WORKINGHOLIDAY CONNECTION

WORKINGHOLIDAY CONNECTION

All eyes on this café in Harajuku – the birthplace of “kawaii culture”

Photography: Kazuya Baba

Omotesando in Shibuya is one of the most wellrenowned shopping streets in all of Japan, famous for being the home of Omotesando Hills – a large shopping complex filled with a plethora of brands from all over the world, including the Australian brands “Ugg” and “Helen Kaminski”. While it is also known for its up-and-coming boutique stores, notable salons as well as its appeal from people of high society to trend-conscious youth of today, it also crosses through Harajuku – the birthplace of kawaii (cute) culture. Harajuku is where the trendy café, “Workingholiday Connection”, who borrows its name from a popular way holidaymakers make their way to the shores of Australia, has set up base.

COFFEE BEANS ROASTED BY THE “BEST BARISTA” IN AUSTRALIA

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The first thing which must be ordered at this café is the coffee. The coffee beans procured to brew this coffee are roasted by Japanese barista, Shoji Sasa, who was awarded as the Best Barista in the 2012 Sydney Morning Herald Good Café Guide Awards and later went on to become a Barista Association judge. The coffee beans are handpicked from different countries depending on the season and the strict brewing methods adhered to at the café to maximise both the flavour and characteristic notes of the coffee, making for a truly Australian cup of coffee. Drop by this café if you’re hankering for a little taste of home in Japan.

DELIGHTFUL PANCAKES MADE BY A BILLS OLDBOY

The signature menu item at Workingholiday Connection is the pancakes. The “ORIGINAL MANLY PANCAKE” is a fluffy, creamy creation made using ricotta cheese imported from Australia. The Japanese chef who came up with this tasty treat upon returning home was trained in Japanese-style cuisine in Japan before jetting off to Australia on a working holiday and becoming the head chef at the famous pancake café – Bills, in Sydney. Free-range eggs are generously mixed into these pancakes to add a hint of egginess akin to French toast. The berry bombastic “VERY VERY BERRY PANCAKES” are also a popular choice amongst restaurant-goers.

A PLACE TO CONNECT WITH THE WORLD

As the name of the café suggests, it is run by the Japanese Association for Working Holiday Makers and all members of staff have working holiday experience. Staff members are either Japanese people who have returned from overseas experiences in Australia and other various countries, or foreigners who have come to Japan on a working holiday. There are virtually no language barriers at the café thanks to this diverse makeup of staff. The café itself aims to help people realise how going overseas to study abroad or go a working holiday can help to broaden one’s horizons, which is the main purpose for employing youthful staff members with experience from all over the globe. It’s a great place for people to gather first-hand insights about working holidays. For people out there looking for one of the best trendy café experiences in the country, drop by Workingholiday Connection the next time you’re in Tokyo.

An Aussieinspired café. Come and relax for a while!
Yuichi Hirota, Manager

manager

INFORMATION

WORKINGHOLIDAY CONNECTION

Harajuku/Omotesando
Level 2 YM Square
4-31-10 Jingumae
Shibuya, Tokyo
Tel: 03-6434-0359
Sun – Thurs:
11am – 8pm (last orders at 7pm)
Fri –Sat:
11am – 9pm (last orders at 8pm)

KUSATSU

TREASURED HIDEAWAYS: HOT SPRING AND SKIING HAVENS OF JAPAN

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THE BEST HOT SPRINGS IN JAPAN

Located approximately 3 hours away from Tokyo by car, is Gunma – a prefecture adjacent to Nagano, which is home to a number of world-renowned ski resorts including Hakuba and Nozawa. Gunma is most famous for its brilliant hot springs – Kusatsu Onsen, as well as serving as the location for the irst ski lifts in Japan at Kusatsu International Ski Resort, which boasts over a hundred years of history. The two attractions combined make Gunma a holiday resort paradise, yet it still remains relatively unknown to the Western world.

What makes Kusatsu Onsen so iconic, is its impressive hot spring fields. The thermal waters trickle through the earth’s surface or flow through wooden pipes, gathering and dissolving mineral salts along the way to become mineral rich hot springs through these fields. The onsen (hot springs) are then cooled to a more comfortable temperature before being piped around. The hot spring fields of Kusatsu are renowned for being the largest in all of Japan.

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The giant hot spring fields are illuminated at night, bringing about a wondrous atmosphere. These illuminations have gained more attention recently due to their revamp in December 2016. The new illuminative attractions were created by lighting designer, Kaoru Mende, who is famous for his bright projects on the buildings of Roppongi Hills. The latest technology LED lights cycle through various colours including shades of purple, blue and white as they light up the water flowing down the hot spring pipes and the steam wafting up from them. The gorgeous colours absorbed by the white curtains of steam make for a spectacular sight.

