Back to Japan – Day 7 (Fuji)

We’re going to Fuji and no swollen feet are going to stop us. Despite all our attempts to talk ma out of a long tiring day she insisted that the trip just wouldn’t be the same if she didn’t see Mt. Fuji. And that was that. The sole concession we could reach was to skip the ice and wind cave and the walk through the Suicide Forest between the caves.

We had packed everything we could possibly need for the long drive, from umbrellas to rain jackets and extra shoes and of course… snacks! We got together with the rest of the group before 9 and that’s where we met our guide for the day. It was, unbelievably, the same guide we had two years ago – Mikoさん! We’d had a great time with her before and while I’m always thankful for a familiar face a sudden realization dawned upon me. With Mikoさん as our chatty guide, between her folk tales laced with revenge, intrigue and rather questionable morals and stories of her attempts to scale Mt. Fuji, it was going to be very difficult to catch up on some much-needed sleep during the bus ride.

We were also met by some bad news at the lobby – which was that we should anticipate a day of heavy rains brought on by a typhoon. Out came the umbrellas en masse lent to us by the hotel and off we went, keeping in mind that all our plans were now subject to the whims of the weather. More ominously, we were aware that we may not get a chance to see Fuji…again. But no talk of rain or typhoons or any tale Mikoさん could tell could keep me up and when I finally woke up it was to the sight of beautiful green rice paddies at the foreground of dark forested hills interspersed with humble wooden farmhouses with the occasional solar panel installations flashing past my window. It’s such a contradiction – the serenity of the scene contrasted with the arduous labour that goes into producing an annual rice harvest. Quite unlike a cityscape where there’s a constant buzzing and movement for little nothings.

About a half hour before we were due to reach the Ice Cave, elusive and shy Mt. Fuji decided to show herself to us. And what a view it was. The snow-capped tip topped by lenticular clouds and wrapped in the hazy blue grey of the day. There is something to be said about the majesty of Mt. Fuji as it rises from the landscape- a gentle slope spanning the horizon and dominating the sky with it’s cotton tipped peak. We couldn’t take our eyes of Fuji and amid declarations from our guide that we must be a really blessed lot to have seen Fuji on a day when no one expected it to be visible, it was eventually lost to sight as we reached the parking area to the Ice Cave. Dissuaded by the gloomy weather forecast, no one had made it there save us and a school bus full of schoolchildren from Yokohama.

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Mt. Fuji shows itself

While everyone headed to the frosty blue cavern that is the Ice Cave with its promises of fogged up glasses, ma and I took a bathroom break and went off to the Wind Cave area where we’d meet up with everyone once they were done. The souvenir store was empty so we got a chance to look around at leisure. Ma picked herself up a deerskin wallet while I finally picked up a snowglobe for a friend (last trip no one we met seemed to know what a snowglobe was let alone where to buy one) . With that we were finally ready to enter the forest and walk up to the entrance area to the Wind Cave. The temperature in the forest was notably less than outside and thanks to the notable absence of visitors we got a chance to experience the forest as it was intended – in its silence broken only by the sound of leaves rustling in the gentle breeze overhead and the occasional song of birds hidden from view.

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Walking through Suicide Forest

It was a chance to marvel at the resilience of nature. To watch how trees, seemingly uprooted by the force of hot lava as it had once made its way down the mountain slope, had managed to cling on to life, the network of their gnarly roots exposed to view- a testament to their tenacity. To watch as trees sat in silence, perched above gas vents, watching Fuji breathe. To see trees wrapped around the trunks of other trees as lovers, reaching for the skies. To see the black stones that littered the forest floor covered with a green carpet of moss, lichen and ferns.

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Life in harmony

For the first time I got a chance to explore the forests of Fuji as I would have liked – in all its delicate intricacies, discovering a collection of insects too close for comfort yet impossible to appreciate from afar, pine cones in all stages of their life from unripe and uneaten to chewed on by unknown forest friends to dried brown cones rolling along the forest floor, the undersides of leaves covered in eggs creating a polka dot canopy.

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Polka dot leaves

Ma and I sat on a bench in the forest, grateful for the coolness afforded to us by the leafy canopy and took it all in, until everyone arrived. It was time then for a quick stop at the souvenir store and vending machines, a prayer break in a makeshift spot in front of the deserted vending machines before we all bundled back up on the bus ready for lunch.

Lunch was going to be at a Japanese place near Kawaguchiko, which had been my favourite place during the last trip. I was looking forward to being at the lake more than I was lunch so after a quick attempt to wolf down the rice and warm pumpkin from the hotpot, the rest of which I left intact, I was ready to go. I strolled down, browsed through the souvenir store and then took a walk outside, all the way up to a car tunnel, which suddenly reminded me of the movie Tunnel and with that creepy thought I went back to the restaurant where ma and Z were waiting. We were headed up Mt. Kachi Kachi- the legend of which Miko さん had enthusiastically narrated to us on the bus complete with unique voices for each character. I cannot understand why fairy tales are so gruesome. It was the stairs vs a ramp if we were going to take the cable car up the mountain, so ramp it was, past a fruit vendor selling giant juicy green grapes, the commemorative coin machine, from where I picked up a coin courtesy of the three sisters on the group who donated change to my cause since the machine is picky about what it eats, up a flight of stairs and finally into the cable car. It’s only a three minute ride, but the view is breathtaking- the forest covered slopes of Kachikachi Yama and the rolling mist covered mountains behind lake Kawaguchi- there’s a peace to be felt there that I haven’t felt anywhere else, except maybe at the five storey temple of Nara.

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The mountains, the lake and the city

The crowning jewel though of our sightseeing from a height, was the first view of Mt. Fuji as we got off the cable car, enveloped in a hazy blue which made it look like something out of Hokusai’s 36 views of Fuji, in particular Ejiri in Saruga which captures the blue haze so well. The clouds rolled through the skies and every minute that past was like looking at a new view of Fuji. Luckily for us, the crowds were thinning fast so we got to spend a long time enjoying the beauty of Fuji, before we headed back down to the lake.

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Mt. Fuji in all its glory

The hydrangeas in the bushes on the walk up to the lake weren’t in full bloom this time around, which meant that we were privy to all the different stages of formation of a full blown hydrangea – from the first flat set of florets, to the small familiar round ball of a pinks, purples and blues taking shape. Just looking at the hydrangeas you know that something this beautiful, with all its complexity, cannot be the result of chance.

The lake was as beautiful as I had remembered it. We took the path down to the mouth of the lake, where we crouched down, for lack of a bench, to enjoy the stillness, the silence and the soft sound of ripples breaking against the shore. It’s probably a mark of how serene the place is, that none of us took note of a crossing boat which left us pleasantly soaked by the sudden waves that crashed into the banks where we were sitting. Ma’s shoes were soaked, but since we’d packed an extra pair we weren’t too worried. With that bolt of refreshment, we moved to higher ground, to enjoy the views from a bench. Some of the guys offered us grapes and as we sat under the overcast sky reflected in the mirror of the lake, it was as though my prayers were answered – and it began to rain, a light drizzle awakening a part of you that truly knows what it means to be alive. Our rain-sprinkled happiness however was put out by practicality. To avoid getting caught in a full-fledged downpour that would mean a risky journey back to Tokyo, we had to get back on the bus and bid the lake goodbye.

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We managed to escape any serious rain and were soon back in the familiar dry suburbs of Tokyo. We reached so early that we had time to get some rest before going to dinner, which was just a short walk away. The weather is an amazing thing. Dry one minute and pouring the next. When we got down to head to the Turkish restaurant, it had begun to rain, a nice steady rain which drummed steadily on our umbrellas, angled at times for maximum protection against the rain angling in with the gentle breeze. It was a lovely walk at night learning how to dodge umbrellas, surrounded by the bright Tokyo lights made even brighter by watery reflections on wet roads. It was interesting to note that most people, not all, carry the same white or transparent 7/11 umbrella which means you don’t have to worry about which one belongs to you when depositing at an umbrella stand. It reminded me of the haram in Makkah and Madina where the same philosophy applies, only to footwear.

