Thursday, 12 April 2018

Autumn Aurora in Japan - Day 18

Yokohama                                                                          Japan

Friday 21st October 2016

Unfortunately, I woke up a lot earlier than I wanted to due to the fact guests on the floor above were making quite a bit of noise; it didn’t stop me from having a good night sleep though so I was still fresh as a daisy. This was the morning Craig and I would move on from this wonderful place as we would be taking the trip to our last place of the whole trip; Yokohama. Yet again, I was the first one to enter the lobby area without fail. Moments later, the people that were making all the noise came down and straight out of the building looking quite wrapped up as though they were on their way to climb Mt. Fuji. The next person to walk through was Michal who brought her own breakfast to the table. We soon began in conversation about our plans and travels today until she had to leave.

A long moment went by until Marino walked through the door with me saying good morning to her and she had stated that she had seen Craig and I at the lake yesterday looking pretty tired. She claimed she recognised the bikes first and then us two Geordies. We were both talking for quite a long while until Craig walked in. He made himself a coffee and began acting himself with his Barry White impressions and Geordie chav accent spoiling the tranquillity of the place. We were going over our next destination and its directions that turned out to become very easy to find; famous last words.

Making sure we had the precise location marked on Craig’s offline map, we could relax at least for a moment longer. Eventually it was time to pack the last remaining items for the journey and soon entered into the lobby with all our belongings. There was still time to take a group photo of Craig, Marino and me making a peace sign with our fingers. Finally, it was Craig’s moment to shine with his full comprehensive review of the hostel. He mentally prepared himself for this moment of writing in the guestbook and for once, he wrote a well-detailed review. Of course, I had to add at the end ‘this place is canny’.

Unfortunately, it was time to leave the wonderful place we called home for a few nights and so, we grabbed all our belongings and headed out the front door where Marino was waiting for us to bid us farewell, or see you later to put it better. We both received a hug from her. We headed straight to Fujisan station that was only a few minutes away and along the way; we had seen yet another perfect image of Mt. Fuji breaking through the dense clouds with a large stone Japanese archway at the centre. Craig decided to risk life and limb to get this shot as he stood in the middle of the road.

Eventually, we made it in one piece to the station easily finding our way around the area. We had to purchase our tickets on this train, as this was not a JR train. We were heading to a place called ‘Otsuki’ station that was far north of Fujisan and linked with the chuo line bound for Tokyo.

For now though, we quickly made it to the platform and in no time at all, our train had arrived. It looked very old once the doors opened due to the fact it had a varnished wooden floor. Once we were aboard and got moving, it sounded as though the whole train was rattling and holding on tight to the tracks. We didn’t care though as we enjoyed the experience; so long as it got us to our destination, it didn’t matter. The views however were spectacular and most of the journey involved the breathtaking Mt. Fuji. Then, it disappeared behind the close by mountains.

The journey really didn’t seem that long even though the train was quite slow but we soon made it to Otsuki station. We took our time leaving the platform looking for the connecting train to Tokyo but as we squeezed our way through the ever-growing crowd, we stumbled across the correct platform for the start of the chuo line. We were accustomed to this train as we mainly used it during our time in Tokyo but with this being the start of the line, we were still in for a very long tireless journey to Tokyo.

Time passed until we boarded the familiar train in an empty carriage for once but deep down I knew further along the route the amount of people would build up. The first quarter of the long journey had the best views of forests, hills and fast flowing rivers. As expected, with each station we stopped at, people would board the train clogging the emptiness but still it wasn’t jam packed; this made the journey more enjoyable. Soon I had the thought that we would soon be heading for Tachikawa station, which we used during our first stay in Japan just over two weeks ago.

Over time, the train would fill up especially when we stopped at Tachikawa. The once quiet aisle became full of people and as the stations went by, I eventually had to give up my seat for an old woman. Time went on until finally after two hours of riding this train, brought us to Tokyo station. We left the train immediately joining the busy crowd making our way to the bakery near the south exit of the station. It truly felt weird witnessing the transition from the quiet sights of Mt. Fuji to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

Finally, we sat outside the bakers as we took turns entering the shop grabbing some delicious food. As I received my bill and paid, I spoke Japanese to the worker saying ‘Have a nice day’ and the workers did a type of school girl laugh which I found quite funny. With our food in front of us, we ate in silence watching on at everyone frantically pacing up and down the station.

Quite often, I would look on at specific people and wonder where they were heading to or where they had come from to be here. Time passed on, we had to figure a way to get to our next destination. We soon realised that it wasn’t going to be easier than we thought as the host lived in an out of the way area above Yokohama which no JR line could reach. Therefore, we had to go to the information desk to figure something out. We received the information we needed and it meant we had to board another three trains to get even close to our destination. I could see Craig was becoming tired with his heavy rucksack over his shoulders plus, the thought of riding on another three trains.