Sainokawara Park, a short walk away from the hot spring fields, will also be filled with illuminations from the end of March 2017. The park is popular for leisurely strolls as it is located in a central location by the riverside. 1400 litres of hot water flow around the river every minute, making it a bubbling river of thermal waters. A 10 minute walk through the fantastically lit-up park brings you to a giant, open-air hot spring bathing area of over 500 square metres inside of the park itself. There is no other place where you can gaze at the stars above, as you soak in the soothing springs, surrounded by magical lights.

The history of Kusatsu Onsen is said to date back to mythological times, however, the first recorded mention of the locale was in 1472. Even during that era, the hot springs were already renowned across the country for the high quality of the water itself. The pungent aroma of sulphur at Kusatsu is indicative of the mineral rich waters, which are said to help with various skin ailments and nerve problems. There are, in fact, 6 different wellsprings, each of which differ in terms of mineral composition. It is a joy in itself to take a dip in all of the different hot springs in the area to reap all of the various health benefits. A number of restaurants and souvenir shops surround the hot spring fields for those who are after a cultural or gourmet encounter unique to the locale. Visitors can also watch or take part in yumomi experiences – the traditional act of cooling the hot thermal waters using wooden paddles originating in the Edo period. For more information about the hot springs, visit the Kusatsu Onsen website at http://onsen-kusatsu.com/ and follow the link for a downloadable English pamphlet.

A MUST-STAY HOTEL – KUSATSU NOW RESORT

With the rise in tourists visiting Japan from overseas, various spots in Japan have started
to become more foreigner-friendly through improvements in language skills and adjustments to infrastructure. However, for older resorts that receive more domestic visitors, the trend towards international accessibility is still in its early stages. For overseas visitors who are looking for a fulfilling stay without the stress of various barriers, look no further than the Kusatsu Now Resort Hotel.

The alpine resort hotel is located at the base of a mountain 1200 metres above sea level. Inside of the hotel is the Big Bath, a public hot spring area comprising of a large open air bath and an indoor bathing area for visitors to enjoy the finest waters Kusatsu has to offer. There are also private baths, which can be reserved, for those who prefer to soak in privacy. Each of the private outdoor baths are made from a variety traditional Japanese materials such as cypress or Shigaraki wares, creating an elegant atmosphere to relax in.

There are four restaurants located inside of the hotel: an international buffet, French, Japanese and Chinese establishments – all of which serve exquisite food. The hotel offers packages which include dinner, as well as packages with only breakfast included for those who prefer to dine out in town. There is also a wide selection of rooms to choose from, such as standard Western-style and Japanese-style rooms, suite-rooms and the newly introduced forest-view-bath twin rooms, to suit the needs of people from all walks of life.

While the hotel is walking distance away from the centre of the hot spring fields, the regular shuttle bus service it offers is still highly convenient. During the ski season, it also takes passengers to and from the ski fields a minute’s drive away. The hotel also provides an endless source of recreational facilities including a pool, table tennis, tennis courts, karaoke rooms, a bar and even a beauty spa – everything all under one roof.

The direct bus from Tokyo to the hotel makes it convenient for visitors centring their trip around Tokyo to visit hassle-free. Check out the website for more information and make your first trip to Kusatsu unforgettable with a stay at the Kusatsu Now Resort Hotel.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Kusatsu Now Resort Hotel
Shirane 750, Kusatsu, Agatsuma, Gunma 377-1711

No. of Rooms: 154
Accommodation Capacity: 528 people
Wi-Fi available throughout the hotel (excluding the communal and private bathing areas)

Tel: 0279-88-5111
Web: https://www.kusatsu-now.co.jp

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Hakone

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A DAY-TRIP FROM TOKYO TO A LAND OF MYSTERY

Words and Photography: Kazuya Baba

Hakone, an onsen (hot spring) town located in Kanagawa, a prefecture adjacent to Tokyo, is a well-established tourist destination in Japan renowned for the steamy, volcanic valleys of Owakudani and the magnificent Lake Ashi amongst a myriad of other sightseeing hot spots. While it boasts its own share of accommodation options, many travellers opt to take day-trips to Hakone from Tokyo because of how easily accessible it is. This feature article documents my own day-trip experience to Hakone.

ENJOYING HAKONE’S HOT SPRING SCENERY

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I hopped onto the Odakyu Romancecar at Shinjuku and departed for my adventure. As the train raced along the tracks, the view outside my window gradually changed from blocks of generic buildings to luscious green scenery. After an 85 minute ride, I reached the hot spring paradise – Hakone. Of the many different ways to reach Hakone, the Odakyu Romancecar, departing from Shinjuku Station, is the most convenient and comfortable of them all.
The Romancecar can be accessed through conventional train lines by paying an additional fee and the enhanced holidaying experience provided through the “saloon seats” makes the Limited Express train trip popular amongst many travellers. Shinjuku Station on the Odakyu Line also has a counter for international visitors that offers assistance in a variety of languages. The “Hakone Freepass” allows for unlimited travel on different modes of transport for 2-3 days and comes highly recommended.

The mountainous location of Hakone means that different forms of transport have been set up to traverse the town, such as: the Hakone Tozan Railway, the Cable Cars which climb up precarious slopes, The Hakone Ropeway stretching between mountains and the cruise ships sailing around the lake. Not only can you experience the different sights Hakone has to offer by taking a ride on the various modes of transport, but you can do so without the hassle of buying individual tickets by taking advantage of “The Hakone Freepass”.

Onboard the Romancecar, vendors walk through the train-carriage aisles with drinks, lunchboxes and even alcohol available for purchase. Being able to sit back with a drink in hand as you watch the scenery go by from the comfort of your seat is the Japanese way to travel by train.

After relaxing in the Romancecar for the short 85 minutes, the train came to a stop at the entrance of Hakone – Hakone-Yumoto Station. From there, my plan was to transfer over to the Hakone Tozan Railway and head over to the Hakone Open-Air Museum, which is famous for its sculptures displayed outdoors amongst the majestic mountains, however, I decided to take a stroll around the town surrounding the station first.

Numerous shops line the streets in front of the station. The shops are jam-packed with local delicacies, snacks and souvenirs. As the main thoroughfare for day-trippers to and from the hot springs, it is always a bustling hot spot. Taking a step behind the hustle and bustle treats you to a view of a grand river flowing between the mountains. The ability to find little captivating treasures in unexpected places is one of the joys of exploring Hakone.

VISITING THE NATURE-FILLED OUTDOOR MUSEUM – HAKONE OPEN-AIR MUSEUM

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From Hakone-Yumoto Station, I took a trip on the Hakone Tozan Railway. At an altitude of 340 metres above sea-level, the train zig-zagged along the 6km long railroad, weaving through the mountains. After about half an hour of enjoying the view whilst being gently rocked by the train, I arrived at my destination – the Hakone Open-Air Museum.

The Hakone Open-Air Museum embraced the natural beauty of Hakone and opened its doors in 1969 as Japan’s first ever outdoor museum. It spans across approximately 70,000 square metres in area and the nature-abundant garden houses 120 impressive sculptures on display. A leisurely stroll through the great outdoors reveals the many different faces of the grand sculptures. The sight of the mysteriously profound objects towering over everything outside left me with an indescribable feeling of awe.

As I walked down the promenade and delved into the grounds, I came across the Picasso Pavilion displaying a collection of works by  the one and only, Pablo Picasso. Operating in conjunction with the gallery are a café and an onsen footbath, where I found groups of families and couples taking breathers after their stroll. The ability to leisurely stroll through the open-air museum, with scenery that changes along with the seasons, was a truly unique and exciting experience. This is definitely a spot to drop by when visiting Hakone.

EATING LONGEVITY-BOOSTING BLACK EGGS AT OWAKUDANI

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I left Chokoku-no-Mori Station (Open-Air Museum Station) and got off at the next stop, Gora Station, to take the Hakone Tozan Cable Car to Sounzan Station, which acts as the
hub to transfer onto the Hakone Ropeway to Owakudani – my next destination.
Caught up in the thrill of ascending the steep slopes in the cable car, I arrived a Sounzan Station in no time at all. From there, I transferred over to The Hakone Ropeway. With services operating at one minute intervals, I did not have to wait very long to hop onto my transfer. As I gazed upon the beautiful scenery below, an astonishing sight took my breath away.

A station away from Sounzan is Owakudani. Owakudani (literally, “Grand Boiling Valley”) was formed approximately 3000 years ago from an eruption of steam causing a landslide, coupled with a small scale pyroclastic surge approximately 2900 years ago that brought about a large deposit of volcanic sediment. The mineral rich hot springs create a dreary atmosphere as plumes of white smoke fill the air with the force of volcanic activity still ever present. Until the Edo period, it was known by locals as the “Valley of Hell” and now, despite the fear it once garnered, it is a top tourist attraction in Hakone for the unique scenery it offers. With the awe-inspiring sight suddenly appearing before my very eyes, I was speechless.