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Nighttime meanderings

We reached Saray Akasaka, where we were greeted with the nicest tomato soup I’ve ever had and an eggplant and tomato dish that I wish I could have just taken back home, it was that good. We were happy that Mt. Fuji had given us a peek, well-fed, and willing to walk some more in the rain. Ma and Z were drenched by the time we got back so they went on ahead back to the hotel room, but I couldn’t bear the though of wasting all that good rain by being cooped up inside. Who knows when it’ll rain next back home – next year if we’re lucky. I took a walk to Bic Camera for some exploration to find any uncharted model territory. There wasn’t though so I called it a night and went back so we could figure out just how to dry clothes in a hotel room. We got our things ready for the next day (which would be an all out shopping day in Tokyo), left our clothes on the clothes line and our umbrellas in the bathtub before we finally managed to fall asleep.

Missed Day 6 in Tokyo?

Stay tuned for Day 8 in Tokyo!

Journey to Japan- Day 7 Part 2

…Running slightly late as usual, we headed to the Fuji Hakone National Park to visit Lake Kawaguchi and take the cable car up Mount Kachi Kachi.

The lake was simply stunning. One of the five lakes created after the last eruption, Lake Kawaguchi is massive with breathtaking views, mountain upon mountain visible on the far end of the lake. For those interesting in spending time at the lake, they even have paddle boats which you can take out into the middle but I was content to just admire the stillness of the lake with its hazy reflection of mist and mountains.

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First view of the lake

We walked past rows of hydrangeas to get to the cable car where we picked up another one of the epic coin souvenirs that only Japan offers (as far as I know that is ^^ ).

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Hydrangeas! ❤

The view from the cable car was even more stunning than I had anticipated. It was fast turning out to be my best day in Japan and I’d like to drop a pin right here as another place I’d love to live. I’m not the only one who feels that way either, with many people opting to build their holiday homes on the face of Kachi Kachi, with a view of the lake on on side and a view of Mt. Fuji on the other. The cable car ride took about 3 minutes but I really wish it had taken longer just so I could enjoy the aerial views a bit more.

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Rows of Mountains

Once we reached the top, we had two options- either enjoy the view from the top of the mountain, or walk down to the hydrangea garden about 15 minutes away. I was too much in love with the lake view for even the gorgeous hydrangeas to compete and so I headed up, where I was rewarded with a shower of mist which really helped given the hot weather. ^^ I was tempted to stay there for hours, and had the weather been more conducive I’d probably have to be dragged away. I think I found my dark tea house in the view of the lake from Kachi Kachi.

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Watching the light play hide and seek

There was a bee warning up on the viewing platform, but no one said anything about monkeys- which is why we were pleasantly surprised when we saw a monkey swinging through the trees as we made our way back down to the cable car.

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Walking into forever

We had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves admiring the lake view and taking in the breeze and it was the view from this lake of the mountains beyond that I cannot forget. The one thing that left the most indelible print on me. I don’t think any picture can do it justice because when you look at a picture you are bigger than what you see, but when you’re actually there the sheer size and majesty of the surroundings is enough to put the world into perspective and re-calibrate your sense of self and sense of self-importance.

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A moment that will live with me

We had to leave Lake Kawaguchi though and we made a short stop at Oshino Hakkai to view one of the eight freshwater springs fed from Mt. Fuji, which are also known to offer great reflections of the mountain in their clear water. The day was hazy though so we didn’t have much luck with catching a reflection, but we did see what was some of the clearest spring water I’ve ever seen. It was so clear, in fact, that it could be called a mirror. As we stood on one side, we could see the perfect reflections of our friends in the water, and that’s when I realized how magnificent the reflection of Mt. Fuji would be in these springs.

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Clear spring water- and a moment later a giant fish!

Our guide felt bad that we didn’t have more time to spend there, explaining that people often came here to spend the entire day, attracted by the changing reflections in the springs as the day wears on. I understand the attraction and I feel like I’d love to come back here. We ended up buying peaches and grapes which are in season in July/August and then walked to the bus.

