Mt. Fuji

Tokyo Travel Blog

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Last Sunday, we got up (much too early for Jeff's tastes) to join up with a bus tour we'd signed up for. The idea was to go to Mt. Fuji and the nearby area of Hakone, popular with nature enthusiasts and onsen (Japanese bath) lovers.


Unfortunately, last weekend was a 3-day weekend and apparently our idea was not unique!


Side note:  the holiday that created this 3-day weekend was "Respect for the Aged" day. Yes, you get a day off to pay respects to the aged!  I did not get any additional respect, despite the abundance of gray hair. Harrumph.


Anyways, we were loaded onto our bus full of other English-speakers by 9:15. Or at least people who spoke English enough and couldn't find a tour in their own language.

Yep, it's HIM!


Interestingly, 3 of the people on the bus were 18-year-old Irish girls who had just graduated from high school. They were going to spend 9 months traveling around. Japan was their first stop. They also intended to spend a few months in Australia working and earning some money. They'd start college when they got home.


How cool is that?  I don't think it's so uncommon for Europeans either.


This all came as a huge surprise to an American couple from Pennsylvania we heard talking to them. They wanted to know (1) well, wasn't that going to make it harder to find a nice boy to marry and (2) where did they learn English, which they spoke so well, and (3) that must mean their fathers were quite wealthy and (4) weren't they going to go to the US too?? (Yes, they were, but only California.)


Oy, some people need to get out more!


We spent the next FOUR HOURS in traffic getting to the region.

Jeff and I with Mt. Fuji in the background
Apparently, this is normally about a 90-minute trip.  It took us 2-1/2 hours just to get to the limits of Tokyo and its suburbs, a whopping 50 miles.


I can only say, thank God I wasn't driving. It wasn't just heavy, it was bumper to bumper. At 9:30 on a Sunday morning.


The whole day was like that. Anywhere there could be heavy traffic, even in small towns and on 2-lane country roads, there was. It was astounding. Effectively, we spent 8 hours on the bus and about 2 hours, cumulative, at the various sites. It was supposed to be the other way around.


So, our tour guide (Harry) had to do some serious on-the-fly re-organizing of our day. He also took the opportunity to talk to us not just about the sites but also about Japanese culture and life. I found that part very interesting and helpful.


He gave us a very rudimentary overview of where the kanji alphabet comes from and how it works.

Shrine at Mt. Fuji. Jeff made fun of my hat.
He talked about the educational system and it explains why I haven't seen many school-age kids out and about with their parents. I've only seen little kids. Apparently, once you hit school, that's the last of your playtime!


He also talked about various professions. The country has had an extremely difficult bar exam, meaning they have very few lawyers and lawyers are practically above God in their status. Recent changes have meant that it will become slightly easier to become a lawyer and there should be more of them in the future.


Jeff and I wondered, of course, whether they wouldn't come to regret that in 20 years or so. :)


He also said the medical profession is undergoing major changes. For one thing, doctors were not required to do internships or residency upon graduation from medical school. So, you could have a 24-year-old doctor. Now, the post-graduate training -- at least 2 years of it -- is required.


He also said the system was VERY closed and self-protective and extremely hierarchical.

Parade through town near Mt. Fuji
Consequently, doctors rarely got in trouble when they made mistakes, even mistakes that led to someone's death. No one would report them.


Recently, the country has instituted a separate medical review board and he expects that to help the situation.


He also said that despite the country's low divorce rate, he doesn't think the Japanese are any more happily married than anywhere else. Apparently the pension system makes it extremely unattractive to get divorced. Both parties lose big, especially the women.


In addition, the Japanese are very cautious and reticent with expressions of affection. It is rare, even among spouses, to say "I love you". He said that in 24 years of marriage, he has never said "I love you" to his wife. If you feel strongly about someone, you say "I like you". If you say "I love you" to your spouse, they will first laugh at you, then wonder what you've been up to. If you persist, they may think you have a mental imbalance.


The area we were headed to is very mountainous.

Quick! A clear shot of the mountain!
Our first stop was a restaurant at the foot of Mt. Fuji. It was a lovely hotel and the banquet hall where we ate (a really good luncheon of roasted salmon) was on the 8th floor with a nice view of the mountain. It was a sunny day with just a little bit of haze.


We ended up sharing a table with a nice older couple from Sydney. Yes, we shared our almost-move to Sydney and talked to them quite a bit about what Sydney is really like. They were on a 6 week trip -- London, France, and Japan. <sigh>


After our (quick) lunch (35 minutes and back on the bus) we headed to Mt. Fuji itself. The views headed up the mountain were great. As soon as we got to our stopping point, the clouds rolled in, so our pictures of the mountaintop are fairly...foggy.


This stopping point is full of shops, a shrine, and snack bars.

Save me from the 3D dinosaur!
The whole area is covered with hiking trails too. I wish I could go back just for the hiking. But not this trip.


After our (quick) stop there (20 minutes and back on the bus), we headed down to a small town for a cable car and boat ride. The cable car took us up to a vantage point over one of the lakes created by an eruption of the mountain....a long time ago (don't remember the centuries). Also, some more good views of the mountain.


Then -- quick! -- back down to the lake for a 30-minute cruise about.


Everywhere we went, there were cutesy little bunny and raccoon and kittycat and puppy figures. The Japanese seem to have a thing for cutesy-poo. For such a serious, driven, reticent people, you just can't get away from....child toys. Maybe it's their outlet? 


Jeff also noticed, as have I, that you will occasionally see men wearing things (for example, t-shirts with bunnies on them) that would, ah, not be gender appropriate in, say, the US.

Bullet train
Unless you were gay. Flaming gay. And even then maybe not (In fact, most gay men I know wouldn't be caught dead wearing a t-shirt with a bunny on it) (unless, you know, it was a buff bunny in a tight tank top maybe). 


Anyway, given our altered schedule, it ended up being a sunset cruise on the lake. Pleasant.


Then back in the bus for an impossibly long slog (2+ hours) to our hotel (should have taken about 45 minutes). Fortunately, Jeff had the foresight to run into the 7-11 and grab a snack (see "Kelly + hungry + tired" equation in previous travelogue). $2 sushi rolls. And really really tasty. My only regret was that he didn't pick up 2 packages.


See why he deserves to be in the Husband Hall of Fame?  OK, it could be argued that this is simply self-defense on his part but I still stand by my original premise that he's a Husband Genius.


About half the bus was there for 2 days and got off at the hotel. The other half were headed to a train station to go back to Tokyo. Given the intensity of the traffic, I doubt any of them got home before midnight.


The hotel was spectacular. I think there's where most of the expense for the trip came from. It was a combination of Japanese and western styles. Glossy wooden floors and wide windows with views of the mountains. The rooms were small but fine. We were in a room with two beds. Each wider than a twin but narrower than a double. We decided we could afford to sleep apart for one night.


The comforters were thick and cushy. <sigh>  The bathroom was...efficient. There were Japanese robes to wear to the communal baths and slippers and I could mostly get the robe closed around me.


Mark, I may have solved the conundrum about the original tub in your house. Japanese tubs, so far, are square (or square-ish), deep, and short. By 'deep' I mean they are somewhere between my knees and my hip deep. So, I could sit upright in one but may or may not be able to stretch my legs fully out (in our apartment, I can just stretch my legs their full length). But I could fill it up with enough water to some almost to my shoulders.


The one in the hotel room would have looked a lot like the one in your house if it had been copper-lined. Maybe the previous owners liked Japanese baths?


Anyway, we dropped our stuff and headed down to the one restaurant (of 5) that was open and affordable. It was a traditional sushi place. We invited another person from our bus -- a guy from Switzerland -- to join us. 


We ended up sharing four platters of sushi rolls and tuna nigiri (even had California rolls!), which was filling. The Swiss gentleman was a bit....teutonic?  Very sure of himself, a bit dismissive of things that don't work just so, but interesting company nonetheless.


He was on a 10 week vacation!  His company had given him an extra month of vacation to mark his 25 years with them. He was doing an around-the-world ticket. Japan, Australia, Fiji...I can't remember the other spots. He said the ticket was $6,000. Hmmmmm.......


We slept like logs. We both got about 12 hours of sleep and didn't wake up till 10:30 the next morning. We had a lovely leisurely breakfast on the terrace overlooking some mountains. We had a tourist map and decided to wander into town to check a few things out.


First, we hopped the bus to the St. Exupery and Petit Prince museum. We didn't go inside but we did take pictures outside because Jeff's favorite bar in DC is....St. Exupery (commonly referred to as St. X).


It was a pretty little museum, at least on the outside, but we chose to move on. We had several choices:


Museum of Art

Outdoor Museum of Sculpture

Lalique Museum of Art

3D Space Dinosaur


Go ahead, guess which one we decided to go find. :)


It was quite a trek (did you guess the 3D Space Dinosaur?  If not, you don't know us as well as you thought!). And we had one guy try to talk us out of it (at least, given that he only knew Japanese, we think that's what he was trying to do). But, several kilometers (all uphill by the way), we found it.


It gives new meaning to "cheesy". If there were a scale for cheesiness, this would be up there with Limburger.


There were a few little theaters showing 3D animated movies about dinosaurs and space adventures (all helped with the groovy 3D glasses handed out at the entrance). We got a big chuckle (maybe even a guffaw) out of the fact that the dinosaurs were pink and blue and green. The voiceover (in Japanese of course) was very lively and sounded genuinely frightened when the (pink) T Rex showed up.


OK, clearly his is all designed for kids. Impressionable kids.


One of the theaters also had black lights, so that was extra groovy.


The little play areas outside were just sad. Some toy dinos on a shelf, the most worn out putt-putt I've ever seen, a square concrete "pond" that a couple of people were fishing in (and actually catching fish).


There were a couple of shelves of stuffed animals (including those pikachu type characters with the huge eyes so popular in Japanese games and the kind of thing I'd want to feed to a [pink] T Rex) you could buy on your way out. 


You know, some places you just have to check out to satisfy your curiosity.


I think the proprietor felt sorry for us because he let us pick two toy dinosaurs to take home with us when we left.


Afterwards, we decided to try the water park / bath complex across the street from our hotel.




That was both huge and fun. I've never seen anything quite like it in the US. First of all, you have to pass through 2 layers of extensive gift shop before you get to the entrance of the pool areas. That's a drag.


But when you do, they put a watch-like gizmo on your wrist. It's an electronic device that allows you to access your locker and pay for anything while you are inside. That way you don't have to carry any money with you. Nice idea in a very wet environment.


Observation:  if there's a way to make something electronic, the Japanese will find a way to do it.


We were handed a towel and a bathrobe (mine wouldn't quite close. Oh well.)  You had a choice of the baths-in-bathing suit (everyone welcome) or the no-bathing-suit baths (segregated by gender). We opted for bathing suits.


The place has numerous "theme" pools:


Roman -- warm, waist deep, and you can watch an aquarium of little jellyfish bob around next to the pool.


Turkish -- tiled, round, heated slab to lie on nearby, alcoves with foot baths


hot tubs -- pink water for some reason


Dead Sea -- with actual Dead Sea minerals -- I assume. It must have been something because a slight rash on my elbow started tingling/burning when it got submerged in the water. But it's all but gone today! Don't get the water on your lips, it tastes profoundly awful. And you absolutely can float with zero effort.


Outdoor water slides


Indoor large pool/play area with jets and warm water (and the occasional light and bubble show). Very popular with the kids.


Olympic-size standard pool


Lounge chairs, indoors and out. The indoor ones had heat lamps.


There were a number of cafes too and a beauty salon. At the salon, they did some kind of scan of your scalp. You got to see your hair follicles in stunning detail on the accompanying monitor. Then you went inside and they...I don't know, did things to your head?


They also had two places where you could get massage. One was just for your feet. The other was for your body. I opted for a 25-minute session.


Again, not your traditional western massage. They laid me down on a table with a rubber sheet. Absolutely no ambience. The had me roll down my bathing suit so my upper body was exposed and poured pitcher after pitcher of warm water over me.


Then they used some of loofah and scrub to really scrub me down.


More water.


Then lotion.


More water.


Then some massage, similar to the one I got last week here in Tokyo.


Yes, more water.


I wonder when they're working on someone like me, do they say to themselves "geez, we should have charged extra for feet that big!"  "There's *more* leg to do???"  "Goodness, her arms go on forever!".


Y'know, I just wonder.


After about 2 hours, we decided we were about done. But as we were leaving, we decided to see to follow the signs for the "wine" pool and the "green tea" pool. This took us outside to the nicest area yet. Up the side of a glen, there were multiple levels that went higher and higher and on each level there was a special pool, most of which got their water from a warm cascade coming through the glen:


coffee pool

sake pool

green tea pool

wine pool

charcoal pool

several hot water pools


In between, there were small terraces with tatami mats or heated slabs or some such thing where you could relax.


No, you couldn't drink out of any of the pools. Each pool was mostly water with a little of the indicated beverage.


As it was now past sunset, this area was fantastic. And while most of the indoor area also had lots of kids, this area was mostly all adults. And none of the groping / canoodling you are probably imagining. We wish we had discovered it earlier.


In one pool, a young Japanese couple (early 20s?) struck up a conversation with us and we chatted for about 10 minutes. He was studying to be a nurse, she was studying international relations and had spent some time in Portland OR.


I think they mostly wanted to practice their English. Fine by me!


We did get some looks throughout our time there. We were the only westerners I saw. Most of the Japanese women under, say 30 or 35 were wearing bikinis (I know certain men --yes, I mean you Tom and Thom -- who would have walked into a lot of walls). Blessedly, I only saw one guy in a speedo and at least he was built for it!


Japanese men do not have a lot of body hair, so when we were floating in the Dead Sea pool, I noticed that Jeff's chest hair got a few surreptitious glances. I think my hair fascinated a bunch of little kids.


Hardly any fat people.




When we were ready to go, we handed over our electronic wristbands and got a tally of our expenses and paid -- all through an automated machine, of course. Pretty danged slick.


We really enjoyed our time there. It's Unessin in the Hakone region if you ever get the chance. Another place I would have loved to take some pictures but I didn't.


To get back to Tokyo, we had a ticket on the bullet train. But we still needed to get to the main train station. Our guide had suggested we take the "mountain train" rather than the bus, to avoid traffic.


So, we hopped on the bus and got dropped off at a quiet, mostly closed tiny station in the woods. Fortunately, there were a couple of other people there who confirmed the train went where we needed it to go.


This was another fun thing. It's a 2-car train, older (the windows open), with an engineer at either end. At least twice, the train had to do some kind of zig-zag to deal with the twists and turns of the mountain. Apparently, one of the engineers was the "front" guy and one was the "back" guy because whenever the train had to back up at one of these zig-zags, the engineers changed places.


It's a shame this was all at night because I would have loved to see the scenery. The "forward" engineer also made funny noises while he was driving (we were sitting in the front of the train). Every now and then, he'd say something that sounded like "heeyah", I think to the train. He seemed to be enjoying himself.


The major train station was huge, so we got some dinner at a noodle place. As we stood out on the platform waiting for our train, several bullet trains went through the station. If they weren't going full-speed, they were going damned close to it.


And if you're not used to it, it will take your breath away!  They are SO fast!  Like a giant white snake stalking the helpless explorers in some B-grade horror movie. All of a sudden .... whoosh!  You're anaconda lunch! 


All right, that's what it made ME think of. But we all know I have an odd imagination.


Jeff was SO excited to be on the bullet train. It's very comfortable, pretty smooth, and pretty fast. I don't think we were going full speed because we were on more of a local than an express. It still got us to our station in 25 minutes, 8 times faster than the danged bus had on Sunday!


All in all, an excellent weekend.


Next travelogue:  Kelly goes "home".



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Yep, its HIM!
Yep, it's HIM!
Jeff and I with Mt. Fuji in the ba…
Jeff and I with Mt. Fuji in the b…
Shrine at Mt. Fuji. Jeff made fun …
Shrine at Mt. Fuji. Jeff made fun…
Parade through town near Mt. Fuji
Parade through town near Mt. Fuji
Quick! A clear shot of the mountai…
Quick! A clear shot of the mounta…
Save me from the 3D dinosaur!
Save me from the 3D dinosaur!
Bullet train
Bullet train
photo by: maka77