a may cocktail hour at the family mart   5 comments

Wednesday, May 31:  Cheers!  Welcome to my second cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart tonight.  We’ll sit out front on the plastic chairs.  It happened quite by accident that I began stopping by this Family Mart on my way home from work. I’ll tell you about it after I get you a drink.

It’s either beer or wine here at the Family Mart, so take your choice.  My favorites are the Japanese beers, of course: Sapporo, Kirin, and Asahi.  Asahi and Kirin are my favorites. I’ll be happy to treat; just tell me what you’d like.

Please do tell me about your May.  Have you done anything unusual or just followed your normal routine?  Have you traveled anywhere?  Have you read any good books or watched any good movies or TV shows? Have you visited any gardens?  I took weekend or day trips to: Meiji Shrine and Harajuku, Sankei-en in Yokohama, Mt. Takao, Kameido Tenjin Shrine and the Nezu Museum, the Imperial Palace East Garden, Kawasaki, Odawara Castle and Hakone. Here are a few tidbits about my May.

Monday, May 1:  I went with my colleagues to an Izakaya, above the Pachinko parlor near Fuchinobe Train Station.  An Izakaya is an informal Japanese gastropub, a casual place for after-work drinking. Izakayas have been compared to Irish pubs, tapas bars and early American saloons and taverns.

We drank a couple of mugs of a delicious ale and I ordered an avocado topped with a kind of wasabi-gel, along with some sushi. My friend Graham ordered a kind of pickled mackerel. The whole evening was planned by our Aussie colleague Rob in order to celebrate our only holiday this semester, coming up on Wednesday: Golden Week.

The funniest part of the evening was when our Irish colleague Deirdre told us about these “uraynals” in London that pop up from the ground to allow men to pee after they’ve been drinking at the pub. She kept referring to “uraynal” this and “uraynal” that, and I admit that at first I had no idea what she was talking about.  Finally it dawned on me that she was saying “urinal.”  I said, “That’s so funny you keep referring to them as “uraynals,” because we call them “urinals” in America.”  My American colleague Joe said, “It’s like when we used to say Ur-anus and now we say Uran-us.”

Later, after the conversation turned to other things, I complained that if I kept drinking all this beer, I’d have to pee on the way home; and there was nowhere to do so. Deirdre said, “Oh, that’s never a problem in Japan.  There’s a 7-11 on every corner, so you can pop into one and use the toilet.”  “No,” I replied. “There is not one 7-11 between here and our apartment.  There is NOTHING on that long walk home.”

Joe said, “Don’t worry, maybe you can find a “uraynal.”  Just don’t forget to wipe Uranus.” It was hilarious, and we all laughed long and hard at that one. 🙂

Tuesday, May 2: After work, I stopped at a place called “Beauty” for a haircut. The stylist, Atsushi Matsunaga, wearing makeup and tiny-checkered pants, and sporting a helter-skelter haircut, tried to understand my desired haircut. I showed him the picture I always show everyone.  I pointed to the shaggy bottom of the model’s hair. He said, “Oh… shaggy!”  When he started cutting, I told him to make it shorter; he said, “Oh… short and shaggy.”

He started cutting the sides of my hair with thinning shears, but it wasn’t getting rid of enough of my hair. I always hate it when people use those scissors on my hair because it shows they’re going to be timid in their haircut.  I have very thick and unruly hair, and I often have trouble getting stylists to cut enough of it. I drew Atsushi a set of pictures to show I wanted the bottom straight and not angled at the bottom.  When he finished and they dried my hair, my hair looked like a helmet-head.  I knew it was because he didn’t put enough layers in the sides.

I drew another set of pictures showing a helmet head, thick and straight at the bottom, and another picture with a more rounded profile, sharp at the bottom.  He said “Oh, sharp! – Short, shaggy, sharp!”

That’s the haircut I got, though without enough layers.  When I came home, I stood in front of the mirror with my pair of dull scissors and butchered it some more, chopping more layers into the sides of my hair. 🙂

Tuesday, May 9:  My apartment was getting dusty, but as it’s carpeted and I don’t have a vacuum cleaner, I wasn’t sure how to clean it. One of my colleagues, Dennis, told me I could buy a roller with adhesive on the outside that I could roll over the carpet to pick up dust.  After the roller gets filled with dust and hair, you can peel it off and use the fresh piece of adhesive underneath. Tonight, I stopped at the 100 Yen store on my way home from work and bought one of these rollers, along with a Swiffer mop.  When I told Mike about the roller, he said it sounded like a large lint roller with a handle.  That’s about right.  Using it on my dusty carpet, after blow drying my hair every day for over a month, the roller picked up a lot of dust after just a couple of sweeps over the carpet.  I had to keep unpeeling the dusty adhesive tape, and using successive layers underneath.  It was quite a project.  I wish I were in a ground floor apartment as those have wood floors, easier to keep clean.

Thursday, May 18:  On Thursday night, I walked down a different street than normal to get home and I saw a cozy restaurant that enticed me inside.  The owner, Kenji, who speaks a little English, graciously welcomed me.  His fabulous restaurant is called Kiyariya.  Kenji is a talented and artistic chef, and he has created a lovely little place that I have decided will become one of my regular dinner stops.

You can see Kenji in the picture below with his thumbs up.

Kiyariya

Kenji handwrites all his menus daily in beautiful calligraphy.  I couldn’t read this Thursday menu, but somehow I was able to ask Kenji if he made shrimp tempura; he told me he did. He also served me his fabulous eggplant soaked in olive oil and herbs and topped with grated radish.  It was delectable; I wanted to linger over every bite. My meal of course was accompanied by a draft beer.