The smoky scenery can be experienced up-close upon arrival at Owakudani and, on clear days, Mount Fuji can also be seen framed by the colours of the changing seasons. While it was once possible to hike to the source of the rising smoke, it is now prohibited due to the increased volcanic activity.

One experience that absolutely cannot be missed, is the eating of kuro tamago (black eggs), which are said to add 7 years to your life. The act of boiling uncooked eggs in Owakudani causes iron (a prominent hot spring mineral) to permeate through the porous egg shell. Hydrogen sulphide then reacts with the iron, turning it into black-coloured iron sulphide, resulting in black boiled eggs. As time went by, the health benefits from the hot spring minerals somehow translated into increased longevity through the ingestion of the eggs. The highly unique black boiled eggs are definitely worth a try.

ALL ABOARD THE SIGHTSEEING CRUISE FROM TOGENDAI

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After enjoying the magnificent view and delicious black eggs at Owakudani, I hopped back onto the ropeway for my next destination – Togendai Port. Togendai is situated on the northern bank of Lake Ashi and is a highly trafficked hub for different modes of transport including the ropeway, buses and tour boats. The perfect way to see all the great sights around would be to set up base at Togendai and head further north to see the Hakone Venetian Glass Museum or The Little Prince Museum (opened in 1999 to honour the author’s, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 100th birthday). Alas, with only a day to spend exploring Hakone, I decided to take the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise to the northern Hakone-machi Port and then make my way back to Hakone-Yumoto from there.

Paying an additional fee of 500 yen on top of the basic fare, grants you access to the luxurious first-class cabins on the ship. While the basic fare seating areas are often full, access to the first-class cabins allows for a relaxed experience seated at the front of the ship. In addition to the spacious seats, first-class ticket holders can also head out to the exclusive viewing deck to soak up the beautiful lake scenery in peace. The trip from Togendai Port to Hakone-machi Port takes approximately 30 minutes. Grand, mountainous scenery envelopes the ship and as it nears its destination, torii gates start to come into view and almost appear as though they are floating in the lake itself. On clear days, this mysterious sight is also coupled with a beautiful view of Mount Fuji in the background. While I was unlucky to be met with clouds on the day of my trip, it was still very
pleasant, nonetheless.

HAKONE TOKAIDO CHECKPOINT AND HAKONE SHRINE

The Hakone Tokaido Checkpoint greets me as I sail into to Hakone-machi Port. Upon the commencement of the Edo period in 1603, various checkpoints were placed at various major roads as observation posts by the Tokugawa shogunate. The checkpoint at Hakone played a vital role during the Edo period in monitoring the Tokaido Road (the most important of the Five Routes in Edo Japan) in much the same way border security patrols country borders today. Nowadays, tourists are able to explore the fully restored historical checkpoint after 5 years of hard work put into excavational digs and restoring old furnishings. Make sure to include the Hakone Tokaido Checkpoint on your list of places to visit!

Located at a 10 minute ride on the Sightseeing Cruise or a short 30 minute walk from Motohakone Port, is the gorgeous Hakone Shrine which can be seen beyond the torii gates on the lake. This is another great spot steeped in history for a deeply spiritual, cultural experience.

A FAVOURITE OF EDO PERIOD FEUDAL LORD PROCESSIONS – AMAZAKE-CHAYA

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After getting my art fix at the Hakone Open-Air Museum; walking in mid-air on the ropeway; eating unique black eggs whilst gazing upon an intrepid view; and soaking up the sights of Hakone on a lake cruise, I was ready to wash my exhaustion away with a relaxing dip in a hot spring, however, there was one more place I wanted to drop by on my way back to Hakone Yumoto. I hopped onto the Hakone Tozan Bus from Motohakone Port and took a little break at Amazake-chaya.

Amazake-chaya is situated precariously on the Tokaido Road halfway up Mount Hakone. The teahouse, which boasts a 400 year history, famously served the feudal lord procession travelling along the route to and from Edo (now Tokyo) for many years. Today, it is a much-loved refuge for hikers traversing Hakone. The current owner is a 13th generation ancestor of the original owner some centuries ago. Even to this day, their ecipe and brewing methods for amazake have not changed since the Edo period, with local Uruchi rice and rice malt the only two ingredients used in their organic concoction. Amazake is a type of traditional, sweet drink and is known for its characteristically cloudy appearance. While the character for word for wine – sake – is contained in the name, it contains an almost negligible amount of alcohol, making it more of a sweet beverage.

As expected of a Japanese purveyor of amazake, you can also enjoy delicious Japanese sweets and marvel at the impressive thatched roof while you sit around the indoor hearth. To able to sit back and feast your eyes on the unchanged Edo period furnishings in the tea house before setting off for the hot springs is a seasoned traveller’s dream.

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