Nope, I haven’t been taking mind altering drugs – there really are pirates in Japan…
I left the pleasant tiny island of Hachijo Jima last week, and flew into the crazy city of Tokyo. At the airport, I discovered that although the monorail-train-train-bus route to my next destination would be cheaper, there was a direct bus that was a little more expensive. The bus meant I didn’t have to go into the heart of Tokyo – whoopee!
For 3 days I became one of the millions of tourists that travel to Hakone every year. Due to the season (first weekend of summer school hols), getting accommodation proved to be difficult, so I ended up at a different hostel/hotel each night. Hakone has an interesting “free pass” that allows you to catch the local transport for three days. Local transport in Hakone means bus, [toy] train, cable car, ropeway and pirate ship! The whole route is a little touristy, but fun none-the-less. One of the must stops is a sulfur volcano. At the top of the mountain (which you reach by ropeway), you can have a “black egg” – an egg that has been boiled over the sulfur spots. Although a little off putting to look at, they were quite delicious (and are said to improve your life span…)
My final day in Hakone was spent at at a very traditional… Water theme park. Silly me, first weekend of the summer school holidays (and a long weekend to boot), but hey, if you’re there, you’re there. Yunesan is a water theme park literally minutes from where I was staying (with a free shuttle!), so it made sense to go. Lines were crazy to get in, but once in there was plenty to do. The park has a great system, where you’re given an electronic wristband, which serves as your locker key, and your virtual ‘purse’ – you can use it all day to pay for drinks from vending machines, food from restaurants, even for photos from your favourite amusements. Highlights of the day included the red wine bath, the green tea bath, the coffee bath and the fish bath. “The what?!”, I hear you say… One of the attractions of Yunesan was the foot pool, where you put your feet into a pool of small ‘sucker fish’, the fish nibble on your feet, supposedly eating all the dead skin and making your feet healthier. Felt kinda funny, a little harder than ‘tickle-ish’, but not painful by any means (not that you’d think that, based on the amount of screaming from the Japanese girls). Sorry, no photos of the fish bath – I have one that was ‘professionally taken’, but will have to wait till I have access to a scanner to see it!
Next stop was Kawaguchiko, the base of Mount Fuji. I ummed and ahhed for several months whether or not I would climb Mount Fuji on this trip, and decided… no – I would not climb Japan’s famous mountain. Being in Kawaguchiko, surrounded by professional climbers and hobbyists alike has made my decision waver a little, but the state of my feet (they’ve blistered up really bad from the new shoes, am having trouble walking from the kitchen to my bedroom, let alone up a mountain) has pretty much made it impossible to contemplate the climb. It is on the list however, I will do it one day! I have been listening keenly to everyone’s opinions though, so I know what to do next time… The temperature at the top is about 20 degrees below the low here – so today was a low of 20 degrees here, meaning it was a chilly 0 degrees up on the mountain – in the middle of summer. So preparation is a must! Other than sitting around the hostel listening to climbers stories, in Kawaguchiko I went out in search of pictures of Mount Fuji, and didn’t do too bad…
Another day, another place. On Thursday I spent the day on trains and buses, to get to my intended destination, Kamikochi. Coined “the entrance to the Japanese Alps”, Kamikochi is an absolutely gorgeous area, surrounded by snow covered mountains, a true mountain climbers destination. Alas, as many of you know, I am not a mountain climber. I am, however, a lover of onsens. And Kamikochi has one of the best onsens I’ve ever been to, bokuden no yu. Just before the bus reaches Kamikochi, there is a fork in the road, with a small corner store. Inside that corner store, if you ask nicely, (and pay the right amount!), the owner will give you a key. Take that key over the bridge and to the little door that sits beside the flowing river. Inside, you’ll find onsen heaven – a small private onsen built into a cave overlooking the river. Amazing.
How many stories start with “I walked into a pub”, and finish with “and then we were standing on the tables, singing in German…”?! Well, this one does! My last couple of days in the area have been spent in Matsumoto, a small city a fair distance away from Tokyo. It is much hotter here compared to the mountainous areas that I’ve recently been. With that in mind, yesterday, needing a respite from the heat, I headed into one of the many bars in town, and old Irish style bar. After my pint, I sat at the bar talking to the staff, who told me that Oktoberfest was on, just by the castle! So out I stumbled, to find a full tent city, complete with German flags and kegs. Grabbed a spot at a table – ended up sitting next an English guy who’s been here for 4 odd years (a good amount of that time has been spent at Oktoberfest, I dare say!) and his two Japanese friends. The night was spent singing along, downing our beers and chomping on bagels and edamame (Japanese beans).
Now time to head off, I’m going North, to Hokkaido, where the weather should be a little cooler (was 33 degrees at 10am this morning!). Take care xoxo