Gotemba Premium Outlets
Japanese retailers are really ahead of the curve, how do you get people to come to your stores? Make it a train station and they come right to your door, genius! The same goes for out of the way outlet malls like Gotemba, previously we spent a bit of time navigating a few different trains and a courtesy bus to get there but this time we tracked down a direct bus from the Yokohama CAT station. For around 1700Y one way (discount for return trip) we didn’t have to worry about dragging our luggage through stations and finding a seat on a train. Plus it was on the way to the 5 lakes area where we were heading, so it’s a win-win 😀

Travel tip: Bus routes, costs and departure locations for Yokohama can be found here and all other locations here
Travel tip: There are storage lockers on site (to the left of the main entrance from the bus stop, near the toilets)
Travel tip: Remember to grab a discount coupon booklet from the information booth
Travel tip: Remember to check the departure times when you arrive so you can plan your day accordingly (they run about ever hour so it could be a wait till the next one if you don’t)

Photo tip: There is plenty of lovely rolling scenery on the way there so keep your camera handy

Photo tip: On a clear day, keep an eye out for Fuji-san, its visible from the bus stop but a better spot is the walk bridge between the two mall sections

Travel tip: really goes without saying but its always worth popping into manufacture’s stores for regional exclusives and limited edition items

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Kawaguchiko
Coincidentally, they also have a bus that goes to where we needed to be next, Kawaguchiko, luck or crafty planning? 😉 Same deal as before, door to door station service, no faffing about.

At Kawaguchiko station there are two bus services (red, green) which run in roughly clockwise and anti clockwise routes around the southern side of the lake. These cover most of the affordable hotels and some of the local attractions. They run every 15-30min for only a couple bucks but having arrived late afternoon amongst a couple busloads of tourist groups, the services were struggling to meet demand, so after about 45min of waiting we grabbed a cab to our hotel (Kawaguchiko hotel). The hotel is only about 1km from the station, easily walkable but not so much after a long day and with luggage in tow.

Travel tip: If you did have to wait at the station, there are hot meals available from the small eatery inside.
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Click for full Kawaguchiko Hotel review here

Its rare that you can get the trifecta when it comes to hotels – good accommodation, good value, good location, usually one of those factors has to be sacrificed and its usually cost. Being out in the country side with a lot less options makes it even harder to score this so if you want the other two you need to pony up on the dinero. If not, manage your expectations, you saving money means corners are cut somewhere and in this case its in the general upkeep of the place.

To me, it felt a lot more like staying at your friends’ beachside place during schoolies or spring break, it was more the fact that you were there that mattered than the place where you dumped your bag and crashed out for the night. Sure, the carpet could use a steam clean (or just have new runners laid) and the window sills and the like could do with a vacuuming but the linen was clean along with the bathroom and for the double room we got, there was a welcomed amount of ample space compared with other places we have stayed at in Japan. In general, it definitely has a mum and pop store feel where they’ve just done the same thing for decades and its worked so they haven’t bothered changing anything.

All staff however were the usual Japanese kind of helpful even with minimal English but if you are after a more detailed response, track down one of the younger staff members. Rooms were quiet with minimal foot traffic, though being at the end of a hall helped. They also have bicycles for hire and there’s paddle boats on the lake (not related to the hotel).

We didn’t get to try the in house catering, the restaurant was booked out (and had to be booked in advance) but not to worry, there are plenty of eating places within walking distance. Exit the hotel and go right^, there are a couple buildings that look like they have or more so, HAD a restaurant but we couldn’t tell for sure as they weren’t open at all over the days and nights we were there (well there was one with a door open but in the same way a haunted house has a door open with no lights on, eep!). Further along there’s a small Asian takeaway but keep walking along the scenic waterfront till you get to a large intersection where the road hooks to the right*, here you’ll see a Lawson’s amongst a string of restaurants and souvenir shops. We went with the Indian place across from Lawson’s with no regret, good portions and reasonable prices.

^ – look over your right shoulder, you might be lucky enough to see Fuji off in the distance

* – following this street with a couple back street zig zags will take you back to Kawaguchiko station which is about a 15min walk. Reasonably easy but some of the streets are narrow with no footpath so navigating this with big luggage could be a little difficult, a cheap taxi ride might be the way to go for some. This route also includes a couple smaller supermarkets if you want more than what a convenient store offers.

