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.
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