This is his large platter of marinated eggplant from which he serves small dishes garnished with herbs and grated radish.

eggplant at Kiyariya

Kenji on the right at Kiyariya

When he brought my shrimp, okra and potato tempura, it was artistically presented.

Shrimp tempura, artistically displayed, at Kiyariya

I sat at the bar at Kiyariya; a fabulous selection of music was piped in.  It was dark, with a cozy atmosphere, just the kind of restaurant I love.  Immediately, this became my new favorite place.

I took a picture of the menu and showed it to some of my students on Friday, and they told me most of the dishes were fish.  I love fish, so that only reinforces my love of this place. 🙂

Friday, May 19: On Friday night, I ran into Dennis next to a billboard right outside the campus gate. He was taking a picture of a QR Code and trying to pull up a map to an Indian restaurant called Curry Naan.  I asked if I could tag along because I love Indian food, so we tried to follow the map to the restaurant.  After losing our internet connection and the map many times, and going around in circles on the confusing streets of Fuchinobe, we finally found the restaurant on a side road off the route to our apartment building.

I was so excited to have found this place, and not that far from home.  Since this first visit, I have also adopted the habit of eating here at least once a week.  My meal is always the same: vegetable curry with a huge piece of naan, a small salad and a 100 yen beer. 🙂

Curry Naan

Tuesday, May 23: I had told some of my colleagues about Kiyariya, and this evening after work Tobi asked if he could come along with me to eat there.  We took our place at the bar, where Kenji showed us his fresh arrangement of fish choices for tonight.  The neatly lined-up array of fish stared at us from the tray, and Tobi and I each picked one to try.

Below is my favorite eggplant dish, Kenji’s menu and my beer.

Kiyariya

After dinner, as Tobi and I walked a couple of blocks down the street, we ran into Graham and Paul outside the Family Mart.  There were only three chairs outside, but one of the Family Mart employees brought us out another chair.  We enjoyed a nice long and boisterous cocktail hour right outside the Family Mart.  This has become another weekly event, except when we find someone else occupying our chairs!  It’s a blast!

Tobi, Graham and Paul at Family Mart

me, Graham and Paul at Family Mart

Wednesday, May 24: Tonight I went out of my way to the Gourmet City for a big grocery shop.  After loading up my basket, I remembered that I had forgotten to get cash, so I checked my wallet to see how much I had.  I had only 1,000 yen (less than $10).  As you can’t use the Japan Post debit card at stores in Japan, only at ATM machines, and my card didn’t work in the ATM at the supermarket, I had to go around and put everything in my basket back on the shelves.  What a bummer!

Thursday, May 25: Tonight Paul and Graham took me to one of their favorite restaurants, Jonathan’s, on the other side of the Fuchinobe train station.  It was sort of like a Denny’s in America.  I ordered a pizza and I told Graham to help himself to a piece.  He said he’d wait to see what I didn’t want.  As we talked and drank beer, without thinking, I gobbled down my entire pizza. I felt bad because I’d offered Graham a slice, and I think he was waiting, mouth-watering for a piece.  What kind of friend am I?

This month, I finally finished The Color of Our Sky (it was just okay) and started reading The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.  I also got involved in watching The Good Wife, which I’m enjoying immensely.  I tried to watch Amelie for about the millionth time on Netflix, but it only had Japanese subtitles. 😦  I feel like I’ve done a lot of exploring of Japan this month, mostly because we had that five-day holiday for Golden Week.  In June, the rainy season is supposed to be upon us, so I fear that will curtail my adventures. 🙂

 

last afternoon at kawaguchiko: fuji omuro sengen-jinja shrine   2 comments

Sunday, June 4:  After stashing my bag in a coin locker at the train station, I take the Green Line of the Sightseeing bus to Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine on the south shore of Lake Kawaguchi. On the bus I chat with a honeymooning couple from the States.  Distracted by this pleasant exchange, I miss the stop for the shrine. Another couple from Australia, listening in on our conversation, misses their stop as well.  At the next stop, I ask the driver about Fuji Omuro, and he waves for us to get off and go back in the opposite direction.  We’re lucky that as soon as we hop off the bus, another Sightseeing Bus pulls up heading in the opposite direction.  We all three hop on that bus and ride it back to Fuji Omuro, arriving at 12:30.

torii gate at Fuji Omuro Sengen Shrine

Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine has over 1300 years of history.  It is the oldest shrine in the Mt. Fuji area. It was Fujiwara Yoshitada who dedicated the shrine, originally built on the second station of Mt. Fuji, in 699; for its eternal preservation, it was moved to its current location in 1974.

small shrine at Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja

cow sculpture

Later, as musubi no kami (deity of childbearing, easy delivery of a baby, match-making, and happy marriage), it was worshipped and courteously protected by the clans of Takeda, Oyamada, and Tokugawa.  On the spacious grounds, the main sanctuary (national important cultural property) has its backside facing Mt. Fuji, and the satomiya sanctuary (city’s important cultural property) has its backside facing Lake Kawaguchi.

Fuji Omuro Sengen Shrine

characters at the shrine

temizuya (手水舎), a Shinto water ablution pavilion

dragon water spout at the temizuya

Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

I love the ema here, painted with a snow-covered Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms.

ema at Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

Wandering around the grounds, I find an exit that looks out over a small cove.

out the far side of the shrine

Lake Kawaguchiko on the far side of Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

another entrance to Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

The modern part of the shrine, probably where the monks live and worship, is colorful and beautifully manicured.

Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

cemetery at Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

cemetery at Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

bell tower at Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja Shrine

After wandering around every corner of the shrine compound, I head back to the bus stop. According to the posted timetable, I just missed the bus to the train station.  The next one isn’t for a half hour.  It’s quite warm and there is no bench, so the half-hour drags on for what seems an eternity.  While waiting, I wander around the adjacent area and capture a photo of Mt. Fuji at the end of a rural lane.

view of Mt. Fuji from the bus stop

Back at the station, I inquire about my options for returning home.  I can either take a 2-hour bus to Machida for a pretty cheap price, or I can take the reserved seat express train to Hachioji. The cost is considerably more expensive for the express train, but for some reason, I always prefer the train to a bus, maybe because a bus has to contend with possible traffic jams.  So I dish out 1,670 yen (~ $15) for the train ticket, leaving the station at 2:19 p.m.  I’m told the 1,670 yen price is on top of the regular fare to get to Hachioji, but I figure that can’t be much.  I scan the ticket and my Suica card at the same time to enter the station.  The train is lovely, as express trains always are, and the trip is hassle free.

my ticket home

When I arrive at Hachioji, I have to transfer to the Yokohama Line to get back to my stop at Fuchinobe. I do so, and at Fuchinobe I put the ticket and my Suica through the entry gate only to have a loud beep go off.  The flashing red light shows I don’t have enough fare on my Suica!  I put 3,000 yen on my Suica before I left on Saturday, so I should have nearly 2,000 yen left on it.  It can’t have cost me 2,000 yen in addition to the 1,670 I paid for that express ticket.  I believe a mistake has been made and try to get to the bottom of it with the non-English speaking ticket taker. Things are tense for a while until someone shows up who can speak a bit of English.  He tells me that yes, in fact, that express ticket was in addition to the normal 2,000 yen fare from Kawaguchi Station to Fuchinobe!  That express train really did cost me then, a total of $33.  I could have taken the bus for about a quarter of that price.  If I had understood that cost before I left, I would have certainly opted for the bus.

I’m finding that it is quite expensive to travel in Japan.  I wonder if my one week trip from August 1-8 will cost me whatever salary I’ve managed to save during my semester in Japan?

Total steps today: 16,360 (6.93 miles). 🙂

an early morning walk at lake kawaguchi, a kimono museum & an outdoor onsen   7 comments

Sunday, June 4:  As has been typical during my time in Japan, I wake up with the sun at 4:30 a.m. in my hotel in Kawaguchiko. Since Japan doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time, the sunrise here is normally at around 4:30 a.m. and sunset is around 7:00 p.m.  I prefer Virginia’s Daylight Savings Time, during which the sun rises at 5:45 and sets at 8:40 p.m.  What good is all that extra summertime light if it’s so early in the morning that you’re not even awake to enjoy it?

Lying on my futon, wide awake at this ungodly hour, I remember that I can see Mt. Fuji out my hotel window, so I hop up for a sunrise view.

Sunrise view of Mt. Fuji from my hotel room

Sunrise view of Mt. Fuji from my hotel room

Sunrise view of Mt. Fuji from my hotel room

I finally get tired of hopping out of bed for views in the changing light.  I guess I fall back to sleep briefly, because my next view is at 5:55 a.m.  Much more reasonable.  These sunrise views of Mt. Fuji are the only ones I get where the crown is not obscured by clouds.

Sunrise view of Mt. Fuji from my hotel room

After my 6 a.m. viewing, I can’t go back to sleep, so I put the hotel robe on to go down to the onsen.  There are no meals served at my hotel, so the sooner I get bathed and dressed, the sooner I can go in search of coffee and breakfast.

By about 8 a.m., following a leisurely soak in the onsen, and after getting dressed, I ponder whether I should check out or keep my room while I go out for breakfast. I don’t know where I’ll end up going for breakfast, and it might be a pain to have to make it back to the hotel by the 10:00 check-out time.  Finally, I decide I’ll just check out, leaving my bag at the hotel desk.  I head out toward the lake to explore. Baffled, I find, just as I found when looking for a dinner restaurant last night, that no cafes are open until 9:00.  I have nowhere to go!  I stop back by the hotel, since it’s not far from the lake, and ask if I can have my room back.  At least I could lie around until 9:00.  But the lady tells me they’ve already started cleaning it, so I can’t have it back.  I complain that I can’t find any breakfast or coffee, and she points me in the direction of the Family Mart, where I have a cup of coffee and a doughnut with pink icing while sitting at the perimeter counter.

After leaving Family Mart, I head straight for Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge, which I walked over yesterday; I’m still hoping to get that upside-down view of Fuji.  At this point, I’ve been up for hours and it’s only 8:30 a.m.!

early morning walk across the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge

I still can’t find the sacred mountain reflected in the lake, no matter how much I want to see it.

early morning walk across the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge

This time, I’m heading to the northwest side of the lake.  I want to visit the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum and an onsen near the museum that has an outdoor bath.  I don’t know why I can never resist soaking in a hot bath in an outdoor setting.

early morning walk across the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge – view west

The weather today is fabulous, just like it was yesterday.  I lucked out this weekend.  It’s in the low 70s with a nice breeze and low humidity.  In my book, that’s the perfect weather, although the high 60s is even better. 🙂

early morning walk across the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge – view west

western part of Kawaguchiko

After crossing the bridge, I follow the brick walkway to the west, where I find this painted manhole cover featuring Mt. Fuji.

manhole covers at Kawaguchiko

The views from the northwest shore are beautiful this morning, although much of Fuji’s top is hugged by clouds.

walk along the shore of Kawaguchiko

path along the shore

Mt. Fuji through the weeping willows

Italian cypress trees along Kawaguchiko

I find a tiny shrine tucked into the trees along the path.

ema at a small shrine

small shrine at Kawaguchiko

view of Fuji from the northwest shore

view of Fuji from the northwest shore

By 9:30, after quite a long walk, I come to the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum.  This museum features huge kimono with intricate scenes created with labor-intensive silk dyeing.

According to the museum’s website, Itchiku Kubota (1917-2003) is considered the most important Japanese textile artist of the 20th century.  He revived the lost art of Tsujigahana silk dyeing, used to decorate elaborate kimono during the Muromachi Period (1333-1573).

According to japan-guide.com, in his early twenties, the artist was so inspired by a Tsujigahana textile fragment exhibited at the Tokyo National Museum, that he devoted the rest of his life to recreating and mastering the labor-intensive silk dyeing technique.

Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

The Gaudi inspired museum is a natural shrine to the artist’s work.

Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

The Kubota Collection consists of 104 artistic kimono including kimono from the Mount Fuji series, some individual pieces and Kubota’s lifetime project “The Symphony of Light.”  A masterpiece left incomplete at the time of his death, this series consisted of 36 kimono (he had intended to make 80).  Each work is designed to be an atmospherical painting of a certain season, element or setting, but is also part of a more important landscape which is magically unveiled once the kimono are placed next to each other  (Collection Highlights).  This project of scene-painted kimono reminds me very much of the silk screen paintings I saw in the Nezu Museum.

As is typical in Japanese museums, I’m not allowed to take photos.  Sadly, the gift shop doesn’t even carry any postcards of these wonderful kimono.  Visiting the website seems the best option to experience these masterpieces. 🙂  You can also see some photos here: is japan cool? Itchiku Kubota Art Museum.

Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

There is also a beautiful garden attached to the museum, with free-floating doorways offering glimpses of shaded leafy pathways.

gate at the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

thatched wall at the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

Itchiku Kubota’s former workshop is now a tea room where one can sit and enjoy views of the waterfall, pond and tropical foliage.

Architectural features are scattered throughout the garden of the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum.

pavilion and garden at Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

garden at Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

garden at Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

garden at Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

gate without walls Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

garden at Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

garden at Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

After leaving the museum, I trudge up a steep hill to Tensui Kawaguchiko.  Although I already had an indoor onsen experience at my hotel this morning, I’m enticed by the outdoor bath.  Though I enjoy it, I’m a little too antsy to stay long.  About half the pools are warm and the other half are cool, and there are ants swarming all over the rocks.  I don’t stay long enough to get my money’s worth out of it.

I catch the Sightseeing Bus back to the Kawaguchiko Hall of Herb & Fragrance, where I enjoy a lavender and vanilla soft ice cream cone.

lavender & vanilla ice cream at the Kawaguchiko Herb Hall

I feel tired from all my walking yesterday and this morning, so I think I might just go back to the train station.  After all, how many views can one see of Mt. Fuji?

pretty hotel at Kawaguchiko

I return to my hotel, pick up my bag, and ask the owner if I can get a ride to the train station. Before I leave the area, I plan to catch a bus from the station to Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine, a shrine dedicated to Princess Konohanasakuya, the Shinto deity associated with Mt. Fuji.  When I inquire about this bus, I found I have just missed it, and the next one won’t be for another hour.

I tell the woman at the ticket counter that I might as well just get my ticket to return home.  After all, I don’t want to wait around at the station for an hour. She tells me there are a number of Sengen shrines around Fuji and I can easily visit another one, Fuji Omuro Sengen-jinja, on the Sightseeing Bus. I was just on the Sightseeing Bus from the museum, and I could have just stayed on it to the shrine.  I’ve wasted all this time going to the station and now have to backtrack to the southwestern side of Lake Kawaguchi. I debate as to whether I should go to all this effort and in the end I decide it’s probably too early to return home when there is more I can see here.  As it’s probably unlikely I will ever return here, I might as well make the effort.  I put my bag in a coin locker, and hop back on the sightseeing bus for Fuji Omuro Sengen Shrine.

a late afternoon stroll around kawaguchiko   17 comments

Saturday, June 3:  After returning to Kawaguchiko Station from Fujiyoshida, I inquire about the Sightseeing Bus.  There are three lines, the Red Line, which goes around Kawaguchiko; the Green Line, which goes to Lake Saiko; and the Blue Line to Lake Shojiko.  I can buy a combination Red and Green Line ticket for 1,300 yen, or a ticket for all three lines for 1,500 yen.  I buy the 1,300 ticket for the Red and Green Lines because I don’t see how I’ll have time to travel around on all three lines as it’s already late Saturday afternoon and I have to return home on Sunday afternoon.  I should have done my research better, however, because there are no views of Fuji from Lake Saiko on the Green Line, while there are supposedly wonderful views from Lake Shojiko.

No matter.  It turns out I will not get my money’s worth out of the ticket I buy, as I barely use the bus.  I use it from the station to get to the Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway, and after that, I don’t use it for the rest of the day.

When I arrive at the Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway 1t 4:15, there is no queue; I walk right up to the cable car and get in.  It’s packed, but at least the ride is short.  As we go up, I get a fabulous view of Lake Kawaguchi.

Kawaguchiko from the Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway

The bridge over the middle of the lake, the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge, is called by some the “upside-down bridge,” because on a clear day when the lake is smooth, one can see an upside down reflection of Mt. Fuji.  I won’t be lucky enough to have either one of those conditions when I walk over the bridge later this afternoon.

Kawaguchiko from the Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway

At the top of Mt. Kachi Kachi, I have another view of Mt. Fuji, but it pales in comparison to the view I had at Chureito Pagoda earlier today.

Mt. Fuji from Mt. Kachi Kachi viewpoint

view from Mt. Kachi Kachi viewpoint

view of Mt. Fuji from Mt. Kachi Kachi viewpoint

Right before I get back on the cable car, I enjoy a very brief glimpse of the lake before I’m hurried along by the ropeway operator.

Kawaguchi-ko from Mt. Kachi Kachi

Mt. Kachi Kachi ropeway

The Ropeway is a short diversion; I have bigger plans. I want to walk across the upside-down bridge to see if I can get the upside-down view of Fuji.   I walk from the Ropeway along the south side of the lake until I come to the touristy Kawaguchiko Herb Hall, an herb-themed tourist spot located near the Kwaguchikohan-Oike Park. The Hall offers craft classes with dried flowers and, at the Perfume-House annex, a chance to create scented aromas.  Herb goods are also on sale (Official Travel Guide Yamanashi: Kawaguchiko Herb Hall).

I was told by a Japanese friend that in the Hall, I could taste lavender soft ice cream.  I feel like I should try it out, but as I had that huge lunch of Houtou earlier, and I plan to have dinner at an Indian restaurant I saw while on the Sightseeing Bus, I decide to forego it.  Maybe I can try it tomorrow.

Kawaguchiko Herb Hall

My plan at this point is simply to walk across the bridge to check out the view.  I begin my walk at Kwaguchikohan-Oike Park.

Kawaguchiko

paddle boats at Kawaguchiko

Kawaguchiko

Before long, I’m on the bridge and the wind is blowing like crazy. I feel like it could pick me up and toss me into the lake.  The surface of the lake is full of wrinkles from the wind, and Fuji is half enveloped in clouds.  There is no upside-down view today.

Kawaguchiko and Mt. Fuji

Kawaguchiko and Mt. Fuji

Kawaguchiko

Kawaguchiko

Kawaguchiko

Kawaguchiko from the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge

I keep walking further and further across the bridge, hoping for that elusive view.  Before I know it, I’m on the other side of the lake.

Kawaguchiko and Mt. Fuji from the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge

Kawaguchiko and Mt. Fuji from the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge

Now that I’ve walked this far, rather than backtracking across the bridge, I might as well continue all the way around the lake.  As I walk along the north shore, I can see Mt. Fuji the whole way.

the Kawaguchiko Ohashi bridge

view of Mt. Fuji from the northern shore of Kawaguchiko

the north shore of Kawaguchiko

view of Mt. Fuji from the north shore of Kawaguchiko

Mt. Fuji from the north shore of Kawaguchiko

Mt. Fuji from the north shore of Kawaguchiko

Mt. Fuji from the north shore of Kawaguchiko

Mt. Fuji and paddle boats

As I approach the east side of the lake, Mt. Fuji is eclipsed by Mt. Kachi Kachi. The walk is longer than it looked when I first got on the bridge, but I have no choice now but to keep going.

continuing around the lake and last view of Fuji

looking to the north at Kawaguchiko

lush beauty

After my hour and 15 minute walk around the lake, where I search unsuccessfully for a place to eat dinner, I head back to my hotel.  All I find around the entire lake are hotels; I can’t believe there are no restaurants.  There is the Indian restaurant I had seen earlier, but when I pop in there, I ask if they serve beer and they say no. I thank them and walk back out; after all, what’s a holiday without beer?

Outside my hotel, before going in, I see a fabulous view of Mt. Fuji.  The clouds have lifted slightly and I can see the snow-capped crown.  Granted, there is a commercial area between the hotel and the mountain, but it doesn’t detract too much from the view.

view of Mt. Fuji from outside my hotel

At my hotel, which serves no food, I ask the proprietors where I can eat.  The young man tells me there is a ramen place about a 20-minute walk up the road!  A twenty-minute walk??  This after I not only walked up to the Chureito Pagoda but also walked around the east end of Kawaguchiko!

I’m too exhausted to walk 20 minutes.  I try to explain that I just walked around the lake and I am tired, hoping he will offer to drive me to a restaurant.  Instead, he motions for me to wait and he disappears to the parking lot.  I think, Great!  He’s going to drive me.  Instead he brings me a bicycle.  He says it is his bicycle and he proudly hands it over. I take it, relieved I don’t have to walk another 40 minutes to and from the restaurant.

 

my hotel: Taiheikan

When I get on the bicycle, my happiness about my newfound transportation quickly evaporates.  Like most Asian bicycles I’ve encountered,  the seat is way too low and I can’t seem to adjust it. I start pedaling, but it is hard on my knees with that low seat.  Besides, the road is a steady uphill. I end up getting off the bicycle and walking to the restaurant, pushing the bicycle the whole way. 🙂

As I go up the road, I pass another branch of the Indian restaurant, but I figure they will not serve beer either, since the sister branch didn’t.  I arrive at the ramen restaurant, where the menu is all in Japanese and no one in the restaurant speaks any English.  Nor does the waiter seem to want to help me figure things out; after all, I’m the only foreigner in the place.  I end up ordering a small order of fries and a beer, thinking that after I enjoy my beer, I’ll return to the Indian restaurant for dinner.

Leaving the ramen restaurant, I now have a long downhill ahead of me.  I get on the bicycle, and coast down the road at high-speed, without having to use those pedals even once!

At the “Alladin Indo Resturent,” as soon as I look at the menu, I see they serve beer!  Great.  I could have just come here in the first place.  Since I ended up having two beers at the ramen restaurant, I don’t order one here.  However, I do enjoy a great Indian meal of vegetable curry with naan.

dinner at “Alladin Indo Resturent”

“Alladin Indo Resturent”

Back in my cozy Japanese room, I decide to go downstairs and check out the hotel onsen. The hotel provides a nice robe and towel, which I put on.

my Japanese-style room at Taiheikan

me preparing to go to the onsen at Taiheikan

In my robe, and with my towel, I go down to the onsen, which is nicer than the one at my hotel in Hakone.  I soak in the hot bath for a good long while, enjoying having it all to myself.  Back in my room, I feel wonderfully relaxed.  It’s a good thing I’m tired because the wi-fi in the room doesn’t work at all, even though the hotel’s Agoda listing promised “free wi-fi.”  Still, it is a much nicer hotel than the one I had in Hakone, and for the same price.

Between the two beers, the Indian curry and naan, my exhaustion from a day of travel, climbing and walking, and the hot soak, I feel very relaxed indeed.

Total steps today: 19,490 (8.26 miles). 🙂

 

 

 

a weekend at fuji five lakes: fujiyoshida & the chureito pagoda   8 comments

Saturday, June 3:  On Friday morning, when I saw a perfectly sunny and cloudless weather forecast for Saturday, I immediately booked a hotel to go to Fuji-Goko, a collective term for the five lakes along the northern foot of Mt.Fuji.  The five lakes are Yamada Lake, Kawaguchi Lake, Saiko Lake, Shoji Lake, and Motosu Lake.  Kawaguchiko Lake is the easiest to get to from Tokyo and is the core of sightseeing in the Fuji-Goko area.  Thus I booked a hotel, Taiheikan, at Kawaguchiko.

On Saturday morning, I do my usual Google Maps search and find I can get to Kawaguchiko by train.  I see there are many more options by bus, but most buses seem to leave from Central Tokyo. That would mean I’d have to go northeast when my ultimate destination is to the southwest.  As this doesn’t seem logical, I opt for the trains.

I’m supposed to go seven stops west from Fuchinobe to Hachioji, but right away I make a mistake.  I accidentally get on a line that terminates at Hashimoto, meaning I have to wait a good long time for another train to Hachioji.  When I finally make it to Hachioji, I get off at the station and immediately see a train whiz past the platform; on it, people are sitting comfortably in reserved seating.  It looks like the Romancecar, but the Romancecar doesn’t run in this direction. I go up to the ticket window and ask if it’s possible to get a ticket on THAT train, but the man tells me that sometimes on holidays they run a special express train, but all the tickets are sold. Bummer!  It’s so disappointing sometimes to be foreigner and not to know these things.

I get on another line that stops short of my destination at Takao.  Thus I have to disembark and wait again.  The trip to Fuji Five Lakes is supposed to take just over 2 hours, but already, with these two mistakes, I’ve lost a half hour.

When I finally get on the Chuo Line at Takao, the train sits in the station for what seems an eternity.  After it finally takes off, it then makes a very extended stop at the first stop, Sagamiko.  I can tell this is a local line in a more rural area; it’s further removed from both the city and all semblance of order. After sitting at the station for such a long time that I have time to do another Google map search, I find that I can catch a bus to Kawaguchiko from this station.  I hop off the train and ask the man at the ticket booth about a bus to Kawaguchiko.  He can’t speak much English but he immediately hands me the hand-drawn map shown below.  He indicates that I have 10 minutes to catch the highway bus and waves me in the right direction.

the map from the train station to the bus stop

The train station on the map is in the bottom left corner.  The “freewey,” beside which the bus stop sits, doesn’t look that far on the map, but it seems like a long and frantic hike as I try to find my way, stopping and asking several farmers along the way.  Finally, I see the highway above me, and I climb the steps to the top, finding a decrepit bus stop whose weathered timetable shows the bus should arrive in 2 minutes. However, there is a traffic jam on the highway and the traffic is inching south to the Fuji area.  Oh dear.  One of my colleagues told me a nightmare story about taking a highway bus to Fuji and having it delayed an hour or more.  I wonder if I made the right decision to get off the train.

The bus doesn’t arrive anywhere close to when the timetable says it will, so I’m worried.  I wonder if a bus will stop here at all.  Finally, belatedly, a bus arrives, and I climb onboard, only to be told the bus is full.  However, the kindly bus driver indicates I should wait a second.  After placing a phone call, he tells me the next bus has a seat. I step off the bus, disheartened, but then I see the promised bus is directly behind the first bus. I get on, pay the fare, and take the last seat on the bus. 🙂

Oh my gosh!  I should have taken the bus earlier.  Soon, the traffic clears and we enjoy a smooth ride, arriving at Kawaguchiko only an hour later than I planned.

My hotel has a pick-up service from the train station, so I ask Tourist Information to call them.  When I check in,  the lady at the hotel is very kind; she reads some things about the hotel from a piece of paper, including: “Blessed with weather, hope that the Mt.Fuji is visible from guest room.”  I do have a view of Mt. Fuji from my room, but it is a city view, with a busy commercial road, power lines, businesses, and houses between me and the sacred mountain.

I ask the woman at the hotel if I can get a ride back to Kawaguchiko Station because I want to take the Fujikyuko Line to Shimo-yoshida Station to visit Chureito Pagoda. She kindly drops me at the station, but as it’s lunch time, I opt to try the signature dish of Yamanashi Prefecture: Houtou.  It consists of thick white chewy noodles and vegetables: pumpkin, mushrooms, potatoes, and onion in a thickened miso broth.  It’s served in a big cast iron pot with a ladle and chopsticks.  It’s delicious. 🙂

Hoto Fudo

Hoto Fudo

Hoto

After eating that fine lunch, I return to the station, and get back on the Fujikyuko Line.  Out the window, I get my first glimpse of Mt. Fuji, though its crown is engulfed in clouds.

the train to Shimo-Yoshido

the train

Four stops later, I’m at Shimo-Yoshida, where I get off and follow the signs through a rural neighborhood about 10 minutes to the steps leading to Chureito Pagoda.

the walk through Fujiyoshida to Chureito Pagoda

crossroads

The Chureito Pagoda is a five storied pagoda on the mountainside overlooking Fujiyoshida City, with Mount Fuji in the distance. The pagoda is part of the Arakura Sengen Shrine and was built as a peace memorial in 1963.  The pagoda sits nearly 400 steps up the mountain from the shrine’s main buildings (japan-guide.com: Chureito Pagoda).

torii gate to the shrine

As soon as I start walking up the steps, I can see Mt. Fuji.

view of Mt. Fuji from the steps up

Mt. Fuji through the trees

a little shrine on the mountain

It’s a long climb to the top, with many views along the way.

the steps up

views of Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji

At the top, I’m rewarded with a view of the fabulous Chureito Pagoda.

Chureito Pagoda

the view from the trial to Chureito Pagoda

Even better are the views above the pagoda, with Mt. Fuji in the distance.  The light isn’t favorable, but I am able to adjust the photos a little.

Mt. Fuji and Chureito Pagoda

Mt. Fuji and Chureito Pagoda

Because of the challenging light, I take one photo on my iPhone with HDR Fusion.  This is my favorite one.

Mt. Fuji and Chureito Pagoda

Mt. Fuji and Chureito Pagoda

Chureito Pagoda

Chureito Pagoda

Mt. Fuji

the little shrine on the way down

I stop in at the Arakura Sengen Shrine before continuing down the mountain.

Arakura Sengen Shrine

sake barrels at Arakura Sengen Shrine

I end up buying one of the Chureito Pagoda/Mt. Fuji ema shown below (bottom left); usually you’re supposed to write a wish on an ema and leave it at the shrine, but I ask if I can buy one to take with me. I’m told I can, so I do.

ema at Arakura Sengen Shrine

ema at Arakura Sengen Shrine

ema at Arakura Sengen Shrine

“temizuya” water pavilion

I continue down the mountain, following the path through the neighborhoods until I’m back at Fujiyoshida Station.

passing through the torii gates on the way down

maples and torii

pruned trees in the neighborhood

personal rice paddy

rice paddy, house and Mt. Fuji

lupines

lupines

back at the train station

the train back

I take the train back to Kawaguchiko, where I’m now ready to explore the lake and the attractions around it. 🙂

 

hakone: lake ashi & hakone shrine   6 comments

Sunday, May 28:  After taking the T bus from the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, I’m dropped at Togendai, the northwestern tip of Lake Ashinoko. I’m just in time to catch the pirate ship run by Hakone Sightseeing Cruise.  I run along with a few stragglers to board the ship.

Hakone Sightseeing Cruise at Togendai

Hakone Sightseeing Cruise

The door closes behind me as I embark, and the boat is underway.  It takes about 30 minutes for the boat to cruise to the southeast end of the lake at Hakone Machi.  I have on walking sandals, capris and a short sleeve shirt, but no jacket to keep me warm against the cold wind.  I’m not dissuaded though; I have to take pictures, so I must stand outside on the deck.  The warm seats inside are for sissies! 🙂

Lake Ashi

It’s a rather dark and cloudy day today, and cooler than yesterday.  It seems I made a poor decision yesterday to make the circuit around Hakone in a counterclockwise direction.  Yesterday was a perfect day, warm and sunny with blue skies.  If I had traveled in the clockwise direction, I would have been on Lake Ashi yesterday, and I might have seen views of Mt. Fuji.  Oh well, it’s simply not meant to be. I have missed views of Mt. Fuji because of cloudy skies when I’ve been at Mt. Takao, Odawara, and now Hakone.  I will soon travel to the Five Lakes area of Fuji, but only when the weather forecast is perfect.  I’m determined to see that iconic mountain before I leave Japan.

Hakone Sightseeing Cruise on Lake Ashi

A few rays of sunshine are making their way to the mountains around Lake Ashi, making them glow.

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi, also referred to as Lake Ashinoko, is a crater lake that lies along the southwest wall of the caldera of Mount Hakone, a complex volcano that last erupted in 1170.  The lake is known for its views of Mt. Fuji, its numerous hot springs, historical sites, and ryokan.

Lake Ashi

There are even a few hardy souls zipping across the lake in their boats.

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

We cross paths with another Hakone Sightseeing Cruise pirate ship on the lake.  The other boat is going in the Togendai direction, while we continue to Hakone-machi.

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

As we get to the southeast end of the lake, I’m on the lookout for the Hakone Shrine’s torii gate in Lake Ashi.  I see it, but it’s awfully far away.

the torii of Hakone Shrine on Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

pulling into Hakonemachi-ko

Lake Ashi at Hankonemachi-ko

We come into to dock at Hakonemachi-ko, where, in order to get to Motohakone, I have to jump ship, right onto another pirate boat.  I cross the dock immediately upon disembarking, and hop on the adjacent boat, which leaves immediately for Motohakone.

a change of ship

heading to Motohakone

heading to Motohakone

On this leg of the cruise, I get a slightly better view of the torii gate, but it’s still a little too far for my taste.

Hakone Shrine’s torii in the lake

Hakone Shrine’s torii in Ashi Lake

Hakone Shrine’s torii in Ashi Lake

pulling in to Motohakone

Motohakone

At Motohakone, I disembark again, and when I ask about getting to Hakone Shrine, I’m told I need to walk along the shore for about 15 minutes. I do so, and soon I’m at the first torii gate of the Shinto shrine.

first torii at Hakone Shrine

At the second torii gate, I walk uphill to the shrine.

Second torii at Hakone Shrine

small shrine at Hakone Shrine

I find the light is always challenging when taking pictures of these red shrines.  It’s so frustrating trying to get a decent photo.  Not only that, but every place is so crowded with tourists or worshippers that there is never a view without people.

