2017 Road Trip Day 2: Rental cars, Mt Fuji, Kofu, Suwa Lake and a lovely evening in Matsumoto

We woke up in our Shinjuku hotel very early even by our own holidaying standards. This was partially due to jet lag but in a more substantial part stemmed from nervousness (picking up the car and driving in Tokyo for the first time), and anticipation for the day that lay ahead (hello Mt Fuji!). The previous night we visited Family Mart on the way back to our hotel for some supplies including breakfast so ate a small meal at the hotel before rearranging our suitcases. We’d already prepared a very comprehensive list of things we needed easy access to for the journey including bin bags for wet shoes, an ice scraper, emergency snacks, the camera etc. and these were separated out ready to be easily unpacked when we collected the car.

We checked out of the hotel and it was just a short walk to the car rental place – Nippon Rent a Car (Shinjuku Higashi Yasukunidori-Branch). It was an absolutely stunning winter's morning with the sun shining in the clear blue sky. Picking up the car was surprisingly easy, the staff spoke excellent English and all of the key information was available in written format including things like what to do if you have an accident, driving do’s and don’ts and a brief description of how the satnav (already programmed to English) worked. The car was a Honda Fit (Jazz) and looked like this – pretty snazzy huh?

The car had an Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) card inserted into an electronic transceiver integrated into it that we had ordered in advance for a small fee. This allowed it to connect wirelessly with the Japanese tollgates on the expressways meaning we didn’t have to worry about paying each time and instead could just pay the rental company at the end of the trip.

In Japan you can just enter the phone number of your destination into the satnav to find your route so we entered the number for Kofu Station – our first intended official stop of the day. This part of the journey was quite pricey (3,000 yen approx.) but we didn’t mind, as we wanted to get out of Tokyo quickly and efficiently. This is roughly our route to our hotel in Matsumoto passing through Kofu:

The satnav was really easy to use and it wasn’t long before we were on the expressway and outside of Tokyo witnessing some jaw dropping views including Mt. Fuji.

We arrived in Kofu mid-morning and parked the car near the station so that we could get out and go for a short walk. The town was pleasant and we walked up to the castle park, it’s fair to say the castle is currently undergoing a fair amount of reconstruction (also known as not there at all – there should be a structure on top of this!):

But nevertheless the park was still really lovely to walk around:

The views weren’t bad either:

We could even see Fuji-San:

We walked back to the car and passed some cats with attitude:

Next on the itinerary was Shosenkyo Gorge, unfortunately though we (I) messed up entering the details in the satnav so we travelled in a big circle before deciding to call it a day for a while and going to get some lunch. On the approach into Kofu we’d noticed a long strip of roadside restaurants, shops, etc. (we subsequently found similar strips on the way in to nearly every town and city we passed through!) so we headed back there to find some food. The strips look something like this:

We opted to eat at Jonathan’s; a chain we had seen many times before in Tokyo but had snubbed since it appeared to be western style from the outside. Upon entering we were pleasantly surprised that this "classic family restaurant" is very Japanese indeed with a gigantic menu including all sorts and styles of cuisines.

We both went for daily specials, Tom choosing a teriyaki chicken and deep fried horse mackerel meal with rice:

I went for spicy pork Udon:

We added the drink and soup set to our choices for 299 yen each and were able to visit the drink and soup bar as many times as we wanted.

Full from lunch we checked the route from the restaurant to Matsumoto, which was our destination for the night, and noticing it went past Suwa Lake chose that as our next stop. The lake was enormous, it was very quiet but there were a number of tourist boats, ice cream shops and more, so it is probably quite busy in the springtime.

Despite it looking like a beautiful sunny day in our pictures it was absolutely freezing and incredibly windy here. The lake itself was also frozen in places:

After the lake we opted for the somewhat longer, non-toll route on to Matsumoto where we’d be staying for the night. The hotel was easy to find and the staff parked our car for us. We decided to repack the suitcases so that in future we could leave one in the car and only take the other with essentials in it into the hotel before heading out for the evening at around 5pm. We strolled towards the castle, which was very close to the hotel. The sun was setting around this time and it looked absolutely beautiful in the dusky light. We even saw a crane in front of it although, unfortunately for us, it didn’t want to hang around to pose for pictures!

We’d already researched Matsumoto before the trip and knew that walking towards the station was a sensible plan for the evening as there were many bars and restaurants on the approach. We had a quick beer at an Irish themed bar called Old Rock before settling on an Izakaya for the evening.

From the outside this place ticked all of our boxes, but when we walked in we lost our nerve a little bit, as it appeared to be a horsemeat specialty restaurant!

The menu was entirely in Japanese and after a brief period of examining it and referring to Tom’s many notes he’d prepared when researching for this trip we pleasingly discovered that they actually did many other alluring non-horse dishes.

We therefore ordered several plates of food (unfortunately we were too busy eating to take pictures) except this one of a pork and onion dish:

But other foods we sampled included chicken skin skewers, fried potato, deep fried oysters, and oden. This was accompanied by plenty of cheap Asahi and we spent several hours here before wandering home through the pretty illuminated streets:

On day 3 we head into the mountains to see frozen lakes, snow monkeys and much more!