We had to leave Tokyo using JR line subways and then the next two trains we had to pay for. The only positive side about the last two trains were that we were only on them for at least five to ten minutes. Between both stations was a small walk but with our rucksacks, it seemed longer. Our last station was ‘Takata’ station and it was a relief to arrive with no more trains to ride this day. However, the next part would prove the most difficult for us, as we didn’t have the greatest instructions in the world to get to our destination.

Craig had pinpointed the area we had to be at but again it wasn’t enough information so instead, we just headed to the pinpointed area hoping we would stumble upon the place. We had to climb up a very steep hill in vain where we ended back on the main street. As we were searching for the right route, I turned around and just happened to notice a large family peering through their kitchen window at the sight of us as though we were aliens landing on their housing estate. I gave them a friendly wave and they all responded with a bashful wave back and laughter.

We seemed to be wandering around at this point like headless chickens therefore; we had no choice but to ring the host to help us out. He eventually answered his phone and I tried to explain where we were to him but he didn’t seem to know himself the place I was stating. Suddenly, he picked out the place we were standing and successfully managed to guide us to his place. What a relief it was finally locating the apartment block and we soon grabbed the key and entered his nice quaint living area. He was at work so we had the whole apartment to ourselves. We were eager to place our heavy rucksacks down and head back out to explore the area; and we were hungry too.

We immediately headed back to the main street and came across a restaurant called ‘Fujiya’ restaurant. It looked like a typical American diner on the outside so it looked very inviting plus, the fact there was a nice selection of cakes and decorations at the glass counter. It definitely made us want to walk in and immediately we were greeted by the friendly staff.

We were escorted to our table and were surprised to find hot food on the menu as we originally thought this place was cake/dessert based place. We ordered a lovely spread of food and spent the waiting time laughing and joking once more. We were also surprised about the different flavours of Coca Cola they had to offer which were orange, apple and my favourite was grape; incredible. Our food was incredible too and then we could hear a happy birthday song over at the opposite side of the restaurant.

Then a large group of family sitting close to us had a birthday song played to their one-year-old twins. The twins were looking over at us intrigued about our appearance as we waved at them; of course, they were bashful which made everyone laugh. Time went on through the evening as our table was filled with empty plates of dessert; it was time to pay up and leave.

As soon as we exited the building, we headed off along the main streets of ‘Higashi Yamatacho’ to see what was in the area. To be honest, it was an area full of car manufacturers from BMW, Volvo, Toyota as well as Kanazawa motorbikes. We walked on for the next 30 minutes until we ran out of things to see. Therefore, we took the walk back to the apartment again laughing and talking away. Once we returned, we sat in our shared room relaxing and getting used to our surroundings and then, the host came into the apartment.

His name was ‘Tsubasa’ and he had just returned from his job as an entrepreneur. He spoke very good English despite his Air-BNB intro being vague about liking tomato, beer and hot stuff. He offered us a type of sweet-based cake that we ate and enjoyed straight away; as though we hadn’t ate for days. He then rushed off to grab our bed sheets persistent he would put them on for us. He seemed to know what he was doing so we watched on as he was asking us questions about our time in Japan.

He spent the next 15-20 minutes preparing our beds with a bit of difficulty but he managed. With everything now prepared, we could all relax having a long conversation about everything funny and serious. Time went on with us not realising how late it was so it was time for lights out hoping for a pleasant night’s sleep. As there were two separate beds with one of them being more comfortable than the other, we decided to play rock, paper and scissors to see who got the better bed for the first night; I won.

Just before we went to sleep, Craig gave me the news that there was a 6.6 scale earthquake at western Japan, which was a big one. As all went quiet, I sat staring at the ceiling thinking of Fujiyoshida and the hostel we stayed in missing the place and people already.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Autumn Aurora in Japan - Day 17

Fujiyoshida                                                                                 Japan

Thursday 20th October 2016

There was no need to explain how comfortable I was during the night, as I was feeling great once I woke up and ready for another day of adventure. Once again, I would be in the lobby first whilst everybody else was asleep. Moments later, a woman walked into the hostel who was actually a worker here; we said good morning to each other but that seemed to be it. Michal was the next person to walk in and sat with me in conversation straight away about our plans for the day and hers was to head for the famous pagoda. It would be good timing for her too as the weather was absolutely gorgeous today without a cloud in the sky.

Craig was the next person to walk in and joined in on our conversation for a short while. Soon after, Michal left preparing for her day out whereas Craig and I were deep in discussion about what we were going to eat at the beautiful Saint Cloud bakery. Then the conversation got too serious as we talked about donuts. Anyway, our plan for the day was to head to yet another lake called Lake ‘Yamanakako’ that was a good 8 kilometres away from the hostel. Once again, we would rely on our beautiful bikes for a third and final time.

We headed out with our essentials bound for Saint Cloud bakery for a beautiful quick breakfast of sweet bakes that would give us the energy needed to get to our destination. We headed in a southeasterly direction on our way to the lake and immediately, we approached a dreaded hill once again. What a terrible start it was for us but we pedalled all the way to the top without stopping. What was not terrible of course was the treasuring sight of Mt. Fuji clear as day with very little cloud.

Now, we were cycling through a forest area still cycling alongside the main road and to me, this area proved the most difficult as it felt as though I was carrying along two sumo wrestlers on punctured tyres. I had to keep going as Craig was so far ahead; there were times I would lose sight of him. The road looked flat but it had a slight incline for miles. Anyway, as I struggled my way along the road, we seemed to be levelling out and then almost immediately rushing downwards. We then caught our first glimpses of the big beautiful blue lake.

There was something different about this lake as though we were at a European holiday destination with villas and hotels scattered along the hillsides around the lake. That didn’t matter to us as the place was still picturesque and we couldn’t wait to cycle a lap around the lake.

We did take a quick stop on the wooden promenade where we were close by to a small group of swans, ducks and carp. There was also a small pedal boat close by full of people who were being pestered by the swans in which were surrounding the boat as though it was an ambush which I found quite funny. We went on our way cycling anti-clockwise around the beautiful lake looking out for an ice cream parlour. It took a while to find one but when we did, we wasted no time entering the parlour and grabbing a well-deserved ice cream. Once we went outside, we immediately engaged in conversation about the bikes we were using as well as how much we paid for the hire. They found it very hard to believe the fact that we paid only 500-yen for the whole day compared to their hotels price of 5000-yen a day.

We soon parted ways with Craig and I continuing our route making good distance until we headed along the cycle track. At that point was the start of the breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji but, what made it better was the slight fade in the sky amongst this iconic mountain. The area we were at was completely crowd free; just Craig and I along with a couple of locals. We couldn’t stop staring at this beautiful scenery in front of us.

The next sight we had seen was the most adorable little dog I had seen so far. I couldn’t make out the breed but it was small and cuddly. We tried to speak to the dog owner, more so Craig but it was proving difficult yet enough to get us through the conversation.

We soon headed off again making good time around the lake until yet again; we came to a stop three quarters of the way around for a bite to eat. The food we gathered from Saint Cloud was absolutely delicious and we thought a soaring eagle above us was eyeing up on Craig’s cakes. With everything eaten, we actually backtracked as we were searching for a nearby temple that was marked on our map.

It took us numerous attempts to find the quiet little temple hiding in the woods but we found it. It was a truly peaceful place indeed with no body in sight; we felt totally abandoned. We felt nothing but admiration with the place with its beautifully designed cleansing areas and detailed decorations on the temples.

We soon took our leave heading along the north side of the lake where the cycle lane we were on was truly amazing. We were cycling right along the glistening lake on a nice hot day with Mt. Fuji in sight. Time went on and then finally, we completed our lap around the lake, which was another accomplishment to add to our achievements in Japan.

We were beginning to make our way back to the hostel when I stated there was a large shrine area very close to us. The shrine in question was called ‘Sengen Jinja Shrine’ and ‘Suwa Jinja Shrine’. Once we approached the shrine area, we loved it especially the Suwa Jinja Shrine as the small temple seemed to define Japan in one small area. Once more, it was truly peaceful but soon the peace would disappear as a coach full of people came rushing towards the area therefore, we took our leave on our bikes leading away from the breathtaking lake.

We were about to head back up the long treacherous road we used to get here but I suggested we head to an area called ‘Hano No Miyako Park’ due to the fact it looked like an interesting area on the map I had. Therefore, we rode straight for it with no horrible inclines, just nice clear sky and lovely Japanese countryside to gaze at. It didn’t take us long to arrive at the park area but once we arrived, we soon realised it was nothing more than a flower park and garden centre. As we were men, we weren’t really interested in flowers therefore, we decided to take our leave back towards the hostel.

As we were heading back a different way, it turned out to be the best route to stumble upon on our cycling journeys. The first place we came across was a nice quiet temple called ‘Jotenji’ temple. Yet again, nobody was in sight and these were the temples we liked the most. The next and greatest moment was the incredible descent down towards the hostel.

We were cycling along a road known as the ‘Turiichi’ pass where the real fun started as we cycled through the long descending tunnels. It was quite deafening with all the cars racing up and down it but once we exited them, it became extremely exhilarating as we were greatly descending the hillside on continuous winding smooth roads. The cars were actually staying behind us as we were matching their speed plus I think they were admiring the view of us enjoying ourselves. I was smiling, laughing and really having fun but good things end as we hit the busy streets below.

We were extremely happy with what we just did but from here on, we took our time heading back due to the build up in traffic. Somehow, we stumbled upon the hostel a lot sooner than we thought which resulted in us over shooting the building. It was great to be back although I would have loved to do that route down the hillside again. It was 3:30pm when we sat in the lobby relaxing from the day of cycling and horrible inclines.

Throughout the evening, we noticed a few more people in the hostel all from either Japan or Thailand but not at all sure if they spoke English. It was very nice and quiet sitting listening to the faint piano music playing at the reception desk. At this point though, food called to us and so, we headed to the favourite Kappa sushi restaurant.

Firstly, I would attempt to create a crane as I did yesterday but I had to cheat and check the internet as a reminder. The process took me a whole five minutes or so to complete a black crane but it was never going to be as good as Marino’s. Anyway, we left for the sushi restaurant using the same route as last time hoping we were heading the right way without directions. We were soon there though entering the restaurant and escorted to our seats by a shy waitress. We wasted no time picking out the usual items and some new encounters we had never tried the last time. I had octopus, two different types of fish, konbu seaweed with sweet corn and rice.

Over time, our plates would pile up a little more than last time but not enough to beat Marino’s 20 plates; we were stuffed with what we had which was probably half of that. I only had six sushi dishes, 2 special dishes, two ginger ales and one dessert which all came to a very cheap price of just under 1,600- yen. At the seats next to us were three Japanese locals filling up huge bento boxes and the amount of plates piling up was out of this world; it really put us both to shame.

We eventually took our leave from the restaurant back out into the dead of night towards the hostel. Throughout the journey, we were laughing and joking on about our dialects with how it sounded to other locals. Finally, we entered the hostel to the most awkward silenced moment I had ever seen. There were four people sitting in the lobby completely blanking each other and as much as we wanted to join them, we couldn’t as we had to pack our rucksacks as today was our last day in Fujiyoshida. The next 30 minutes was spent making sure everything was packed whilst Craig was performing his Barry White impressions to make the procedure less boring.

Then he realised that he couldn’t see his little satchel with his important documents and money. He thought he left it at the sushi restaurant and thought he would have to run and retrieve it. Luckily, it was hiding amongst his rucksacks and the relief on his face was priceless. Everything was packed and ready now which meant we could finally relax one more time in the lobby. We didn’t stay long though because an earlier night was what we needed for the long journey to Yokohama the next day. We were really hoping for a smoother and quicker journey to it but for now, we would treasure our last moments in this brilliant world of Fujiyoshida.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Autumn Aurora in Japan - Day 16

Fujiyoshida                                                                                 Japan

Wednesday 19th October 2016

I woke up from the most beautiful 8-hour sleep thanks to the bed. Again, I crept out of the dorm without making a sound and headed straight to the lobby going over what to do with our day. Kaori, the hostel receptionist, was already at the reception desk and I tried to say good morning to her in Japanese. Ross came in soon after me who was ready to take his leave as he was heading to Kyoto today. We shook hands and bid him safe travels and thanking him for a good night at the sushi restaurant. He didn’t look happy when he had to place his heavy rucksack over his shoulders and out of the door soon disappearing amongst the streets of Fujiyoshida.

I continued on thinking of ideas for the adventures of the Geordie idiot travellers. My plan was to take the trusty bikes to the next lake along Lake Kawaguchiko. What was interesting about this trip was that the lake was very close to a network of caves in the area all with unique names. What I found very funny was the name of the lake and how it linked to the first cave we would visit. The lake was called Lake ‘Saiko’ that sounded like psycho and the cave was called Saiko Bat cave; batman fans may understand this. The other caves we would visit also had very interesting names, which was called ‘Fuketsu’ (Wind cave) and ‘Narusawa Hyoketsu’ (Ice cave). It was too soon to go anywhere just yet and with Craig now in the lobby with Kaori and I, we all had a great conversation as well as Kaori showing Craig her origami skills. She made a beautiful crane as well as a ‘Shuriken’ also referred to as a ninja star. We were amazed by her skills praising her for her work that she really appreciated.

This would actually be the last time we would see her so we said goodbyes to her praising her once more for her work and friendliness she possessed every time. We paid for the bikes again for the day and headed straight to St. Cloud bakery; our new haven. It was a short trip and we soon pulled up with our light green hot rods and walked into the bakery casually. The bakers welcomed us but I felt there was a sense of disbelief of us coming back; the place was brilliant so of course we were coming back. We grabbed a few familiar baked goods and sat at the same table as the previous day as Craig fell in love with his food. Just as we were about to finish, a mother came in with her very young child who was staring at Craig and I. We smiled at the little girl and waving as she immediately became shy and smiled back.

Anyway, we took our leave heading straight for the bat cave. As we cycled, I felt as though we were Batman and Robin; “quick Robin, to the Bat cave”; “Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na BATMAN”. This journey would be the longest amount of time cycling as it would be roughly 7 miles; it didn’t sound like much to us but the bikes we were on would make it quite difficult. Therefore, with our essentials packed, we rode the journey to Lake Kawaguchiko as it was the easiest route and more direct for us to take.

The cycle down was enjoyable to say the least and once more, the weather couldn’t have been better. Now, arriving at the lake, we had to make our way for Lake Saiko but we seemed to find ourselves lost going up wrong roads. Finally, we were on the right track but soon came upon a very steep incline. So we pushed as hard as we could to get up but we soon came to a stop as we stumbled across a nice and quiet shrine area called ‘Kifune Jinja Shrine’. The sight of a huge red archway at the entrance welcomed us and then, it opened out to a quiet cleansing pool and modern designed temple hidden at the back. We spent a short amount of time here admiring the place before having to pedal up the steep road.

It was horrible but we did it however, two more steep turns were ahead of us so instead of stopping, we continued as sweat poured down our faces. Finally, the ground levelled out in time for us to fly through a long tunnel and what was at the other end was truly magical. It was as though we had been transported to the Lake district in the UK; the area was extremely beautiful. The road we were on was perfect as it hugged the shoreline with winding routes heading towards the south side of the lake.

We were closing in on the bat cave as cool as that sounds again making a few wrong turns but eventually, there it was right in front of us. At the entrance site house, there were actually two figures of Batman so we were definitely in the right place.

What was also great was the cheap 300-yen price was to gain access therefore; we soon paid and received white hard hats as we made our way towards the lava cave.

We had to walk along a forest area on a fabricated track for the next 5-minutes until we arrived at the cave. It looked like a narrow entrance at the start, so we soon squeezed in already feeling the cold air as soon as we got half way down the stairs. It didn’t bother us though as we were used to cold temperatures. From here on in, excitement was in the air when we had to make our way through narrow and low tunnels and the sound of constant dripping water echoed the caverns with a bizarre feeling.

Deeper into the cave now, there was clearly no sign of any bats whatsoever which we found very funny given the name of the cave. However, there was a very strong smell of guano more commonly known as bat droppings. Craig and I decided to split off in different directions further in the cave both meeting at the other side. We also both had the same case of ducking and crawling our way through which added to the experience. A long while had passed until we couldn’t go any further and so with that, we head back to the exit.

As soon as we exited the cave, a great wall of humid air threw itself at us hard. Back to the bikes now, we decided to have a quick ice cream before heading to the next cave; the wind cave. Again, this route would be another difficult journey up a steep incline and my legs seemed to have no power whatsoever towards the end, as for Craig though he was far ahead of me. I cycled on though catching him up and once I did, we had arrived at the wind cave/ice cave area. What a relief it was to me as I couldn’t go any further and we soon parked up and made our way through the main pathway.

It was quite a lengthy walk before we arrived at a checkpoint area where we paid yet another small price of 300-yen. We continued along the pathway, which was leading us straight to the wind cave. We were welcomed by a larger opening into the cave but no less exhilarating to us as we stepped down into the cold abyss. The walkways and steps were very wet and so watching every step we took, we entered into the bowels of the cave. A few narrow tunnels lead us to a large area that was home to a very large chunk of ice. The cave was fascinating but I thought the bat cave was a lot more adventurous.

We made our way to the exit back into the humid air already making our way to the ice cave but not before retrieving our stamps for our collection. Once again, we found ourselves walking through more dense forest but what made this walk unique was the fact we were walking along a lava trail. Big and small lava stones scattered the area making it quite difficult to move forward smoothly. A long time had passed until we arrived at the ice cave area and once again, we paid our admission and received our hard hats making our way to cave entrance.

This entrance was different to the other two caves as this had a larger opening with a spiral type wooden staircase leading to the narrower end at the bottom. From here on, it became very tight and awkward to get down the steps and small tunnels; a fantastic experience nonetheless. We then made our way to the main section of the lava cave where it housed a type of storage area; a sort of natural refrigerator. There were many big metal containers full of ancient type of eggs. What was funny was that people were wrapped up in warm clothing because of the cold where as Craig and I only had our t-shirts on.

With everything seen, we made our way back out of the cold dark cave for the final time, as this would be the last cave to visit. With another stamp to our collection, we took the long walk back to our bikes laughing and talking along the way. We did spend a bit of time relaxing at the main entrance area watching on at everybody making their way towards the caves. As for us, we climbed aboard our trusty bikes and took our leave heading straight back to Lake Saiko. What was great was that we were going back down the steep hills we struggled to get up therefore, we were looking forward to the freewheeling that was about to commence.

As expected, it was truly exhilarating racing down the quiet roads through the forest area having the greatest amount of fun quickly making our way to the lake. As soon as we arrived there, I couldn’t get over the humility of the area as we cycled smoothly to the east side of the lake. Even though we had a good pace going, I had to stop due to the fact that a most peaceful view of the lake and hills was right in front of us. The sun was breaking through the low clouds with its raise bouncing from the lake; truly a magical moment.

The other thing that was magical was the beautiful descent down the horrible hill we had climbed up at the beginning. I was like a racer trying to go as fast as I could around the sharp turns then the long straight to Lake Kawaguchiko. I was truly surprised the wheels were not catching on fire with the speed we were reaching. What an exhilaration it was but next seemed to be quite the boring part of cycling through the streets of Fujisan. It didn’t take long though as we were soon back at the hostel parking up our bikes for another day.

Marino was at the reception welcoming us back as we made our way to our room. After a quick shower to cool down a bit, I headed into the lobby to relax from the strenuous cycling. I was having a good conversation with Marino about where I came from as well as my dialect. She found it very funny the way I would pronounce words I really found it funny when she would try and follow the way I said words such as ‘canny’ (great), ‘lass’(woman) and ‘ ar I’(yes). I also mentioned to her about the origami session Kaori showed Craig and me and then I decided to show her my origami skills making a type of swan. She seemed impressed even though it didn’t look at all like a swan and so she decided to provide me with a pack of origami sheets to try other origami animals.

I tried making a rabbit which had a step-by-step guide on the back of the pack of papers and eventually, I completed it. She then explained how she used to make origami bouquets for her friend’s wedding and I thought I could make a rose. As soon as she gave me the book and opened it, I was truly amazed with how complex the process was but I wouldn’t give up without a fight. Within 3 minutes, I gave up and moved onto another animal but stopped by Marino who came over with two gifts for me. A crane which could flap its wings and an origami red and yellow flower. I thought it was magnificent and then she offered to teach me how to make a crane. I didn’t hesitate and she sat opposite me helping me create this delicate creature.

To be honest, I found it quite therapeutic and calming to be making origami as well as taught by Sensei Marino. What was even better was that it was coming together pretty well with no false folding. I actually seemed to be working up a sweat making this crane but once it was complete, I was so happy and proud. Then she decided to tell me that this is what children at kindergarten are taught to do, which I found hilarious.

It was quite late by the time she left but as she was leaving, a couple had walked in thanking her for a recommendation she provided them. As she left, I introduced myself to them then they headed off upstairs for a moment. From then, I continued relaxing feeling right at home in this fabulous hostel along with Craig. Then a young woman approached the entrance trying to get into the building. I opened the door for her as she walked in with her big red suitcase looking quite tired when she said hello to us heading straight upstairs for a moment.

Then the couple came downstairs and sat with us engaging in conversation about where we all came from. They were both from Belgium and what was funny was that the man thought I was American and Craig Irish. We laughed and stated we were from England but the man was surprised due to our Geordie dialect that would have sounded foreign to him and his wife; he did seem quite drunk too. The young woman soon came into the lobby and I helped her around the rules of the place. Her name was Michal, I asked her where she came from and I thought she was saying Iceland but in fact, she came from Israel. She seemed a bit restless of people thinking she was from Iceland but I figured it out in the end.

We continued as the night went on explaining to her what there was to do in this area of Japan. Craig however was engaged in conversation with the drunken Belgian man and I could clearly see he wasn’t enjoying it. Moments later, the couple went off to the room and then we soon realised it was coming up to midnight. Therefore, it was lights out and straight to sleep for everybody with a nice quiet night in store for us all.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Autumn Aurora in Japan - Day 15

Fujiyoshida                                                                                 Japan

Tuesday 18th October 2016

For the first time in a while, I had awoken fresh as a daisy thanks to the lovely bed I was sleeping in. Ross was still asleep but Craig was just waking up as I clambered down the ladders. I headed straight for the lounge area and soon realised I was the only one in there. I spent a while looking at all the pictures around the room but what stood out for me the most was Marino’s travel wall of places she had been. It was very impressive to see she had been to 27 countries in 350 days; to be honest that was inspiration right there to continue travelling. She even had currency from certain places she had been to across the world. I would be happy if I could reach at least half of that in my whole lifetime.

Anyway, Craig had walked through feeling as happy and relaxed as I was due to the comfortable night he had. Last but not least, Ross walked in all set to leave for his day out in Fujiyoshida. He did have time to sit and have a chat with us but we were laughing mostly about our accents trying to impersonate each other. He soon left though whilst Craig and I tended to our morning coffee as well as deciding what to do with our day. Just then, a woman walked into the building ready to begin her shift at the reception area. Her name was Kaori and already, she seemed to be a fun type of person who was curious and happy to help us with whatever was required. Craig and Kaori were talking quite well about the Japanese language and then talking about popular places around the area.

We had picked a few places to visit but today we just wanted to explore the area with bikes. Luckily, for us, the hostel provided bikes for rent that was very cheap too. So from paying 500 yen for all day bike rental, we soon headed outside to ride our bikes around Fujiyoshida. We were excited to get out and explore but the first place we headed to was a recommended bakery nearby called ‘Saint Cloud’. The Sun was out bright and we were enjoying the thrill of cycling once more but we soon approached the bakery; even from the sight of the place it looked like a god send to us.

We entered the building and it was as though we walked through the pearly gates of bakery heaven. They baked food both sweet and savoury and they looked out of this world and we couldn’t wait to dive in. we grabbed what we thought looked the best but for me it was mainly sweet savouries with either chocolate, fruit or just icing sugar spread on the top. The workers were looking quite shy yet curious about our arrival; we sat and ate in silence with our food falling in love with every bite. My drink was quite interesting too as it was a grape jelly in a tin bottle.

A short while later we took our leave on our bikes for the nearby lake called lake ‘Kawaguchiko’. However, as soon as we pedalled along the streets of Fujisan, we immediately realised the paths were not bike friendly at all. We encountered too many huge bumps, big kerbs and wobbly metal grates; did it stop us though; no, it didn’t. There was a moment Craig nearly came off his bike due to the handlebars bending inwards and the fact he was tall too. A very long time had passed pedalling and flying through the streets until we arrived at the sight of a large body of clear blue water.

We had arrived at what I thought was the Japanese version of the Lake District in the UK; it was absolutely gorgeous and I couldn’t stop looking upon this majestic sight. The temperature was rising by the minute realising we were hot and sweating especially with the cycling. We noticed that spread across the lake was a large group of swan pedal boats that looked fun but expensive; 2000 yen for only 30 minutes was a rip off. Therefore, we skipped that idea and continued to cycle around the breathtaking lake. We tried to stick to the lake as best as we could but there were times we would move away and end up cycling along the road having so much fun especially when we would fly through the tunnels echoing our way through.

At the distance we could clearly see the long awaited sight of Japan’s gem; Mt. Fuji. The feeling of peace flew through my heart at the very sight of this magnificent icon of Japan. So many times seeing pictures and videos of it and now I was cycling with Craig in sight of it, this was truly a special moment.

Another special moment came when we found a good place to stop for ice cream. We pulled up on our cool bikes and walked into the ice cream parlour/gift shop immediately grabbing our vanilla and blueberry ice cream. We sat close to the large windows as I was mesmerised with Mt. Fuji as well as the beautiful lake rippling in front. On our bikes once more, we stuck close to the lake but we cycled into a problem. We didn’t realise we were cycling on a garden area designated for walkers only. Instead of turning back, we continued but we were stuck behind 2 elderly women who obviously were walking really slow. As soon as they realised we were right behind them, immediately they began bowing their heads deeply apologising even though we were not supposed to be on there in the first place.

We continued around the lake but caught ourselves riding on loose gravel on a dirt track; this wasn’t the best surface for the bikes we were on. We also rode to a dead end with the lake right at our feet so, we spent a short amount of time at this spot feeling the coolness of the water against the hot day but what was great was the majestic sight of a couple of buzzards trying to catch fish close by gliding and swooping across the lake.

Back on our bikes, we rode back towards the road that we had to stick to from here on. At points, we were pedalling like mad to keep up the momentum but the rest of the time we produced phenomenal flying along the road with the warm air flowing through us. The next stop we made was ¾ of the way around the lake. The area was called ‘Shikkago’ park and the area looked truly peaceful with a large green grass area just behind a section of small stones at the shoreline of the lake.

We pulled our bikes up and I decided to head straight for the quiet lake with no swan boats in sight spoiling the magnificent view. However, there was a speedboat with a water skier on the back passing by now and again; it looked fun but it spoiled the ambiance of the view. The water looked so inviting so I took my shoes and socks off and plunged myself into the water; only up to my knees though. The water was so cool and calm as I stared out into the distance feeling peace once again. The peace was soon broken with the sound of three explosions in the distance not at all sure what it was about; it startled the birds in that area though.

It was eventually time to get out of the water and relax on the grass with Craig as I air-dried my feet. It took a short amount of time to dry up and we were soon on our bikes again but it would be short lived due to the fact we were heading to a nearby shrine called ‘Fuji Omuro Sengen’ shrine.

It was very close to the park and very easy to find so we entered the vast area with our bikes and parked up at the central area with the temples and cleansing area. It was truly a peaceful place and it hid well under the large trees in the area and at its centre was a peculiar dragon ball that I found impressive.

We also had our stamp books filled with beautiful calligraphy and we became mesmerised the process of them being created. Once we seen everything the shrine had to offer, we took our leave heading back to where we started on the lake thus, completing a full lap.

By this time, Mt. Fuji was completely covered by cloud; wouldn’t even know it was there. We had one more place in mind to visit before heading back to the hostel and that was the famous ‘Arakurayama Sengen’ park; in other words, the ‘Chureito Pagoda’. This was very tricky for us to find on our bikes, as we would constantly end up at dead end narrow streets or taking wrong turns. Eventually we had arrived welcomed by the sight of countless stone steps that stated that there were 500 steps to climb. Therefore, after a lot of cycling today, we decided to climb up and my god, they were steep.

The first section of steps was very pretty with orange Japanese lanterns spread equally up the stairway. What was even more beautiful was the fact the leaves in the area were a vibrant orange too which looked like a perfect Japanese autumn scene. Continuing up the stairs, we couldn’t believe the sight of the next section of steps; it looked as though it was leading us to heaven.

At this point, we were wondering where everybody was considering this was a very popular destination. 5-minutes went by until we could see the pagoda and it was a thing of true beauty with its red and white painted central sections and five green Japanese rooftops in between. I was looking forward to stand at the famous spot that had the view of Mt. Fuji in the background. Unfortunately for us, Mt. Fuji was literally covered by huge clouds rolling in by the time we reached the spot.

That didn’t bother us though as we wanted to sit down and become mesmerised by the view. There were only a handful of people at the top with us, which was perfect to provide me the peace I sought. To think all this year and beyond, I had been seeing images of this landmark and even Mt. Fuji itself on computers and TV documentaries. Now I was sitting at that spot so many miles from home thinking this was another special moment with a hint of disbelief but peace in my heart was always there.

All good things came to an end though as we made our way back down the stairs counting them this time. We also noticed a sign warning us about monkeys and wild pigs in the area but we couldn’t see anything in sight. We eventually made it to the bottom with Craig counting only 477 steps instead of the 500 steps claimed. We took the short bike ride back to the hostel as we needed to rest from all the cycling today. It felt great entering the hostel and resting in the lounge area and soon after, Ross came in from his day out and joined us later for a good conversation about what we all did today.

We had a good laugh too and then it was time for something to eat; Ross recommended a sushi restaurant called ‘Kappa Sushi’ and so we all headed out together. This would be my first real sushi experience both food wise and Kaiten sushi (conveyor belt). This was definitely going to be interesting and what was unique about this place was the fact that along with the conveyor belt, a miniature shinkansen bullet train brought ordered food to you. This was the main reason we were going to this place so we took our leave in the darkness of night.

Through the housing estates, we went hoping we were going the right way but as we got up to the top of the road, there it was shining in the night drawing us in like a moth to a moon. We entered and couldn’t get over how busy but sufficient it was; plus the fact we were definitely the odd ones out with the expected stares of curiosity thrown our way. We waited to be placed at our sitting area in which a waitress was clearing the area from the piles of small colourful plates.

We eventually sat down and I could see happiness in Craig’s face at the sight and thought of this place. It was brilliant for us all as we began to browse the oncoming plates of sushi. Some were peculiar whereas some look appetising; I stuck more with the appetising ones and I loved them all with disbelief at how fresh the fish and rice were. Most of the sushi came with a hint of hot wasabi sauce that I would often twist my face at too. It was very nice to watch the conveyor belt bring varieties of food out but it was better sharing this experience with Craig and Ross who were both enjoying what they had. We also used the screens above us to select a dish that wasn’t on the belt and that was where the miniature shinkansen would come into play.

Over time, our plates piled up until we were all stuffed. We soon paid our cheap bill after the waitress came to us individually going through what we had using the patterns on the plate as a price. We eventually took our leave walking back through the quiet housing estates to the hostel that didn’t seem to take long at all this time.

Once we returned, we sat in the lobby talking and laughing about our dialects once more. It was late at this point and so, we all headed to our dorm eventually drifting off to sleep as I lay in silence thinking of the wondrous sights Craig and I witnessed today. This had definitely been a perfect day for us and we wanted more.