We set the alarm for 6 with the hope of leaving by 7am, on the long drive to Milford Sound, we got out by 7.20am so that was a victory. And so we set off on the four hour drive to Milford Sound via Te Anau hoping that the good weather forecast for Queenstown would carry over to Milford Sound. Silly me, I really should’ve checked the forecast for Milford Sound as it turned out to be a miserable afternoon there while beautiful weather cloaked Queenstown and surrounds all day. I didn’t even manage to capture any of the beauty of the pink sunrise (the Remarkables were looking especially photogenic) due to not wanting to cost us any travel time.
We stopped in Te Anau to have a snack and also pick up some food for lunch, we went with a bakery at the end of the main street near the lake, but it was quite over priced and turned out to be not great. The sandwiches we go were really average and the sauce that was inside made everything soggy, it is called Miles Better Pies, the pies were okay if expensive, but stay away from the sandwiches.
On we drove, and while we stopped at a couple of the viewing spots, I didn’t deem them worthy of a photo, it was mainly due to the time, bright morning light is not my favourite. One stop, Mirror Lakes was good according to Emmy but there were so many tourist buses there it kind of defeated the purpose. At this point the weather was still reasonable, but just before we got to Homer Tunnel it started to rain, and didn’t stop until we were well on our way back to Queenstown.
Even so (for me anyway), Milford Sound is still worth the visit, the landscape and waterfalls are beautiful and flowing fast in this kind of weather, although we barely even caught a glimpse of Mitre Peak. We did see some silly fat seals lying on the rocks (one even splashing in the water a bit), but no penguins this time. We went with the cheapest cruise that we could find, Jucy Cruise, which was fine, they’re all pretty much the same although I think some others might go a bit closer to the cliffs and waterfalls.
It was a bit unfortunate that we spent eight hours driving for the day, and then two hours on the cruise sitting inside avoiding the rain mostly, but live and learn, check the forecast for Milford Sound properly next time! I’ve been lucky enough to see it in sunny and rainy conditions now but for Emmy it was not to be, maybe next time we will stay nearby to avoid the long drive. It was a bit late when we got back so we just had dinner at the Hotel. My pork belly (with kumara rosti) was okay but Emmy said her fish and potatoes was bland.
Next up, a visit to Glenorchy.
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Hello, I forgot to mention that I was taking the fam to New Zealand (Queenstown to be exact) last week, and that I’d be taking the newest addition to my family, my Pentax K-1 as well. I’ll probably post something on the K-1 after I’m done with the New Zealand stuff (as I’ll have had plenty more time to evaluate it (it’s been about a month so far). But anyway, we jumped on to a Jetstar sale and took a week off to try and catch some Autumn colours across the Tasman. Queenstown has to be one of my absolute favourite places to visit, there is just so much to do and see there, that my landscape eye never gets tired, except after driving for a few hours on not much sleep.
Our flight left Melbourne at 6.15am, which meant that we had to get out of the house at about 3am which wasn’t fun, and then to make matters a bit worse, the weather in Queenstown awaiting our arrival was unruly as well. Fierce winds meant that we had to circle the airport twice before the pilot decided it was safer to fly to Christchurch for the time being. After a short stopover it was decided that we’d have another go at flying to Queenstown, third time was a charm and despite some turbulence (it felt like) on the landing we landed okay about three hours late (3pm).
So with half the day gone and the timezone a couple hours faster, we ended up just skipping lunch and going straight to dinner. I took the kids to Winnies which is a pizza place, the highest rated in Queenstown, I went there ten years ago with Alf, and it is still good. We didn’t get garlic bread this time (:(), but a half and half (pescara/seafood and Luigi’s Italian), a kumara salad, and the soup of the day (mushroom and blue cheese).
The pizza was pretty good (both halves), the salad was hearty, and the soup (was for Oscar, but he decided that he was going to make sure he got the most out of his terrible two’s and not eat it) was creamy and rich. It was too much food, but I managed to finish off the pizza and salad at least.
The Monteith’s black that I tried wasn’t half bad either, in fact, it was very good. We decided to call it a day early so that we could rest up for the next day.
