Saturday, August 26, 2017

Japan: First there is a mountain ... + Photography

23 July - Nikko to Mt. Fuji

Mt Fuji view from our room
(First image of my Ten Views of Mt Fuji series)
It’s the longest travel day - around 5 hours on trains, with three changes. Of course, being Japan, it all goes like clockwork. And we have bought some lovely bento for the train! One of the greatest pleasure in travelling in Japan is the train travel - looking out, eating, doing some research (our mobile wifi another marvellous thing!). But most trains travel too fast to take useful photos from the window.

It’s quite late when we arrive at Kawaguchiko, near Mt Fuji, and a popular starting point for the Fuji climb. It’s a lovely old guesthouse, converted to a hostel with dorms and private rooms. Sadly, the big old bathroom has been divided into shower cubicles, catering for the large numbers of Western tourists. Our room has three large windows, a traditional tatami/futon set up, and a Fuji view - through rooftops, power lines and aerials - fab! After Nikko, I was concerned about it being another unfriendly touristy place, but it’s feeling good, and I’m glad we have three nights here. Dinner is a combini (convenience store) picnic in our room, with sake of course.

Our traditional room in Kawaguchiko
Our local combini (7eleven - with retro taxi)

24-25 July - Kawaguchiko

Fuji is fickle, and appears/disappears among the clouds (‘First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is’ - Donovan). We get a two-day ticket for the sightseeing bus that will take us all around the five lakes area. First - to Oishi Park for floral Fuji views, then to Itchiku Kobota kimono museum - an artistic vision of a gallery and garden (no photos allowed inside, as usual!). A quick noodle stall lunch of soba noodle soup, and yakisoba (fried noodles), then to Iyashi no Sato - a restored traditional village rebuilt on the site of a former farming village destroyed by a landslide during a typhoon in 1966. It’s an open air museum and traditional craft village for learning about the culture and handicrafts. Touristy, but in a low key way, and there are some nice crafts, and even some homegrown organic veg. Chris even buys a souvenir - a cheap sake cup!
Back home we find a tiny teriyaki restaurant not far from the station, and try the okonomiyaki and grilled salmon - it’s terrific, as long as we can put up with the non-stop western pop clips playing on the TV.

Chris with floral Fuji - Oishi Park
In the garden at Itchiku Kobota Museum (Itchycoo Park?)
Iyashi no Sato - craft enclave
Enormous Buddhist pines at Motosu-ko shrine
Next day, we take a longer bus ride to more distant lakes - Saiko, Shoji-ko and Motosu-ko. The bus runs 2 hourly, so we have to hang about a bit in Motosu-ko, a small and rather non-descript village at the end of the bus route. Explore the neighbourhood - a shrine, a Buddhist temple and cemetery, a main road. Get some vending machine drinks - Chris always sticks to the milk coffee, I have tried the milk tea, green tea, lemon tea, vegetable juice, and today try the buckwheat tea. They are all pretty good, although the latter does taste a bit like dry grass. Drinks cost only about $2, but … all those plastic bottles! Mostly I carry a green tea bottle and fill it with water from the plentiful drinking fountains.
Next stop - Aokigahara Jukai, also known as ‘suicide forest’, growing near Lake Saiko on a gnarly base of lava from Mt Fuji. A macabre idea, and it IS a spooky place (in a Miyazaki way), with mouldering trees and moss everywhere on the lumpy volcanic rocks. I see an old backpack down a crevice, and wonder …
Back in town we finally get to try the local delicacy - Hoto - a miso, sweet potato and pumpkin stew with fat, chewy noodles - it's not really a summer dish, but - yum!

Hoto restaurant
Spooky Aokigahara Forest

26 July - Kawaguchiko to Tokyo

Today, Fuji has disappeared from our window for good, so it is time to go. But not before encountering an uncouth bunch of young Chinese tourists who mess up the wash area, and the dining area, and have their stuff piled on all the chairs (though they are nowhere to be seen) when we come down for breakfast. They get back and grab their stuff, without acknowledging our existence. Seems they are not taught courtesy as the young Japanese are. I daresay a young bunch of Aussie kids could be equally lacking in manners, sad to say …

Young tourists on the train


Japan, you would think, is the land of photography. And certainly, wherever there are Japanese tourists, are a zillion cameras and selfie sticks. But where one can take photos is highly prescribed. In many, if not most, tourist sites, photographs may be taken outside but not inside. This is why I have only a few images taken inside museums, galleries and temples. (A few museums are now beginning to understand the promotional advantage of social media, and allow photos taken on phone, but not camera.) Photographs on the train are forbidden, maybe because of the prevalence of ‘upskirting’, but perhaps also because Japanese people prefer to maintain their privacy in this space. Mobile phone calls on trains are also forbidden - what a good idea! (I am sneaky and take images of train interiors while pretending to be photographing out of the window.) However, the streets are saturated with photographs - mainly advertising food, sex (or at least, young girls and young boys), and politics (middle-aged men). It's a highly stylised version of reality.

Girls on the street, Sapporo
Soft serve ...
Girls on the street, Hakodate
Seafood, Hakodate
Would you trust this man? (Hiraizumi)
Boys on the street, Shibuya
Giant food, Shinjuku

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