Of course, we’re prone to distractions and instead of heading to the bus we were naturally drawn to what seemed at the time to be a public garden, but later turned out to be a public garden for a fee which we didn’t realize since the gate is not exactly the entrance- you’re able to walk in from anywhere and we ended up wandering in inadvertently from a place where there were no signs. Oops. It was like a mini view of paradise, a beautiful garden, a lake with a stepping stones and a short bridge leading up to a gorgeous house. We finally got out after many attempts by our guide and were finally on our way to another Aladdin- this time an Arabic restaurant for dinner.

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We couldn’t help but be distracted

The ride was long but our guide was nothing if not well-prepared and this leg of the ride she told us about how Mount Kachi Kachi got its name. It’s a rather gruesome story but the story of Kachi Kachi Yama goes something like this…

There was once a badger, who went into the home of an elderly couple where he killed the elderly obaasan and… ate her…while her husband was away. He then assumed her form, but could not get rid of his tail. When the elderly ojiisan came back home, the badger attempted to act like obaasan while concealing his tail, but ojiisan knew at once that this was not his wife and confronted the badger. The badger managed to escape leaving behind a grieving ojiisan who was so hurt that he could not even go about his daily routine anymore. One day a rabbit came round to ojiisan’s house and on hearing ojiisan’s tale decided to help him. The rabbit walked past a hole in the forest where the badger had been hiding for a few days. The badger called out to him saying that he was hungry and could use some food. The rabbit told him that he would give him some food in return for him helping to carry a load of wood (or something to that effect) up the mountain. The badger agreed and up they went. The badger, starving for a good meal, kept badgering (pun very much intended) the rabbit to give him his food but the rabbit told him to wait till they got to the top of the mountain, as they had agreed. As they approached the peak, the rabbit took out two pieces of flint and started striking them together behind the badger’s back in order to start a fire. The oblivious badger wondered what the “kachi-kachi” sound was and the rabbit told him it was the name of the mountain. The rabbit set the badger’s load on fire and the badger finally felt the searing pain and began to roll around on the ground to put out the flames. The rabbit feigning innocence ran around yelling for help, though he knew that no one lived in the area. A few days after the “accident” the rabbit went to visit the badger to ask after him. The badger was still in pain so the rabbit offered him some ointment to help heal his wounds faster. The ointment, of course, was no ointment. It contained in fact chilly powder which burned deeper into his wounds but the rabbit assured the screaming badger that the more it hurt, the faster it would heal. A few days later, the rabbit came to see the badger again. This time he convinced him to come fishing with him on the lake and offered one of two boats. The badger took the boat that looked better but was in fact made of mud, and so as they got to the middle of the lake, his boat began to disintegrate and he yelled for help. The rabbit then told him that this was his punishment for having killed obaasan. And so the rabbit went back to ojiisan to give him the good news that he had avenged the death of obaasan.

The End

Don’t look at me like that. I warned you it would be creepy.

After the creepy story, our guide went to happier territory and shared with us pictures of her attempt to scale Fuji with a group of other climbers earlier in July. It’s important to remember that adverse weather prevents any attempts at a climb except in the months of July and August yet despite this, our guide faced terrible weather close to the top which forced a retreat. They were faced with windspeeds as high as 35kph which meant they had to descend in a crouch to minimize their surface area so as not to be blown away. The climb takes about 2 days including an overnight stay and our sensei told us she had climbed Fuji once when she in her twenties. It kind of made me wish I could attempt the climb at least once.

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The splendid road back home

From gruesome tales and tales of defeat at Fuji, she moved on to lighter things by giving us a demonstration of a traditional Japanese dance with some instrument, the name of which I can’t remember. Our guide was also pleased to tell us that she and her team had placed 4th in a contest with hundreds of participants thanks to their after-work practice and dedication. She’s even learning how to play a traditional musical instrument, but since she didn’t think she was very good, she instead showed us videos of her sensei performing. And one of the songs that she performed was something that Z remembered from his junior school play. Chandni all over again 😛

We finally reached Aladdin where we had a yummy dinner of sheesh taouk and rice before heading back to the hotel for sweet dreams of Fuji. This had been my best day yet. ❤

Stay Tuned for Day 8 Part 1