thus, many workers in the hospitality industry actually carry their own handheld translator to help with communication, and so you should do the same with your phone and GoogleTranslate if your Japanese is not up to snuff! Indeed, you can translate signs using GoogleLens and you can use the microphone feature to speak into the phone and let the app translate your dictation into Japanese so the person you’re talking to can at least understand what you’re trying to say!
Tatami Style: As we have aged, we have better appreciated Western-style beds as opposed to sleeping on the floor. Sure, it’s a nice novelty to sleep in tatami-styled rooms when we first did it while we were younger and more flexible, but unless the padding is thick (or you have access to additional padding), you may wind up waking up to sore backs and sides, especially as you find yourself doing this day after day! The same is also true of tatami-styled sitting arrangements in restaurants or cafes, where sitting cross-legged all the time can be really painful when you have to get back up on the first step or two!
Cash Is Still King: Even though we’re seeing a few more establishments taking credit card, by and large, it’s still a cash-is-king society. So make sure you have cash on you or else you may not be able to procure certain goods or services where foreign credit cards aren’t accepted. This is especially true at the expressway rest stops that involve self-help machines to place your order!
ETC: You can save a lot of time making sure your rental car is fitting with an ETC (electronic toll card) because then you can just drive through the ETC lanes at the toll booths and be on your way instead of stopping at each one and paying on the spot, which can really add up in terms of time spent (and not all stations take foreign credit cards). Also make sure the ETC is working, which was something we had to deal with as the ETC card in my parents’ rental car wasn’t working and we had to spend the better part of a half-day to get this resolved in Kyoto (after having left Osaka)!
Mask Up!: Although the world is pretty much pretending like COVID-19 doesn’t exist anymore, it’s still going around with different strains. And after having gone through various members of the family getting infected at different times on this trip, let’s just say that it’s not the same as a bad flu. Indeed, this virus sticks in your lungs and can cause damage (e.g. Mom and Julie both had coughs that lasted over a month), and I was hacking up a lung on the plane as I was the last to catch it a day or two before the end of the trip. Your best defense? Wear a mask that’s better than the surgical ones, especially in crowded spaces!
Day 26: Transit from KIX to Osaka
Overnight: Courtyard by Marriott Shin-Osaka (Osaka, Japan)
After catching an early flight from Taiwan to the Kansai International Airport (KIX), we then caught the Kansai-Express Train to Shin-Osaka, where we got settled in our conveniently-located accommodation before going on a late afternoon tour to Osaka-jo (we were too late to go inside it) and then meet up with friends from LA in Dotombori. The parents and Josh and Soph didn’t make it until late evening due to long delays at the airport when they arrived on a later flight.
Day 27: Drive from Osaka to Kyoto
Overnight: Cross Hotel (Kyoto, Japan)
After picking up the rental car by our accommodation, we then drove to Kyoto. However, the parents were having ETC trouble so we had to spend a half-day rectifying it at the Toyota RAC in Kyoto. Once that was done, then we just visited the Nishiki Market where the kids got to pet pigs as well as shy Shibainu dogs. Then, we got to explore a little bit of the Potoncho District in Kyoto before calling it a day.
Day 28: Drive from Kyoto to Takayama
Overnight: Wat Hotel & Spa (Takayama, Japan)
On this day, we drove from Takayama via the Fukui Prefecture and over the Hakusan-Shirakawago White Road. Along the way, we visited the Ryusoga Falls, Ubagataki Falls, and Fukube Falls before settling in Takayama and fitting in some last minute sake tasting in the Sanmachi-dori Alleyway before dinner.
Day 29: Drive from Takayama to Nagano
Overnight: Sotetsu Fresa Inn (Nagano, Japan)
On this day, we first drove towards Hirayu Falls before visiting Matsumoto seeing both its castle as well as the Nakamachi-dori street. Then, we drove to Nagano, where we had a late afternoon visit to the Zenko-ji Temple.
Overnight: Sotetsu Fresa Inn (Nagano, Japan)
This was a divide-and-conquer day where Mom and I did a day trip to the Japan Alps to the east of Nagano while the rest of the family stayed in the city. We started by visiting the Yonako Great Falls, then going to the Karuizawa Shiraito Falls before spending the better part of the afternoon at Kusatsu Onsen. Then, we came back to Nagano just in time for a late dinner.
Day 31: Drive from Nagano to Sakata
Overnight: Wakaba Ryokan (Sakata, Japan)
This was a long driving day with a morning stop at Tsubame Onsen, where we visited Sotaki Waterfall and a nearby rotemburo that was public. Then, we drove all the way to Sakata, where we visited the Sankyo Warehouses. I then solo’d a visit to the Juroku Rakan Iwa as well as Tamasudare Falls.
Day 32: Drive from Sakata to Ginzan Onsen
Overnight: Ginzanso (Ginzan Onsen, Japan)
On this day, Mom and I made an early morning visit to Tamasudare Falls before having breakfast then driving to the Juroku Rakan Iwa. From there, we drove east into Mogami Valley checking out the Mogami Shiraito Falls before continuing to Ginzan Onsen. After having lunch there, I solo’d a walk to Shirogane Falls and the silver mines further upstream before returning to our tatami-style room for a soak in our private onsen and a nice Japanese style dinner as a family.
Day 33: Drive from Ginzan Onsen to Morioka
Overnight: Dormy Inn (Morioka, Japan)
This was another long day of driving that started after breakfast in Ginzan Onsen. Then, we drove on a bit of a detour to Hottai Falls before continuing north to Hanmaki Onsen and the Kamabuchi Falls. Finally, we settled in Morioka.
Day 34: Drive from Morioka to Hirosaki
Overnight: Art Hotel Hirosaki City (Hirosaki, Japan)
This was a bad weather day where we still pushed forward with visiting Kosaka Nanataki Falls and then Choshi Otaki Falls in the Oirase Gorge. Finally, we got decent weather in Hirosaki, where we visited the Hirosaki-jo before settling in the city.
Day 35: Drive from Hirosaki to Aomori
Overnight:Richmond Hotel (Aomori, Japan)
This was another bad weather day where our desires to go to Anmondaki Falls and Kurokuma Falls were not possible due to possible flooding. So we wound up going to the Asamushi Aquarium for the better part of the morning before going to the Aomori Museum of Contemporary Art. Then, we just settled in the city.
Day 36: Drive from Aomori to Noboribetsu Onsen
Overnight: Dai-ichi Takimotokan (Noboribetsu Onsen, Japan)
This was a long driving day that started with a ferry from Aomori to Hakodate, and then we made the long drive to Noboribetsu Onsen while having a lunch at a beef farm in Shiraoi. Then, we pretty much settled in Noboribetsu Onsen checking out Jigokudani (Hell Valley) before living it up in the luxurious accommodation.
Day 37: Drive from Noboribetsu Onsen to Sapporo
After having breakfast at Noboribetsu Onsen, we checked out Lake Kuttaro before driving to Ashiribetsu Falls. Finally, we spent the rest of the day walking around the Susukino area and Tanukikoji Shopping Street.
Day 38: Drive from Sapporo to Asahikawa
Overnight: Economy Hotel Upashi (Asahikawa, Japan)
On this day, we drove out to Shirahige Falls stopping at the Nakafurano Flower Field en route. Afterwards, we checked out the Shirogane Blue Pond and then to Hagoromo Falls before finally settling in Asahikawa.
Day 39: Day at Leisure in Asahikawa
Overnight: Economy Hotel Upashi (Asahikawa, Japan)
This was a divide-and-conquer day where Mom and I went to Ginga and Ryusei Falls before going to Yamabiko Falls. Once we got back to Asahikawa, some of us then did a brief tour of the city in the rain.
Day 40: Drive from Asahikawa to Utoro
Overnight: Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort (Utoro, Japan)
This was another long driving day where we first drove east to Sakura Falls before checking out both Lake Mashuko and Mt Iozan. Then, after a lunch at the Yamutetsu Train Station, we then went to Oshinkoshin Falls before settling into Utoro. We did make one late afternoon attempt to visit Furepe Falls, but bear activity closed the trail so we never got a chance to make up for a hike we neglected to do 14 years ago!
Day 41: Shiretoko National Park
Overnight: Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort (Utoro, Japan)
This was a divide-and-conquer day where Mom, Josh, and myself explored Shiretoko National Park while the rest of the family chilled at the resort. We started off with a waterfall climb at Kamuiwakka Falls before going further east to soak in Seseki Onsen while also visiting the Seseki Falls. Finally, we headed back to Utoro while exploring Kumagoe Falls and having a mother-daughter bowl in town while also visiting Shigure Falls. Finally, we had one more good dinner and soaking at our resort.
Day 42: Drive from Utoro to Hakodate
Overnight: Fav Hotel (Hakodate, Japan)
This was a very long travel day where we got a late start after having a nice breakfast at our resort in Utoro. Then, we made the marathon drive to Hakodate with a stop at Chidorigataki Falls with a couple of roadside stops for gas, toilets, and dinner. Eventually, we checked in late in Hakodate in preparation for the ferry ride the next morning.
Day 43: Drive from Hakodate to Sendai
Overnight: Hotel Monterey (Sendai, Japan)
This was yet another long driving day that started with a ferry from Hakodate to Aomori, and then we made the long drive further south to Sendai. Along the way, we visited Hachimantai Fudo Falls before making a roadside stop and then finally arriving in Sendai City in the evening.
Day 44: Sendai Waterfalls and Sendai
Overnight: Hotel Monterey (Sendai, Japan)
We divided-and-conquered again on this day where the active party was Mom, Soph, Josh, and myself. The rest stayed in Sendai City Center. So we started off by visiting Akiu Great Falls then the Sekiyama Great Falls before a failed attempt at Sankai Falls, and then finally returning to the Sendai City Center. In the afternoon, we hiked up to the Sendai-jo for some views and to do a little sightseeing in the city, and then we settled down in the evening.