Hakone Shrine

I’m now in the habit of taking pictures of the ema at every shrine I visit.  I love them; each shrine has its own distinct ema.  I wish I could buy one at every shrine, but they can be quite expensive, and I don’t want to be loaded down with a bunch of ema when I return home in August.

ema at Hakone Shrine

ema at Hakone Shrine

ema at Hakone Shrine

Hakone Shrine

Finally, I walk back down the hill, hoping against all hope that the torii in the water won’t be packed with people.

a small shrine

Sadly, a herd of people are all taking turns being photographed in front of the torii.  I don’t know why everyone has to have a photo of themselves in front of every tourist attraction!

the crowds at the torii gate in Lake Ashi

I have to be creative and try to get some shots from the shoreline on either side of the torii gate.  The people in the little swan paddle boats have the right idea.  I think I will have to come back to Hakone just to rent a paddle boat for a close up view of the torii from the lake side.

the torii in the lake

Hakone Shrine’s torii in the lake

the torii in Lake Ashi

Hakone Shrine’s torii in Lake Ashi

After trying every angle I can, and deciding I will have to be satisfied with whatever photos I get, I head back on the path to the Motohakone bus station.

a well-worn bridge

a bride on the path

a roundabout path

mossy steps

a stone path

view of Lake Ashi at Motohakone

Motohakone

At the bus stop, where I must take a bus back to Hakone Yumoto, two buses are due to arrive, a local and an express.  The queue is quite long and I worry that I won’t make it back in time to catch my 3:20 Romancecar train. When the local bus, which takes one hour to get to Hakone Yumoto, arrives, it is packed, meaning I will have to stand on a crowded bus for an hour.  The express bus takes a half hour to get to Hakone Yumoto, but I have to wait another 20 minutes for that one. I decide to move to the line for the express bus and just wait.  At least I’m at the front of that line, so I hope it means I’ll get a seat.

It turns out I’m one of the first people on the bus, so I get a good seat by the window.  A young lady sits down beside me; her name is Whitney and she is an American working in Tokyo for PricewaterhouseCoopers, doing business as PwC in Japan.  She and I talk about how we go out and explore every weekend, mainly just walking around taking pictures, which we both enjoy doing.  She stayed on a whim overnight in Hakone; she wasn’t sure when she came down if she would do a day trip or an overnighter, but she decided because it was such a struggle to get around that she would stay the night. We both agree that Hakone is best as a weekend trip.  She admits that she was able to stay at a very expensive hotel, while I sadly have to confess that my hotel was on the cheap end at $107, and nothing special at that.

It’s a very nice conversation, and it makes the half-hour bus ride speed by.

When I arrive in Hakone Yumoto, I have about an hour to kill.  I originally intended to visit a fancy onsen but it would be too much of a rush to do that in an hour.  Instead I go in search of a restaurant where I can eat some lunch.

Hakone Yumoto

Hakone Yumoto

I find a restaurant that serves shrimp tempura, one of my standbys in Japan, and I enjoy my meal at leisure.

restaurant in Hakone Yumoto

shrimp tempura

I go to the station, where I pick up my bag at Hakone Baggage Service and pay them another 800 yen for the delivery service.  Then I wait patiently for the 3:20 Romancecar.  It turns out I have plenty of time and I probably could have easily squeezed in either the onsen or the Narukawa Museum of Art, which was near the bus stop in Motohakone and is supposed to have great views of Mt. Fuji.  Of course there would have been no views today, and that’s why I didn’t bother.  Oh well, I’ve already decided that I must come back to visit that museum, rent a paddle boat near the torii, and visit the fancy onsen.  As the Romancecar is so easy and fast, I can easily do those three things as a day trip.

Steps today: 14, 613 or 6.19 miles. 🙂

 

the hakone botanical garden of wetlands   2 comments

Sunday, May 28:  After getting the run-around from several bus drivers about which bus can take me from Choanji Temple to the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, I finally decide to walk.  I remember that the tourist information lady near the Hakone-Yumoto Station told me yesterday, when she gave me a map of this area, that I could walk from Choanji to the Botanical Garden in about 15 minutes.  In the end, that’s exactly what I do.  It’s easy enough and before long I’m paying the 700 yen admission fee.

The Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, 2,200 feet above sea level, was founded in 1976, and now contains some 1700 plant varieties, including about 200 types of woody and herbaceous wetland plants from Japan, as well as 1300 varieties (120 species) of alpine plants.

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

The garden, which was formerly a flat area containing rice paddies, is now a specially designed ecosystem consisting of man-made hills, rockeries, ponds, streams and several types of moors. It consists of eight divisions: 4 moors, a swamp forest, an upland forest, a meadow and an alpine garden.

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

The garden has four different kinds of wetlands: marsh, fen, bog and swamp.  The marsh, fen and bog are grass-dominated, with different root systems.  A swamp differs form a marsh only in that woody plants are dominant.

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Swamp forest

swamp forest

swamp forest

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

swamp forest

swamp forest

swamp forest

swamp forest

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Sengokuhara Marsh

Three different areas — an upland forest, a meadow and an alpine garden — surround the wetland vegetation.  The upland forest consists of deciduous trees, such as oaks, maples, and dogwoods — all common to the Hakone mountain area.

plants of the cliff

plants of the cliff

plants of the cliff

plants of the cliff

Sengokuhara Marsh

The garden offers a network of boardwalk paths through the different types of marshland. I always love a boardwalk path!

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

swamp forest

swamp forest

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

white fluffy flowers

Now, at 10:30 a.m., I’ve done all the things I intended to do yesterday.  However, my list for today is quite ambitious as well.  In the parking lot of the botanic garden, I board Bus T to Lake Ashi, where I’m told I can take a cruise across the lake on a pirate ship. Ahoy, matey!  🙂

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