Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bashful Mount Fuji in all her glory

Day 8 (Mon, 2 June 2008)

We're up bright and early today because we're going on the Mount Fuji Hakone day trip by Sunrise Tours. Getting to and around Mount Fuji is rather complex, so we decided to just go with an organised tour. No need to carry maps and sheets of instructions today. Hooray!

The breakfast spread was identical to yesterday's. We suspect that the elderly lady (who's the only staff about in the restaurant in the mornings) has been cooking up that same breakfast for the last 30 years. There's a cat majestically upright outside the restaurant, looking through the glass pane as if surveying the guests within. It would appear that the cat is a regular because there was a sign by the glass:

After breakfast, we took a short cab ride to our pickup point, the Tokyo Dome Hotel. We were afraid of being late and missing the coach, so we left really early and ended up being there half an hour before the pickup time. Aside, the night before, Kenneth had gone down to the Hotel Edoya reception to ask if it was easy to catch a cab outside the hotel. The night receptionist obviously knew no English because Kenneth came back upstairs and said it was like a conversation between a duck and a chicken. He did manage to pick up our luggage that arrived from Nikko though.

We were picked up in a large coach and sent to Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal where we were transfered to another coach. We had requested for the English speaking guide, so we were put on the bus with the Aussies and Americans, among others.

And this was our guide - a very bubbly and chatty lady from Osaka. She told us to call her Mary. She imparted lots of interesting titbits about Mt Fuji (which for the life of me, I cannot remember). I do recall her saying that Japan's most famous peak is a very "shy" mountain because it's often shrouded in clouds and mist, rendering it not visible, especially during summer (they don't tell you this when you sign up for the tour!)

The funny thing was, just as she was saying, "I'm not sure if you'll be able to see it today..." Mt Fuji came into full view towards the left of the bus! All the passengers started exclaiming and taking pictures, it was a magnificent sight. We could even see all the way to the peak which according to Mary, is very rare in summer. She described how she had brought a group of tourists to Mt Fuji on a day so foggy that you couldn't see beyond 10m, let alone the mountain. She told them to hold up a postcard of Mt Fuji and pretend it's the real thing. It's always funnier when it happens to other people.

Our first stop was the Fuji Visitor Center. This is close to the base of Mt Fuji and here, you can get some pretty spectacular shots.

Like this one. Ain't she a beaut?

Next, we drove on towards the Mt Fuji 5th station. At altitude 2,305m, the 5th station is the highest point of Mt Fuji you can get to on wheels. Any higher and you'll need to go on foot. The actual height of the mountain is 3,776m.
Silly us didn't realise that getting to the 5th station was via a winding mountain road. By the time we reached the 5th station, Lesley-Anne had turned green and the minute she alighted from the bus, her breakfast came back up. You can see she still doesn't look too happy here.

However, all that was soon forgotten when the kids caught their first sight of ice, err... snow.

You can see the mist was already starting to roll in. By the time we had left the 5th station, the mountain had completely vanished. Thank goodness we were there early!

The bus took us back down to the base of the mountain where we had lunch at a restaurant. Each of us had a beautiful bento box (not made of styrofoam this time!) which had:

Assorted sashimi
Chinese-style jellyfish
Tamago (omelette)
Smoked duck
Salmon and scallop roulade,
Karage (fried) chicken
Grilled salmon, Bilberry cheese
Prawn tempura, Rolled tofu
Rice and miso soup

And sherbet for dessert

I didn't memorise the menu lah, we took a picture of it (can you say obsessed about food?)

From there, we moved next to Hakone, a town near Mt Fuji. Here, we boarded a boat and went on a cruise of Lake Ashi. Lake Ashi is a crater lake (like Lake Chuzenji in Nikko) known for its many hot springs.

The cruise was pleasant enough but it had begun to drizzle and once again, visibility was affected.

From the harbour, we walked to the Mt Komagatake ropeway - an aerial cablecar. From the cable car, we were supposed to be able to take in spectacular views of Hakone National Park and Mount Fuji.

However, what we saw from the window was this:

Sigh... it's raining again. In earnest this time.

There wasn't much to see up Mt Komagatake because of the mist, but that wasn't enough to stop Andre from having fun. He managed to find an arcade game and as far as he was concerned, that was way more interesting than any old mountain.

After that, it was a ride to Odawara station to catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo. At Sunrise Tours, you can opt to get back to Tokyo via coach or Shinkansen (the Shinkansen option is more expensive, obviously).

If you haven't had a chance to experience the Shinkansen, then this is a terrific way to try it. It's very, very comfortable and smooth and by golly, it's fast!

Just like the Tobu Spacia train, the seats can be rotated backwards and forwards. By the way, the seats are also centrally controlled. We saw an empty train at a station as it was being cleaned and suddenly zzzppppt! all the seats automatically rotated back to their original positions. How amazing is that?

Although we were scheduled to arrive at Tokyo station at only 8pm, we actually arrived 2 hours ahead of schedule because of the smooth traffic. Tokyo station is a historic monument in itself. It's undergoing renovation right now, hence the scaffolding.

Although we had planned to have dinner at Daimaru department store which is next to Tokyo station, the kids were tired. Since it was our last night in Japan, I suggested going back to Hotel Edoya and repeating our scrumptious dinner at Umejaya. Never was a decision met with such approval!

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