Hotel staff actually recommended turning left out of the hotel and to go around the block for restaurants, which on a quiet night was a bit difficult to tell the difference between a hotel and a restaurant (the few along this street all looked like hotels). Eventually you’ll reach a major road, turning left here will lead to a few Japanese style fast food restaurants and a convenience store. It’s a much longer walk, about 15-20min but felt much longer with no scenery. Google maps shows a short cut route through some very small “not sure if lane or someone’s drive way” kind of “streets” but it was impossible to navigate these at night as most were poorly lit, if at all.

Overall, the location, surrounds and price more than made up for the short comings of the hotel, if we end up out that way again, it would definitely be considered.

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Travel tip: if you’re going to air clothing on the window sill, don’t open the opposite window! (duh!) but if you do, make sure you know how to use a tripod like giant chopsticks ;p

Next we try to catch some pink moss (yes pink moss) and a glimpse of Mt Fuji close up at the Fuji Shibazakura Festival and Chureito Pagoda.

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After finally getting to ditch our luggage at the Yaesu Fujiya hotel a couple blocks from Tokyo station, we once again had time against us as we rushed out to Gotemba, home to the Premium Outlets mall and the last day of “Golden Week”, a nation wide sale which only happens a couple times a year.

It’s a bit of a hike – made longer with the wait and change to local trains then a (free) shuttle bus before you actually get there.

Travel tip: budget about 2 hours (door to door) to be safe (should be less if you get the right connections) from Tokyo station. Once you get to Gotemba station, walk down the stairs and out to the car park, you’ll see a big sign for Premium Outlets with times for the shuttle bus, which runs about twice an hour. Remember to plan your return trip so you aren’t left stranded out in the sticks!

Travel tip: kill a bit of time at the small store which sold a bit of everything. Cool vintage cameras adorn the windows.

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The mall is very unassuming amongst the trees and mountains on the small roads leading to it. The complex is split across two sections divided by a scenic bridge and river (see first image). Two reasons why we chose to come out here, first, the Golden week sales – which were sadly disappointing, most stores had sales but nothing even close the the fire sale that’s hyped about online. The second reason was sadly also a little disappointing – to see Mt Fuji without having to go to it but thanks to the ever present haze it was completely invisible until just after sunset when its looming prescence was revealed as a silhouette.

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Travel tip: Mt Fuji is viewable from many spots around the mall and from the shinkansen travelling between Osaka and Tokyo, however its most likely to be shrowded in cloud and haze, but if you’re lucky, you might get it on a good day as seen here, photoed from the shinkansen by one of our friends, thanks Troy!

So, back to the shopping. First stop is the information booth to grab your travellers discount booklet which sports coupons for percent off or after purchase bonuses. Most excellently, these worked on top of the already reduced items. Golden Week may have let us down but these made up for it in a small way, especially at the Nike Outlet store, which was definitely a highlight and some of the best bargains we came across on the whole trip. However, being the first day we were reluctant to fill the suitcases so early on. Turns out that helped A LOT but let’s just say, next time we’re just going to bring an extra one 😉

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The rest of the stores are what you’d expect from the Premiun Outlet chain(and very similar to other branches around the world (re: Hawaii 2012)). Stand outs for us included Adidas (nice variety of stock and generously discounts); G Shock (a couple items were slightly reduced but nothing you couldn’t get online for a lot less); Bandai (all full RRP but the coupon helps a bit with the decision making, although we found quite a few items were cheaper outside of Tokyo – most noteably Den Den Town in Osaka); Lego and Sanrio are always fun to stop in, the former requiring just that bit longer with all their displays 😉 (see bonus photos below); Nikon– prices were like the G Shocks – cheaper online but it was nice to venture into a mothership, Reebok, Puma and The North Face are worthy of a quick look in as well.

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There’s also the swanky labels that put the premium in to “Premium Outlets” like Armani, Anna Sui, Burberry, Bvlgari, Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, Harrods, Hugo Boss, Jimmy Choo, Prada and Ralph Lauren but far out of reach for our modest wallets and tastes!

Finally, the foodcourt offers a nice variety of western and eastern eats and desserts covered mostly by local brands.
Note: it closes before the shops do so you may want to eat first if its coming towards the end of the day, but of course you can always count on Macca’s (off to the side of the complex) if you miss out!

Next we catch the Catbus to the Studio Ghibli museum!

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do or just want to share your own stories, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios