Tokyo Holiday : Thursday

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Getting to Mt. Fuji

Tour Logo

Hey Mickey!
Another Grey Line tour, this time to the
Mt. Fuji area. That's about 3 hours bus ride from Tokyo, so we had plenty of time to listen to the guide on the way. Our guide was Miyuki ("Call me Mickey"), a lively and entertaining feminist. Japan needs feminists. They are woefully short of them, and there are still many entrenched traditions to fight. Among the topics she covered on the various bus journeys between stops were:

Kanji. She showed us pictures of the basic ones, and had us guess what they meant. For instance, with Sun, Moon and Paddy Field, you could more or less see how the kanji derived from the shape of the object described. Kanji combined, like Woman + Old = Grandmother. And then things got a bit more abstract, for instance if you put together three of the kanji for "woman" it means "noisy".

Traditional life. She covered the standard stuff, like living rooms doubling up as bedrooms and taking shoes off before entering any room that has tatami mats. Then she went into the more obscure stuff, such as the fact that not only do Japanese families share bath water (so you don't use soap in the bath), but there is a specific order in which you get to use it. So the first user, who gets the cleanest water is the father, followed by his heir (the eldest son), then the grandfather, any other sons, the grandmother, the daughters and finishing with the mother.

Myths and legends. Mt. Fuji is considered sacred to many Japanese. There is even a sect dedicated to it. The story goes that the mountain was inhabited by a powerful female spirit. One day she noticed that another nearby mountain, inhabited by a rival spirit, was taller that Mt. Fuji, so she caused it to blow its top, leaving herself reigning supreme. Fuji is the national symbol of Japan. Japan (Nippon in Japanese) means the land of the rising sun, and it is the rising sun that the red dot on their flag represents.

Mt. Fuji


Climbing Mt. Fuji is like travelling through the seasons. At the base it is almost tropical, with bamboo lining the winding road. As you make your way up the hairpins the seasons turns, becoming more like an English autumn full of colourful deciduous trees. Higher still and the landscape merges into a Scottish winter, all bare branches and conifers looming out of the mist. As you reach Staging Point Five even the conifers die off, many knocked down in great swathes by typhons, and you are left with a black arid landscape, full of crumbly pumice and no living thing except the pilgrims toiling upwards. Finally, at the very summit, is a crowning glory of clean pure snow.

Louise Burfleet

Douglas Reay
We didn't get that far, as the summit is only open for two months during the summer, but we did get above cloud level. There is a famous series of colour woodcut prints by Katsushika Hokusai, "36 Views of Mount Fuji". The following is our attempt:
View of Mount Fuji

View of Mount Fuji

View of Mount Fuji

View of Mount Fuji

View of Mount Fuji

View of Mount Fuji

Lakeside Restaurant


Hakone Sky Gondola

Not a bad view, but basically a way to get to:

Owakudani Valley

Sulphur Vents
Rather dramatically nick named "Hell", this valley was a sulphur mine, collecting the naturally exuded results of the smoking volcanic vents. The whole area smelt of rotten eggs, and the locals played on this by selling eggs hard boiled in the hot springs.

Boat Cruise on Lake Hakone

Spanish Galleon
Now this was funny for two reasons. Firstly because the cruise ship was done up as a Spanish Galleon, for no readily apparent reason, complete with fake guns, figureheads, sails and plaster cabin boys in the rigging.

Priest vs Dragon
Secondly because the commentary tape was about 20 seconds out of synch with the position of the ship through out the cruise. So it would go past a red shrine entrance sunk in the water with no explanation at all. Then, around the corner by a magnificent hotel, it would explain that this was the location where an itinerant priest subdued a dragon and the locals built this as a result. Then, around another corner in a fairly blank and dismal bay it suddenly announced that this was where the Japanese government decided to host Bill Clinton.

Talking of Clinton, the following story was related to us by Miyuki with quite a bit of glee. Apparently the Japanese prime minister of the time didn't speak very good english, so had rehearsed what he was meant to say on first meeting Clinton in public. But he got so flustered that instead of saying "How are you?" he said "Who are you?". Clinton, thinking fast on his feet, and well used to TV cameras, replied ad-lib "I'm Hilary's husband" to which the poor Japanese Prime Minister, continuing with the original script said, "Yes, me too".

Bullet Train

Tilting Train
The shinkansen or Bullet Train can travel at up to 443 km/h. Certainly it was the fastest I've ever traveled on land. The sticker on the side of the train reads "Ambitious Japan". It's correct.

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