Day 45: Drive from Sendai to Koriyama
Overnight: Koriyama View Hotel (Koriyama, Japan)
This was a driving day, where we did a failed Namekawa Great Falls visit (though we did soak at Namekawa Onsen) before driving to Koriyama. After settling in there, Mom and I then went to Otsuji Falls before some grocery shopping in Sukagawa and finally settling down in the city.
Day 46: Waterfalls around Koriyama and Fukushima
Overnight: Koriyama View Hotel (Koriyama, Japan)
We did another divide-and-conquer day, but this time it was just Mom and I chasing waterfalls. We started with a re-visit of Namekawa Great Falls before going to Choshigataki Falls, and finally Tatsuzawa Fudo Falls before returning back to Koriyama.
Day 47: Drive from Koriyama to Kawaguchiko
Overnight: Kawaguchiko Hotel (Kawaguchiko, Japan)
This was another long driving day where we started off by going to Hossawa Falls before having lunch, and then we continued to Shiraito Falls. After that visit, we then went to Jinba Falls before going back to Kawaguchiko to settle in for the evening.
Day 48: Day at Leisure at Kawaguchiko
Overnight: Kawaguchiko Hotel (Kawaguchiko, Japan)
On this day, I basically spent time with the kids at Fuji-Q Highland while the rest of the adults just chilled at the resort. The morning started off with a visit to the Chureito Pagoda with Josh and Soph (especially since Josh wanted to see Mt Fuji). But the rest of the day was pretty much all about the amusement park.
Day 49: Drive from Kawaguchiko to Osaka
Overnight: Courtyard by Marriott Shin-Osaka Station (Osaka, Japan)
This was another marathon driving day, but we got an early start so we could spend the better part of the day visiting Nagashima Spa Land. Once there, it was another divide-and-conquer deal where
I spent time with the kids in the amusement park while the rest of the family chilled out in the air-conditioned shopping mall area. Afterwards, we drove into Osaka to return the rental car, have dinner, and pack for our final night of the trip.
Day 50: Fly back to Los Angeles
This was basically a long travel day, where we took the train to Kansai International Airport, then caught a flight to Taoyuan International Airport, and finally took a crowded flight back to Los Angeles International Airport before we all went our separate ways home.
Best Places We’ve Stayed At
Ginzanso, Ginzan Onsen– This traditional tatami-style accommodation was a bit of a splurge, but it was met the increased expectations with flying colors.
Not only was the room very spacious, but it also came with an outdoor private onsen with a nice view towards the river. The included dinner and breakfasts were also very good (and perhaps even a bit filling with the quantity of food they gave; though the kids were a bit pickier).
As for the location, it was walking distance to the charming part of the Ginzan Onsen town and the attractions on offer there, which included the waterfalls and the intriguing silver mines.
My only regret was not bathing in any of the public onsens within the facility, which I’m sure would have been quite the experience. There was also included parking at a lot about a couple minutes walk away. Indeed, we had fond memories of Ginzan Onsen, and this accommodation was a big reason why we remember it so fondly.
Dai-ichi Takimotokan, Noboribetsu Onsen– This accommodation had a lot of things going for it – the location, the onsen experience, and the food. Even the rooms themselves were pretty spacious for us though it was on the basic side.
Indeed, regarding the location, it was just a couple minutes walk to the Jigokudani Hell Valley, which is the main scenic area of Noboribetsu Onsen. Heck, there’s even supposed to be a geyser that goes off periodically next to the resort.
And this place was so close to the Hell Valley that we could check out the evening performance after dinner while also viewing the Hell Valley itself while bathing in their huge onsen complex. That complex had multiple spa baths each with different minerals and temperatures.
Speaking of which, there was also a swimming pool area for the kids to play in, which had a water slide, and they loved that while the adults were interacting with the water differently.
As for the food, the buffet was probably about as good as it’s gonna get (and we tend to hate buffets). Besides an assortment of foods (that included steaks, sushi, traditional and modern fare as well as stuff you can order like uni), it actually had delicious yuzu sorbet ice cream as well as very good Hokkaido Milk vanilla ice cream and soft serve!
How many places can say they provide that?!?
Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort, Utoro– This was a more modern onsen resort that actually had western-style beds as well as a living room! Indeed, space typically comes at a premium in most Japanese accommodations, but in this instance, it was actually as spacious as many of the places you’d see in more Western establishments.
On top of that, there was a multi-pool onsen spa that also included an outdoor patio that you can bathe in with other people staying here, including a really hot one as well as a cold one to recharge your body (so to speak) before going back in a hot pool.
Regarding the food, they also had a buffet-style thing going but they had two separate dining halls that you can go back and forth between. So we took advantage of that for both the regular food as well as the desserts. This not only applied to the dinner, but it also applied to the breakfasts, which was why we left late just so we could enjoy breakfast when we had to check out.
Regarding parking, there was plenty of space across the street, which was important because most excursions in Shiretoko National Park are better when you are self-driving.
Waterfalls included in this itinerary
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