We decided to take a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw the next day, and with no plans for lunch we took the gourmet BBQ option, we managed to squeeze on to the 12pm option having only arrived at the booking office at 10am. The cruise is about fifty minutes one way, and about 3 and a half hours in total (including lunch) so you have about an hour for lunch, and then 30-40 minutes to wander around and also watch a sheep dog and sheep shearing demonstration. Lunch is a buffet and is of a very high quality, I tried all the meats, my favourite being the pulled pork, the lamb was second. The salads were good, and then for dessert, being full already I just had a serve of chocolate mousse and a serve of raspberry sorbet. There was also cake and chocolate brownies, etc, but unfortunately I ate too much before dessert. Had the Queenstown Brewers Wry Red which went very well with lunch.
The cruise itself was very smooth, the boat doesn’t rock at all, and you get some great views of the lake surrounds from the upper deck and can even see the crew hard at work in the (coal fired) engine room downstairs (nice and toasty down there).
With nice weather I decided that we should head up to Bob’s Peak to check out the view before dinner. Since it was a bit later than I first planned I decided that it was better just to take the gondola up and down rather than hiking up and gondoling down (especially with a toddler in tow). I wanted to ride the luge but nobody was with me, so I just went up to the viewing deck and staked out a few different angles (still ended up with the same picture I took ten years ago! not quite as wide though). There’s basically one really good spot up there where you won’t be blocked by any obstacles and you get the best angle, but two guys had already staked out that spot so I had to settle for roving around looking for some slightly different shots.
This very famous burger joint was our destination for dinner, and fortunately it was a Monday because the lines outside this place seem to get longer as the week gets goes, by Friday and Saturday, it’s just completely packed at night (even during the day too). There isn’t much seating space so we just got take away and ate back at the hotel. It’s a pretty good deal, we just got the basic burgers (Ferg) which are a decent size (and a kids burger for Oscar), it’s hard to find a similar value meal for the price in town (probably why it’s so popular).
With such clear weather I decided to try my hand at some night photography, specifically trying to catch the milky way. I’ve done long exposures to capture star trails before, but I wasn’t going to be taking enough time to get any interesting star trails, but with my new camera, getting the milky way would be something that I coiuld definitely attempt. My aim was to get the milky way hovering above the Remarkables or some kind of mountain for reference, I managed to capture something, and while it may not be great, I was certainly very pleased for a first try. I’ll be able to learn from this and hopefully produce something even better in future. Next day, Milford Sound, a lot of driving, how will we go?
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Wow, it’s only been two months since my last post, I thought it’d been longer :(. Oh well, last week (Good Friday it was, actually) we went up to Sassafras in the Dandenongs as it is one of the few places in Melbourne where anything is open on such holy day. Apart from wandering around the local artisan shops – we found a nice, reasonably priced painting (by local artist Belinda Volkmer) at Miloko for our room!) –
we had brunch at Café de Beaumarchais, we’d been here before but with a big bunch of people (who were quite annoying) so maybe we didn’t enjoy it as much last time, thought we’d better give it another chance without any distractions (even the little boy was not with us!).
So only needing to worry about ourselves deciding what to eat was so much easier, drinks first and that’s usually not even a question (as we don’t drink coffee).
A couple of Parisian Hot Chocolates thanks, now I’m not sure what the difference between this one and the regular hot chocolate is (perhaps it is darker and less sweet? That’s pure speculation though) but it was good, not that overly sweet stuff.
On to the food which is what everyone is really interested in, we went with the special croissant (pesto, tomato, cheese, can’t remember the cold cut but possibly ham, and some kind of nut (probably), and the three cheese board. Emmy ate most of the croissant so I can’t really comment on that one but the one bite I had was pretty good. The highlight though was really the cheese board.
There was a soft cheese, a less soft cheese, and a harder cheese (like cheddar) to go with a couple of baguettes, pickles, quince paste, and some lavosh (like pappadams but smaller?), and I know, it doesn’t look like a lot, but when you eat at a reasonable pace and with a hot choc as well, it does fill you up quite well.
I love pickles so that was a nice side and the sourness worked really well with the sweet quince paste. Each of the cheeses were great, I’d probably give my nod to the middle softness one, it was just right :D. The bread was good too and had that nice crusty crust even though it wasn’t toasted. It leaves you wondering, where do they source there cheese from and how do I get some for myself! Definitely a more enjoyable experience than last time and definitely a thumbs up and recommend from me.
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Does the new year start in February? Well, close enough, I obviously was accounting for Lunar New Year as well. It seems that I’ve had some pretty lazy holiday period as I have not even set foot near this site since my last post about Japan.
Well, not much to say here, we’ve just been doing the regular old domestic thing, going to the beach on nice, sunny days, and painting a room over the xmas break, and having my birthday. And it just so happened that our semi-artisan finished pottery arrived just in time. So it turned into a birthday present for Emmy as well as myself.
I said in the post about the actual pottery class, that he may only have sent 3-4 items, but he managed to fit the whole set into the box, which was great. Unfortunately, once of the bowls (Emmy’s middle bowl) had a crack at the top and I had to super glue it back on (imperfectly) but that just added to the wabi sabi nature of the bowls.
We’ve put them in our room and it’s pretty unlikely that we’ll be using them for anything other than display, but you never know. The finish on Emmy’s big bowl (the rough one) is definitely my favourite, and of the remaining ones, my little tea/sake cup has a similar finish which is good, and Emmy’s third bowl (the glossy green bowl) are my other favourites.
The bowls themselves are pretty ordinary but they’re really nice to have and bring back good memories just looking at them. I mean apart from the shape being all wonky (mine are anyway), we can safely call these artisan pieces, since Shigeru Sensei finished the bottom as well as the coating (or maybe he outsourced it to a student?) and he’s definitely no novice. Here’s the complete set from a few different angles.
That’s all for now, hmm, this might be shaping up to be a slow year on the dtraCorp front, let’s try and get things moving a bit, although my neck/back is pretty crook at the moment so not sure anything’s going to be happening in the short term.
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Is this what you’ve all been waiting for? The foodie post? Well, I’ve gone over the Hiroshima okonomiyaki, yummy tacoyaki among other things at Nishiki Market, and the kaiseki in Kyoto at Gion Nanba, so I’m going to post some pictures here and talk about some of the other nice meals we had. We also had omurice, tempura, ramen, and pizza/pasta but I don’t have pictures or specific memories of those so won’t bore you with nothingness.
So back to Kyoto, between instant noodle and/or toast breakfasts, bento boxes from department store food courts, we managed to squeeze in a visit to the famous Coco Curry. We didn’t quite understand how to order but managed to get ourselves a curry each (including one for Oscar), everyone got a mild curry so it was basically gravy, but it was still yummy, this was probably Oscar’s favourite meal of the whole trip as he ate all of his serve and then some.
I ordered a set meal but this didn’t specify the spice level, while everyone else ordered from the combination menu which allows you to choose a base curry, and select the spice level, and then extras and add-ons to spice up the meal (pun totally intended). And yet they still just went with mild curry, but anyway, it was definitely an easy meal.
The only other picture of a meal I have is from our old favourite udon restaurant in the Porta Shopping mall, just outside Kyoto Station. We had quite a good recollection of eating udon here the last time we were in Kyoto, the memory was so good that we just had to come back. In reality though, we remembered that there was a pretty good udon place in the Porta shopping mall and didn’t want to run any risks as we were kind of in a rush and needed something that Oscar would likely eat.
That’s not to say that the udon here isn’t good, it’s plenty good and very possible that in a similar situation next time we are in Kyoto we may visit again. I had the cold noodles this time with a chicken katsu set, the noodles are so thick and chewy here, I like it.
Even in a relatively small town (or perhaps especially because) like Kawaguchi-ko there are specialties to try. The specialty of the area (Yamanashi) is hoto, which is a type of noodle similar to udon, but the noodles are flatter and wider, the broth is usually filled with seasonal vegies and root vegies (especially pumpkin) and pork based.
So we were strolling around on that cloudy day in Kawaguchi-ko looking for something to eat when we stumbled upon this hoto restaurant just near the train station. We definitely remembered how yummy hoto was, so we stepped right on in and tried this one out (it’s only open from 11am-7pm). Compared to Hoto Kosaku, the actual bowls are a bit bigger (with the amount of food being about the same), there are not as many broth or add-on options here, but it still hits the spot if you’re after pork or vegie based noodle soup. The price for two bowls was about 25$ AUD (or a bit over 2,000¥), I would expect that we would drop by again next time we’re in Kawaguchi-ko :D.
This is the hoto restaurant that the hostel always recommends, and with good reason, the hoto here is bloody good and there are many options for broth (whatever you can think of really) as well as extras. We’re always a little price conscious so we didn’t splurge on the higher priced dishes (can’t remember off the top of my head but maybe something like crab or goose, something kind of exotic), I just got the stock standard pork hoto, and Emmy splurged on the seafood hoto.
This place is super busy but the queue moves quite quickly, you basically walk in and have to put your name down to reserve your spot. Once you’ve got your table though, you should quickly work out what you want and flag a waiter/waitress down to make your order as they’re super busy and not looking for customers with empty tables.
Some tables on the sides have pits where you can dangle your feet but both times we’ve been there we have not had the fortune of such a luxury and had to sit cross legged on the floor. The noodles here are super luxurious, they’re probably wider and flatter than the ones at Hoto Fudo, the broth very sweet and tasty, this is a can’t miss in Kawaguchi-ko. These two bowls cost us about 40$ AUD (or 3,500¥) so a fair bit more pricey than Hoto Fudo for a similar quantity, it’s your own choice whether the extra options are worth your hard earned.
We mostly ate in the shopping mall food courts in Tokyo, but there are plenty of tasty options to be had there as well, although a bit pricier than some of the places you can find elsewhere.
One such place that was actually memorable was this place on the eighth floor (if I remember correctly) of the Lumine Est shopping mall (how many times have we been here?). We were kind of stuck for a place to eat and decided to just pick a place on this floor, there were a couple of good options but in the end we were won over by the plastic food of this place.
I had the roast beef on rice (with a poached egg) and side of sald, while Emmy had some kind of deep fried chicken. The beef was pretty tender, but the slices were pretty big and a bit chewy so it wasn’t the easiest thing to eat (no knife either), but it was quite tasty. Meanwhile, we ordered some dessert for the age-old reason YOLO! I’m never going to argue against waffles, and especially not when they are covered with other delicious walnuts, cream, caramel?, and iced cream. This was only the half dessert option, there’s no way we could have done the whole cake, although I’m sure Oscar would have tried his best.
The highlight of the Tokyo eating time was definitely this place, one which comes with the advantage of knowing a local, as this was a recommendation from Emmy’s friend’s husband. We went looking on a Tuesday night for some izakaya, but his preferred haunts were all full up so we had to settle for a sushi restaurant. Judging by the name this place is in Tsukiji (we were in the Ginza/Tsukiji area), it was definitely worth the money we forked out.
As you can probably tell from the menu pictures, the food pretty much matches the picture (maybe with a variation or two possibly due to seasonality), but the big thing to note is the price. Mine is a ten course omakase for 3,100¥ (approximately 40$ AUD), for the same thing here (albeit perhaps served with a bit more pomp) you’d expect to pay upwards of 90$. So what if it was all served at once on one dish for me, it’s fresh and well made and only 40$. That eel (the big one) on Emmy’s dish had a really tasty sauce on it too.
Finally, we have an unknown okonomiyaki restaurant in Yoyogi, this place was near our accommodation which made it easy enough. Emmy wanted to try out this dish, monjayaki, which is sort of similar to okonomiyaki but has different ingredients, but still fried on a flat grill. As you can see from the picture it pretty much looks like vomit, but I can assure you it tastes a hell of a lot better.
I’m not really sure what’s in there, cabbage, probably egg to bind, I think this was a mountain type or something so it had ingredients that you find on the mountains. We also had a couple of okonomiyakis after this because they weren’t too filling. This was a very Japanese restaurant as there were only locals eating there and the staff (all women interestingly) didn’t speak any English. They did work out that we needed an English menu and that we probably needed them to cook for us though (unlike the locals who grilled for themselves), I think we can probably do it for ourselves next time if we do visit another such establishment. There isn’t that much to it really, just stir it a bit to mix it up real good then pour it on to the pan and flatten it out, let it cook until ready. I actually got to do the flip on one of the okonomiyakis, and it was spectacular!
