From Japan, With Love:
3 Charming Japanese Regions to Visit This Christmas
The good folks at Japan Rail Cafe provide us with a wealth of tips and recommendations for exploring Japan.
You probably already know about Japan Rail Cafe as a charming eatery and a great place to relax with a hot cup of joe on a rainy day. After all, the café has been winning the hearts of Japanophiles since it first opened at Tanjong Pagar Centre in 2016.
But besides serving up Japanese-Western cuisine and having a cosy retail section that sells a diverse range of Nippon-inspired merchandise, Japan Rail Cafe also prides itself on being a comprehensive service and information provider for travellers who’d like to explore Japan.
Japan Rail Cafe is owned by East Japan Railway Company, and collaborates with various government bodies and other railway companies, making it a one-stop shop for intrepid explorers looking to buy their rail passes and learn more about what Japan has to offer. Pop by the café, and you’re more than likely to find yourself having a chat with the friendly Travel Communicators, who’ll be happy to assist in planning your trip to Japan.
“We’ve noticed that most people no longer use travel packages, and would rather plan their own itineraries,” Lin Yi Xiu, Japan Rail Cafe’s Marketing Communications Manager, tells me. “Our space is tailor-made for people who want to know more about Japan.”
An avid Japanophile who loves the country’s food and culture, Yi Xiu has an abiding passion for educating travellers about Japan’s less popular - but no less charming - locales. We sit down with her to get some recommendation on the best Japanese regions to visit this Christmas.
Tokyo - Tochigi
“Families with kids tend to travel to Tokyo first because there's Tokyo Disneyland, and also the Sanrio Puroland, which is home to Hello Kitty. You can get the tickets here at Japan Rail Cafe (laughs). Tokyo has the most extensive network of railways, and families may find it easier to commute on trains, as compared to other regions.
From Tokyo, you can travel to Tochigi, which is only a two-hour ride away. The distance allows for a one-day trip, but you can visit for 2-3 days if you’d like to spend more time there.”
“I would suggest dipping in the onsen, especially during winter. It could be great fun for the family, especially if you don’t want to do too many strenuous outdoor activities. The Tochigi region is also famous for strawberry picking from December all the way to April. I think the kids will love that.”
“Tochigi has really delicious gyoza, which Singaporeans love. The other dish to try is yuba [soy bean skin]. There are particular restaurants near the Nikko station that offer a whole set, which uses soy bean skin for various sweet and savoury dishes.”
“I personally love Kyoto, but it's a little crowded these days. The San'in region - especially the Tottori and Shimane prefecture - is lesser known, but very beautiful.”
“These two prefectures are actually promoting a wedding photoshoot package, because their sightseeing spots have really romantic scenery and beautiful sunsets, which also make them very Instagram-worthy. It’s a mountainous region, but there’s also desert scenery: The Tottori Sand dunes form the only sand dune system in Japan.”
“Crabs are usually associated with Hokkaido, and it’s a little known-fact that the Tottori prefecture produces the largest volume of crabs in Japan. You can get really big, fresh crabs in Tottori.
In Singapore, we tend to have our crabs with black pepper or chilli, which can mask the freshness of the crabs. In Japan, Kani (crab) is usually lightly steamed in a hot pot, so as to enhance the freshness and sweetness of the crabs. You can also enjoy it by dipping the meat in light sauce.”
FOR SOLO TRAVELLERS
Tokyo - Tohoku
“For first-time solo travellers to Japan, I suggest flying to Tokyo first so that you can get your bearings. If you have a week or less, I recommend that you visit the Tohoku region in the East, which is incidentally where our company, JR East operates the shinkansen. We sell the JR East passes which allows you to take unlimited shinkansen and train rides.”
“From Tohuku you can travel to Sendai, the Tohoku region’s largest city, and also the Yamagata prefecture. Just one hour’s drive from Sendai is the famous Zao Fox Village, where you can play with the foxes.
Yamagata is also famous for its juhyo 'snow monsters' [at the Zao Onsen Ski Resort]. Due to heavy snowfall in the region, the trees get heavy with snow and take on curious shapes, hence why they're called 'snow monsters'.”
“If you love beef, you can try gyutan (beef tongue), which Sendai is famous for. I don’t think many people have tried that!
[Ed’s note: Gyutan originated from a yakitori restaurant in Sendai, in 1948. Aji Tasuke, the restaurant where the dish was first conceived, is still in operation.]”
Excited to visit Japan this Christmas?
Visit Japan Rail Cafe for more information, or head on down to Tanjong Pagar Centre to have a chat with the good folks at Japan Rail Café.