Day 4 - Mount Fuji

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Looking out of the hotel window this morning (I find myself doing this a lot as the view is incredible from up here) we noticed a number of people dressed in suits that would walk along a walkway for some distance stop, slowly walk back then do it again. On further observation we determined they were actually filming a movie or something…Interesting. The guys in suits were not all that happy as they kept loosening their collars and mopping the sweat from their foreheads. It was amusing trying to figure out what was going on before we spotted the cameras…

Well, the day started much like the last with our trip to the bus station. Even at the same time. This time, however, the subject of the tour shifted from Tokyo to Mount Fuji and the nearby Hakone area. Of course, the trip to Fuji-san was the first part of the process as we sat at the back of the coach behind some European tourists who spoke not a word of English and let their children get a bit out of hand – I tell you this since it did distract my mother and myself from what the guide was saying – and he did say quite a lot with a bit of a Japanese (kanji) lesson as well as historical information as we passed on the suspended freeways west out of Tokyo.

On our Way to Fuji-San (SW)

The electronic signs above the freeway are quite interesting as they show the road network with colours indicating how well traffic is flowing on them (red being bad) however we quickly left the area where this would be of importance and entered into the Japanese countryside outside of Tokyo. We were able to take the slightly more scenic route (evidently this slower route can have severe traffic problems) as we passed through the various toll-ways to the Fuji area.

Transport to Fuji-San


We stopped for a “comfort break” at the base of the mountain where there is a tourist information building that has a small museum and restaurant. While mother visited the facilities I was up with a number of other tourists looking through the trees at the sight before us: Fuji. And not even hidden by clouds! Mother missed this and watched a bit of the video explaining how the area geography has been formed over the millennia.

The coach began its trip up the mountain. It is quite a bit higher than I expected as the engine strained and the driver cranked the wheel around some narrow corners. The initial view of pine trees gave way to panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. And quite some countryside it is too – a number of partially obscured mountains receding in the distance. Hard to believe there are how many million living within an hour of Fuji? The bus passed what are known as “stations” – Areas along the way where travellers can stop and recuperate as they make their way up the mountain. Most people drive up to the fifth station then walk from there to the summit. In the winter I am told even this station is closed and people have to walk from stations further down the mountain.

Fuji Fifth Station

The fifth station is the last station you can drive to and where the coach let us out amongst a number of hotels and various shops.

Doughnuts (SW)

It was quite busy as we looked around to get our bearings. We only had 45 minutes so after grabbing some rather tasty looking doughnut-things (deep-fried pastry with sugar sounds like a doughnut to me) mother and I wandered up a stairway on one of the buildings to the top floor (about three stories up) which allowed us to see up to the top of Fuji and the people making their way to the path leading there. Evidently there are places to eat and stay along the trip with the trip itself generally taking about five or six hours from here. Coming down can take a lot less time though it is advised you don't do it too quickly…

Fifth Station Car Park

Mount Fuji is volcanic and, to my surprise, still active (and due for an eruption). When you climb to the top you can look into the volcano, the caldera, still smoking. We saw many people in serious walking gear and wooden walking staffs that can be purchased in the shops. It was a bit surprising as it was getting later in the day and it was unclear if they would be able to get the summit before dark. One of the things to do is to see the sunrise from the top of Fuji. Supposed to be quite spectacular.

Temple Fortunes

Looking away from the mountain behind the shops and hotels we found a small temple so climbed down to have a closer look. There were quite a number of people here including climbers (perhaps here to hedge their bets with the Gods before attempting the climb – yes, people do die here every year). We washed our hands in the small water fountain there for the purpose and explored the small area. There was another platform we could climb which offered un-obstructed (ie no building) views of the mountain the forest around which we took advantage of. After spending a few minutes admiring things in the small shop (lots of these plastic packaged sweat bean-filled buns everywhere).

Squid (SW)

Before hurrying back to the coach for another longish trip to the next stop I was able to grab some barbecued squid from a stall doing very good business. There were some other rather boring choices but the full sized squid looked the most interesting and it certainly turned out to be very good indeed (tender, lovely sauce, cut into calamari-style rings and very hot). We managed to finish them before getting the evil eye from our guide as we made our way back to our seats. Heading back down the views were, again, magnificent. We enjoyed the twisty road to the bottom.

For lunch we stopped at a hotel near what could only be described as a theme park. The menu was disappointingly very European. When I booked the tour they had asked whether I wanted to have the meal included but indicated it would be European so I had passed on it thinking that there would be other alternatives. Unfortunately, given the time constraints and where we were, there were not. Oh well. Anyway, we did order some things that were relatively local on the menu (avoiding the buffet entirely except for the salad starter that came with my meal…). I had a hot pot and mother had a seafood salad. It was a bit disappointing. We did admire the pastries in the attached patisserie as mother paid the bill (did I mention that since I paid for the holiday, mother is paying for all meals?). We are trying to use plastic (Visa) as often as we can to save from having to spend too much of our cash yen just in case we need them. Here it seems that most people operate on cash so when you can use plastic, we do.

As we prepared to leave the area we had a bit of a surreal moment as a tourist bus painted with Thomas the Tank Engine drove into the car park. Very odd.