That’s it, it’s only taken three weeks to complete my holiday rundown, that must be a record. I may add some more picture posts as I go through my photos more thoroughly, but for the most part, I’m done, until next time, and there will be a next time.
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As I said before, we didn’t do too much in terms of touristic things in Tokyo, shopping and eating is sort of touristy but you can do that anywhere. We attended a tea ceremony lesson (thanks to Emmy’s friend), decided to have a quick look at the Rainbow Bridge from Odaiba Marine Park one night, and I took Oscar to Shinjuku Gyoen our last afternoon in Japan to try and chill out before going home. And even that isn’t really that touristy since a stroll through the park is a normal thing anywhere.
The tea ceremony is an interesting thing, and the tea ceremony lesson is possibly even more interesting. We were invited (I think) to attend the lesson as guests so we didn’t have to do anything except drink tea and eat sweets, although we did have to stir our own tea one time. I was sitting there observing it all, and while it didn’t look like much, I am pretty sure pretty much everything the teacher was doing was following a very specific routine, e.g. which hand to use to place a hanky down, and which hand to lift a bowl, and when to move this or that.
It had to be very precise, I’m sure of it, I’m not making it more than it was, the Japanese are very OCD like that, it would seem to be very easy to mess up while learning, but after enough practice it would become a habit to follow all the steps precisely I would think. We got to eat some yummy sweets and learn how to stir the green tea (not in a round motion, but back and forth) before heading out for dinner (more on that in a later post).
One evening we were at home, I think it was the Tuesday, the weather was clear and we were just going to go shopping, but I thought it might be a good idea to visit Odaiba Marine Park and get a view of the Rainbow Bridge from across the bay. The train ride was an interesting one as it is on a newer train line that runs on different tracks (or something), and even goes over the Rainbow Bridge. Turns out that we were far too late as the nightly light show had already finished and it was pretty dark with nothing much to see. We walked along the path and headed toward one of the boardwalk piers, the bridge was still illuminated so there was at least that to look at. It did look nice, though it probably would have been worth spending a half day in Odaiba and finishing with the night view of the bridge.
Our final full day in Tokyo (and Japan) we did some shopping in the morning (yay for me! I got some stuff), and then after lunch Emmy carried on with that while I took Oscar to Shinjuku Gyoen for a good wander. It closes quite early 4.00pm (gates close 4.30pm) and having only arrived at around 3pm I didn’t have as much time as I ended needing, as I had to rush about before I even got to enjoy the Japanese Garden portion properly.
I think next time I’ll definitely try to arrive at around 1.30pm or so, then I can take my time and enjoy it more peacefully. Even so, we were able to follow the route and see several areas of the park, including a few ponds, bridges, and maple trees, and with the NTT Docomo Building poking its head in. There was a chrysanthemum flower festival or something as there were many displays with all different kinds of chrysanthemums, some growing at very peculiar angles, they were quite nice, although I’m sure Emmy would not approve. I was really impressed by the park and will definitely make it a higher priority next time I’m in Tokyo.
That’s pretty much it, the tour is finished, but, I will regale you with more details on some of the food we ate as well as the places we stayed in the next couple of posts. Kaiseki in Kyoto wasn’t the only delight we lavished on ourselves, in Japan, there is always something delectable around the corner, and the same can be said of dtraCorp :D.
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Let’s be clear, we didn’t do a lot in Tokyo, mostly shopping and eating, we had a quick ride to Odaiba marine park (at night) and attended a tea ceremony class, but otherwise the only tourist thing we did of any value was visit the Ghibli Museum. We originally planned to visit Kamakura for a day trip but after all of the travelling we’d done up to this point we thought better of it. This was almost an absolute disaster, we didn’t buy the tickets online from Australia (they were already sold out for the time we were going) so we managed to ask one of Emmy’s friends who lives in Tokyo to help us buy a couple tickets. But it turns out that the museum is quite strict on people buying tickets and requiring identification to match the purchaser of the tickets (to reduce scalping).
After asking us a few times and realising that it was going to be nigh impossible to gather the necessary identification the security staff was kind enough to let us through anyway (we really had no idea), it was probably fortunate that Oscar was there, he probably took pity on us because of that.
You can’t take any pictures inside the museum, which is quite small (three levels), so all you can do really, is enjoy the museum. It’s full of pictures and little models, and elaborate re-creations of Miyazaki’s desk (I’m guessing), among other things. Two exhibits in the first room (full of models and some movie projector type things) were quite the standouts.
There was a wall with a bunch of windows into tiny rooms, each room has little models of desks and people at work (I presume of Ghibli employees), they were very intricate and detailed which made them very nice to look at. The other great thing in that first room was the animated model, I don’t even know how to describe it, basically it’s a wheel with many models of the cat bus from My Neighbour Totoro, that spins around at high speed and then combined with lighting effects you can see how the animation works. It’s sort of like stop motion, very cool.
Another highlight was the short movie that was screened in the Saturn theatre (entry comes with a ticket to the movie) which is a ten minute film that has three screenings per hour (I think). Apparently it is an original Ghibli animation that is not screened anywhere else. I’m not sure of the title of the short we watched but it had a dog in it called Toro (or Koro) and it was about how he got lost but managed to find his way back home. It was Oscar’s first time in a movie theatre and I’m not sure if he actually understood what was happening, but he pretty much lost it when the dog was hit by a bicycle, he started wailing but managed to regain his composure and continue watching pretty quickly. He cried a couple more times during the film but only very briefly so I don’t think it distracted anyone, but we can only assume that he understood what was going on and felt great empathy with the puppy.
The other highlight for me was the big cat bus (kids 12 and under only) that kids can climb and jump on to their heart’s content, for about five minutes. Oscar was by far the smallest one in his group (all the others were probably between 4-10 years old) and he was quite nervous (but also excited). He would wait until the bigger kids were all jumping on the other side of the bus and then give the cat a big cuddle, he managed to climb into the bus very briefly and also kissed one of the rats up on the cat’s head, this was for some reason an extremely emotional thing for myself and Emmy and definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
There’s a stall that sells milk flavoured iced cream (not vanilla, so I guess it’s the same as vanilla but without the vanilla flavouring) and some drinks, while the cafe is quite busy and has its own undercover waiting area, we weren’t going to wait for that.
There’s the robot from Laputa on top of the museum and actually a nice park just next to the museum as well, we waited there as we were about thirty minutes earlier than our entry time. The museum is small but we managed to spend about two and a half hours there wandering around, it’s interesting and certainly worth a look if you’re a Miyazaki or Ghibli fan, or even just a fan of animation or film.
Keep your eyes peeled though because there are many displays that are very small and intricate that you could easily miss.
It’s about a twenty minute train ride from Shinjuku and then a 5-10 minute bus ride from Mitaka station, there is a shuttle bus that takes you right to the entrance. For lack of anything else interesting, my next post will include the three other touristy things we did, visit Odaiba marine Park (very quickly for twenty minutes or so), attend a tea ceremony class, and a visit to Shinjuku Gyoen (a large park). And then I’ll do some foodie posts and accommodation stuff to conclude this trip, and start dreaming of the next.
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One more morning in Kawaguchi-ko, and the weather was amazingly clear so we decided to head back up the Mount Kachi Kachi ropeway to get some good views of Mount Fuji before catching a bus to Tokyo. Too bad the bright daylight haze settled in by the time we got up to the lookout, it was super busy and the queue was over 20 minutes long when we joined (which wasn’t as early as I would have liked). Oh well, you have to make do with what you have, and I think we had a pretty successful morning nonetheless.
We hurried to pack all of our stuff so that we could check out and go up the ropeway as soon as possible, and even then we didn’t manage to leave until about 10.30am. Once we got to the Mount Kachi Kachi ropeway entrance we saw a line, not a good sign as at the end the wait was twenty minutes so we jumped in to reserve our spot. The line moved at a reasonable pace and eventually we got to ride up and it’s only a three minute trip.
We had a quick wander around before we went looking for our spot, which is a small clearing on the way to the Mount Tenjo shrine. There is a bench there and a good view of Mount Fuji, we aimed to recreate a romatntic pose that we did on our first trip to Japan but this time with an additional participant. After a few tries, and then a few more (thanks to the endless stream of other tourists walking past), we finally managed to get the shot we were after.
Afterward we continued along the trail toward the Mount Tenjo summit and shrine, it’s a great little stroll as the trees lining the trail are all coloured in brilliant Autumn colours (yellow at the time). The hike to Mount Mitsutoge is a further three hours (so six hours return), this will be my target the next time we are in the area as I’m not sure that I’ll ever summit Mount Fuji. I am pretty sure that there would be some excellent views of Mount Fuji along the trail as well as other nice things to look at, it was extremely busy being a Sunday with fine weather, so maybe next time we will try to visit the area on a weekday.
Finally it was time to go and head back to the station and get a bus to Tokyo, unfortunately, having not booked tickets beforehand, and this being a Sunday with very nice weather, there were a lot of people trying to get on to a set number of buses. We managed to get ourselves on to a bus headed for Tokyo station (as opposed to Shinjuku) that was supposed to take two hours. Well, it tooks four and half and little Oscar was getting pretty restless by the time we were nearing Tokyo, fortunately the super moon was coming (he loves the moon), so that was an interesting distraction for him for part of the ride.
So to conclude, never catch a bus on a Sunday (maybe Saturdays too) afternoon during peak season in Kawaguchi-ko headed for Tokyo, especially not when the weather is basically perfect (except for the lack of fluffy clouds). You’ll be stuck in traffic for hours. Next, we’re on the home stretch, Tokyo, which was mostly shopping and eating :D.
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On our final full day in Kawaguchi-ko, we joined the hostel day tour around the Mount Fuji area, which would take us to Fuji Sengen Shrine in Fujiyoshida, the fifth station at Mount Fuji, Aokigahara lava forest, Shiraito Falls, and Lake Motosu. So a busy day indeed and the tour starts at 9am. The first stop was the station to pick up some more tourists, but then on to Fujiyoshida and the Fuji Sengen Shrine (the actual name is even longer but I won’t go into that).
This shrine is where the cult of Mount Fuji was based and where a lot of trekkers might begin their trip to summit Fuji-san, that is the long way, that’s for sure as it is starting right from the bottom.
The trail begins at the back of the shrine and goes all the way up to the fifth station, where you continue to the peak of the mountain. We got a good explanation of the shrine, the very old trees, a few of them are older than 900 years old, the biggest ones, they’re pretty obvious. There are plenty of maple trees and other colourful trees as well so it’s also quite a photogenic shrine.
You can’t actually see Fuji-san from the shrine because there’s basically a forest surrounding it, but you can see a lovely place and also make a wish. The shrine was probably the highlight of the tour even though Fuji-san wasn’t even visible from there. It is a beautiful and peaceful place and we didn’t have as much time at the waterfall or Lake Motosu as I would have liked (fading light played a part, but also guided tours are like that), so that’s the qualifier.
The next stop was the fifth station, well one of the fifth stations, the Fuji-Yoshida fifth station which is the highest point that buses travel to, so this is where a lot of people start their treks from. There were a lot of people cycling up the roads which looked like a lot of fun too, but obviously I didn’t have my bike. It’s already at about 2300m altitude so it reduces the summit climb to a day trip or overnighter if you so wish. We actually stopped at a point just before the fifth station, this was a great idea by our tour guide, Masa san, as it was below the cloud line and we could get views of the southern Japanese alps as well as up Mount Fuji itself. The fifth station itself was pretty boring, not much to see, it was above the cloud line so just mist everywhere, I had a look at the trail (which was closed) but there wasn’t much to see there either. There are a lot of shops at the fifth station as there are on the summit (but only during Summer) but nothing special or different there that I’m aware of.
We returned to the hostel for lunch (which I grabbed from 7 Eleven) before heading to the next stop, the Aokigahara lava forest. This forest is interesting for a few reasons, first the roots of the trees can’t dig very far into the ground because of the lava below the top soil, and so the tree roots are above ground a lot, and because of this they don’t have very strong holds and don’t live too long (tens of years) before falling. Second, there are many caves in the area, created by the lava flow hundreds and thousands of years before, we visited one but didn’t go in as we didn’t have caving gear obviously. Finally, and most macabre of all, this forest is known as the suicide forest, because in parts of the forest are very remote and many people decide that they would wander in without the thought of returning. Not the section we visited though, I didn’t see any skeletons that’s for sure!
Just before sunset we arrived at Shiraito Falls, one of Japan’s 100 most beautiful, and one of the places I definitely wanted to visit while in Kawaguchi-ko. It was one of the main reasons we went on the tour as we wanted to see the falls but the difficulty (i.e. price and timing) in visiting the falls meant that it wouldn’t be particularly good value (time wise and on the pocket), they’re very pretty and with full Autumn colour would have been particularly spectacular. Unfortunately the tour didn’t also include Otodome Falls which is only a couple hundred metres away as I wanted to see that also but I was already the last one back from Shiraito, I didn’t want to cause my delays or trouble.
We were driving to our final destination, Lake Motosu (one of the five lakes in the area, and the one featured on the 1000¥ bill) and looking out the window you could see Mount Fuji but with a thick layer of cloud moving around it. There were many photographers parked on the sides of roads with their cameras and tripods out at the ready, and myself unfortunately stuck on a moving bus. We finally arrived at the lookout point for Lake Motosu and I grabbed my tripod and camera bag and quickly set up in a good spot (there were only about 10 people there when we arrived).
It was two nights before the super moon so we were able to witness a reasonable sized moon posing with Fuji-san, and by the time we left, the lookout point was packed with probably 20-30 people and their tripods standing shoulder to shoulder trying to snap pictures of the mountain in the dark. By that time though the cloud had pretty much completely enveloped Fuji-san and all that was left was the lake and the moon. I’m not sure if it was particularly windy or not but I wasn’t able to capture any reflection in the lake at all which was a minor disappointment. Amazingly, that first afternoon that we arrived was to be the best view (in terms of clarity, due to the time) we had of Mount Fuji for the whole time we were in Kawaguchi-ko, we got clear views of it our last two days but it was either too bright and hazy, or dark and cloudy.
Afterwards we went and had Hoto again at Hoto Kosaku this time (the same place we went to the first time we visited Kawaguchi-ko), but I’ll have more on that later, it was great though. Next stop, final half day in Kawaguchi-ko, what I want to do next time, and arriving in Tokyo.
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A train and bus ride from Kyoto (via Mishima) with a bit of a rush at Mishima station to get the Fujikyu bus to Kawaguchi-ko, and even before stopping at Fuji-Q Highlands (second last stop) or Yamanaka-ko (last stop before Kawaguchi-ko), it appeared. Mount Fuji emerged from behind the clouds and presented itself in the most brilliant of bus ride views. We probably ended up with 36 views of Mount Fuji as we drove around the lakes toward Kawaguchi-ko.
Definitely some pretty clear views that afternoon and with some dramatic clouds as well, I only managed one shot at the bus stop before we headed to our accommodation, 15 minutes downhill walk, by the time we got there though Fuji-san was hiding again. Never mind, we’ll see you again later, and if not, we at least got some good views on the bus.
After settling in, and checking the forecast for the next few days, it was almost certainly going to be an overcast day with no views of Fuji-san the next day, but clear for the two days after.
With overcast skies and no real chance of the sun clearing the clouds out of the way we decided to wander over to Kawaguchi-ko and have a look around. Beautiful red leaves were abound by the lake, and Mount Kachi Kachi was starting to show some Autumn colour as well, although still mostly green. We didn’t get too far before it was time for lunch (hoto fudo, more on that later), and then after that the oldies went and took some pictures in a nice leafy Autumn spot (with coloured leaves fallen to the ground) while we went back to the hostel and a nap.
I managed to get back out to Ohashi bridge just before sunset to hopefully capture something of Mount Fuji, I caught a glimpse of the cone but by the time I snapped the shot it was clouded over again. So instead I shifted my attention to the road, traffic, and the colours of the hills behind. Got a pretty nice shot, would’ve been nicer if it was a bit darker but then I suppose I wouldn’t have captured any of the colours in the background.
We signed ourselves up for the hostel day tour around the five lakes area the next day, so that will be coming up in the next post. The picture to the right gives a glimpse of the weather to come, that was the next morning, so definitely cleared up for our day trip but that’s for the next post. Kawaguchi-ko is a great destination and I definitely love going there and I have no doubt that I’ll be there again, but you’ll see for yourself in the next couple of posts.
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