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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Hello all, and we’re back, back from the wonderful land of Japan, which means that I’ve got a lot more content for the next couple months taking us into the new year, most likely, YAY! I got lots of pictures to sort through, not sure if I got anything that I’m really proud of but we’ll see, and we also spent some time doing some interesting not sight-seeing things which I’ll try to go through in more detail than my usual overview stuff.
So following the route, we arrived at Narita and jumped straight on the train headed for Hiroshima, in hindsight, this was a bad plan (as we only spent one night there) as we weren’t there long enough for the amount of travel to be worth it. I think next time we may visit Kyushu and go to Hiroshima/Miyajima from there spending a bit more time at Miyajima. From there we moved on to Kyoto for a big chunk (five nights) looking for Koyo (Autumn colours), we tried to vary our itinerary in Kyoto to avoid just visiting shrines and temples which I think we did pretty well.
On to Kawaguchi-Ko and Mount Fuji from there where some very clear weather treated us to some great views of the great volcano for our last two days (we stayed three). I don’t think we got 36 views of Mount Fuji, but we certainly covered quite a few angles from around Kawaguchi-Ko. After that it was on to Tokyo for some “relaxing” time, we usually just end up in Tokyo shopping and eating, that’s mostly what we did, I did actually manage to visit Shinjuku Gyoen for some chill out time (although even that was not too relaxing as I arrived late and had to rush around a bit). I don’t have many photos from Tokyo mostly because eating (mostly relatively boring stuff) and shopping aren’t the most photogenic of things. But we’ll get to all of that in the coming weeks with enough pictures to keep things interesting.
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Originally I was going to post a few separate posts of our trip to Japan but having completely lost the motivation, I’m just going to post one overview with the whole gallery of photos selected for this site (photos for Flickr will continue to go up at the normal rate). Tokyo was crazy, just consumerism gone mad, millions of people going everywhere all the time, endless concrete and steel, girls in short skirts/shorts (though not revealing tops), millions of umbrellas (different coloured), shops with absolutely every thing you could ever need (and a million different colour and style options), no rubbish bins, weird and unusual shops, and an amazing train system. We spent most of our time in Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku, though we did make our way to the Tsukiji fish market for lunch one day where we had some amazing sashimi. We also visited Roppongi Hills to go up the Mori Tower, went to Meiji Jingu, but didn’t see too much else in Tokyo. We decided not to try and climb Mount Fuji and instead just stayed nearby at Kawaguchi-Ko before heading to Hakone for a night in an onsen ryokan (which was bloody great) that included a kaiseki dinner. Hey, we also got some clear views of Mount Fuji so that’s something.
So after two days of country-ish life we headed for Kyoto where we would spend the majority of the next six days, this was certainly a very good decision in hindsight. Kyoto is a reasonably small city with an abundance of world heritage listed sites and a great selection of food options, and is also near many other beautiful and significant tourist sites. We loaded up our JR passes and used them every day we were in Kyoto (except one when we travelled around on the bus), visiting a bunch of temples and shrines including Kinkaku-Ji, Ryoan-Ji, Tofuku-Ji, To-Ji, Kiyomizu-Dera, Fushimi Inari, we spent a day in Nara wandering around the sites there and saw the Daibutsu at Todai-Ji as well as a few others. We also went to Osaka for a day trip as well as Kobe, where we sampled Kobe beef teppanyaki style, which was bloody sublime! Osaka wasn’t particularly interesting, like a smaller Tokyo, while Kobe was at least a bit less frantic. After all that, and some shopping, we headed back to Tokyo for one more day before flying back home (via Singapore where we visited the Gardens by the Bay near Marina Bay).
The weather was as you would expect at the end of Summer, start of Autumn, pretty warm and a bit humid, it seemed like every second day it would rain (even though the rainy season had already passed), but it was at least warm. The bullet train was something else, fast and comfortable to sit in, and exhilarating to watch fly past. The food was amazing, I think we had one bad meal during the whole trip which is a pretty amazing hit rate, the portions weren’t as small as everyone (not sure who, but that seems to be the stereotype) says, and you gotta love the plastic food displays outside the restaurant looking exactly like the meal that was served. Favourites? I don’t know, udon of any kind, sashimi (super fresh), Mister Donut custard donuts, tempura, katsu don, white peach sorbet, they don’t seem to eat any vegies we noticed, next time I think I will try some different stuff, non-traditional stuff like Japanese burgers, pizza and/or pasta, just to see what it’s like there, as we ate (except for one meal where we were tricked into Korean Nabe) Japanese food for every meal. I would be remiss not to mention the amazing people, so polite and so neat and so nice, I have to add strange as well, but I’m sure that comes from living on a remote island, and it’s not like they’re really strange, just a bit peculiar, very funny. Any way, I’m sure I’ve missed a million things here, but let’s let the pictures speak for themselves, I wish I had more pictures of food to post here, but I already put them on facebook.
In Tokyo for our first go-round, we stayed at Hotel Villa Fontaine in Shinjuku, we booked it online before going, I think it was a book early special price, and because we booked for four nights we got a discount for that too, it was ok, had breakfast included (a sandwich delivered by the staff), an awesome bathroom, and a nice enough bed, a cosy room. We stayed at K’s House in Kawaguchi-Ko for just one night, and stayed in a private tatami room which was nice, and had free wifi so that was good, nice enough place and it’s a chain throughout Japan so I think you’ll be safe with them throughout Japan. We stayed at Fujimi-en Lodge (the onsen ryokan) near Hakone for one night, the onsen was hot, but had a view of Mount Fuji (when it was clear), every room had a view of Mount Fuji, no breakfast but I would recommend to book with the kaiseki dinner option as the dinner was absolutely super! In Kyoto we stayed at Capsule Ryokan, pretty close to the train station as well as the two (free admission) big temples (Nishi Hongan-Ji and Higashi Hongan-Ji) near the station, pretty reasonable pricing, with free wifi in the lobby and a nice shower :D. Also had a nice free kimono dress up which is nice for the ladies :). We didn’t stay in any ultra-budget places, and I’m not sure there is anything that is really cheap in Japan, but all the places we stayed were very clean, neat and tidy.
We used the train system in Tokyo solely (as well as walking), and fount it pretty easy to work out after our initial apprehension, although not super cheap to be buying tickets all the time, perhaps the SUICA card might have proved better value. We got a bus from Tokyo to Kawaguchi-Ko, and then a bus from there to Hakone, from Hakone, we got a bus to Gotenba, and then one more bus to Odawara station, before we pulled out our JR passes to use the train for the next week. With a JR pass travel is reasonable between big cities (and fast), and also on the JR services within the cities it is very useful. Transport is super safe and clean in Japan so you never have to worry about any of that, just making sure you get on and off at the right stops/stations and on the right buses/trains of course.And that’s it for my lame Japanese overview, now for the pictures, also remember to keep an eye on my flickr stream as I’ll be uploading (around 70-80 I’m guessing) pictures there over the next few months.
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