View from the top of Hakone

We drove around the base of the mountain and eventually arrived at a small town in the Hakone area. The Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is quite large and we were visiting the small area around Lake Ashi. We were running a bit behind schedule so had missed our boat that we were to take on a short cruise so the driver followed the winding road along the lake to another small town (Togendai). From here we were to take the Hakone Komagatake Ropeway – a cable car to the top of one of the local mountains. The area at the base has a number of shops and restaurants but we passed by them to take the Swiss-built (!) cable car to the top. We climbed out to a rather misty view of the surrounding countryside. Not much at the top other than a small shrine which did not appear to be in use but mother and I wandered around, climbing the small distance to the very top to see what we could see. Unfortunately, we were not able to see Fuji until the trip back down when mother caught a quick look out of her side of the packed cable car and snapped a few pictures. I settled with having a very good view of the lake on the way back down.

Hakone Komagatake Ropeway (from Lake Ashi)

Well, we finally caught up with the tour boat but had a short period of time beforehand for the tour to visit a small souvenir shop. On the way to Fuji the guide had demonstrated one of the local specialities – Hand-made wooden puzzle boxes. These have a great amount of craftsmanship and ingenuity as there are often as many as 15 or 20 different movements (sliding of pieces of the box) to open. Of course, coincidentally (!), this shop happened to sell the very same type of box so it was inundated with members of our tour scrambling to purchase them…I picked up a small box (10 moves) and a medium box (12) myself. They are quite nicely inlaid with different woods as well.

We hurried down to the waterfront only to find that the boat had not yet arrived so waited around for a few minutes (helping ourselves to drinks from the ever-present drink machines – this time on the beach). There are some quite interesting boats offering trips on the lake. There is one in particular that looks like a pirate ship (complete with “Jolly Roger” flag) but, of course, powered by massive engines. There is another that looks like an old steamboat but whose side water wheels are just for show. We got on a more conventional tour boat and promptly climbed to the third level to have a look around. No commentary as we had our short, 15 minute, cruise to the other end of the lake. We passed by a shrine with a big red gate in the water. When visiting a shrine or temple you must pass through the gate so one must think that people visiting the shrine are either always wet or have come by boat. It was quite pretty sitting bright red on the dark blue of the water with the green trees on the shore nearby.

Shrine on the Lake

Eventually we docked at the far side at another tourist area where we boarded the bus for the return trip to Tokyo. I did notice with a bit of disappointment that there was another gentleman selling barbecued squid but this time it was fresh – I did not have time to help myself to my second of the day. We needed to get going, according to the guide. We dropped a few people at a hotel nearby (the one day tour we took is actually also part of a larger two-day tour of the area) then, after suitably “comforting” ourselves with their facilities we left for the long trip back to Tokyo. The trip back was no where near as interesting as the trip from Tokyo as we took the expressway but we did have some very good views of the area as we took a steep winding road up then over the top of a mountain before reaching the sea-side motorway leading to the city. Had a couple of good looks quite a way down at more hotels and forested areas. On our way back many people started to nap – I find travelling like this does tire one out. Of course, I spent the time at the window the whole time.

Sony Building

Back in Tokyo we were dropped in Ginza very close to the JR station. It was night already. Hard to believe that this was our last night in Tokyo, we only just got here two days ago! Tomorrow we will be in Yokohama for the convention. I think we will both have to come back to experience a bit more of this wonderful city though.

Scramble Crossing

Anyway, after the bus dropped us we crossed the busy street at one of the famous “scramble corner” crossings. Basically, they work by traffic stopping from all directions then allowing pedestrians to cross at any angle, for example, diagonally. It is a huge corner that we crossed and ended up in front of the Sony headquarters. A fascinating place with floor after floor of things to play with (though we did not have time to go in). They had a huge fish tank outside of their store where we had a look at some of the magnificent salt-water fish. There is a lot of money in electronics. But, fish was not our concern as we looked for something to eat. The weather was not helping as it began to rain. I had an umbrella but mother had not bought one.

We ducked into a fast food chain selling all sorts of interesting Japanese fast food (the Onigiri – small triangular packs of rice with a bit of filling, e.g. fish – were particularly good looking) – Ony. We ordered a few small dishes from the menu (eventually after a bit of pointing and good-natured humour) and took our tray to the first floor to look out onto the now very wet street. It was very good indeed.

We had to leave at some point so headed back out with mother borrowing my emergency raincoat (the plastic disposable things – someone living in England should never be without one) as we made our way, wetly, back to the hotel (getting a bit lost along the way). We realised that there was somewhere we had not yet visited that we spotted on Sunday night so ducked in. It was a shop selling pretty much everything you can think of. Mother was in look of some drops for her eyes as they have been bothering her (funny since I have the allergies I have not had any problems…). We found that in a corner of the very big crammed shop. The aisles are very narrow with signs sticking out from the shelves everywhere and things hanging from the ceiling. We took some time to wander around a bit more (I picked up a remote controlled toy car that is VERY small, quite cute, and, of course, some snacks). After spending some money we once again headed out into the wet as we climbed up the steps for the overpass that is actually under a road passing over top of it (over one road, under another) on the way back to the hotel. A bit like a rabbit warren this area but we did get back to the hotel in reasonable time, it is not even 10 yet! Thank goodness for the computer and Internet access in the room…Now, we need to get to putting all of this stuff we have picked up in our bags (I can't imagine it is going to get any better though). Tomorrow is an early start. Really early.

Day 5 - Yokohama Arrival

Further Information

For further information, please see: