Chasing Cherry Blossoms in Japan – Fujisan

Dated – March, 2014

Golden rule. Must not start a new trip without writing about the old one. It has been over three months and we have not been anywhere! Very rare for us. But with some major changes coming up, it has been kinda hard to plan anything. We put our foot down at the fourth month though. 🙂 So, July has a good trek lined up. Treks are more up S’ alley, so she is counting days while I am hoping we don’t have to camp in snow. Anyway. I thought I should finish the Japan posts before we start packing our backpacks.

Kawaguchiko is a small sleepy town at the base of Mt. Fuji. The reason we wanted to see Mt. Fuji was simple. S had made a scrapbook about Japan in third grade. And she clearly remembered putting a pic of Fujisan there (while she doesn’t remember names of people she met yesterday!). 😀 Kawaguchiko looked like our kind of a town – small, less people and very picturesque. The journey from Kyoto to Kawaguchiko just took forever! From Kyoto to Osaka, then Yokohama, Hachioji, Otsuki and finally Kawaguchiko. We have become such seasoned sleepers, that we managed a shuteye through the multiple change overs!

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Last leg of travel to Kawaguchiko

Now, Kawaguchiko, like I said, is a really really small town. We had missed the shuttle to the hostel. The streets were dark and bordering on spooky. As per our worn out map, the hostel was a couple of turns down the lane. Almost 10 pm and we were contemplating whether the hostel reception would be open. It was quite cold and the thought of spending a night on the streets of Kawaguchiko was not exactly heartwarming. And then, few steps ahead, we saw a light, and the promise of food. Like the zombie rats running after the Pied Piper of Hamelin, we dutifully walked into the hole in the wall place and ordered food. To our credit, that was one of the best food moments of the trip! Fresh pasta and noodles which took an eternity to appear and a flash of a second to disappear. An hour and a full stomach later, we headed to the hostel. As usual, the map was not the easiest to read and we were standing clueless in a dark alley. A bunch of young guys were crossing and we asked them. They didn’t know either. So, they walked on, just to return in a few minutes. Now in India, this would have been a hair-raising episode. But Japanese folks are by far the most polite and helpful people I have ever met. They came back because they saw the hostel up ahead and came back to accompany us. Kawaguchiko was spooky no more. 🙂

K’s hostel was awesome. The common area was outright lavish. Plus they had a brilliant bar by the side with the ultra friendly bar manager Mochi. The instant we entered, we knew this small sleepy town was a good idea. The bar was still open and we quickly went to catch a drink before a much needed 8 hours snooze. My memories from the bar would be amazing chicken wings, excellent umeshu (Japanese wine), good music and Mochi’s extremely helpful advice about everything. 🙂

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The awesome K’s hostel
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Electric comforters in the TV room

We had two days in Kawaguchiko and a single point agenda. To see Fujisan. The next day was grey and cloudy. Weather forecast said expect rain in the afternoon, but being an Indian, taking weather forecasts seriously seemed silly. Mt. Fuji is massive and we thought, how difficult can it be to spot it! I mean irrespective of the clouds, considering we were literally at the base of the mountain, where can it possibly hide! So, we picked bikes, chose a trail and started cycling. There are five big lakes around Mt. Fuji, and Kawaguchiko is the largest of them. Our trail was around the lake. One of the prettiest trails I have been on, if only there was a bit of sun! Temperature kept dropping till we couldn’t feel our fingers. We stopped at a temple on the way. Though it was a grey day, the beauty of the town is hard to miss. We also stopped at this extremely picturesque cafe by the lake, with its extremely camera friendly dog Candy.

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Ice cream on a cold cold day in Kawaguchiko
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Candy, the poser 🙂

Wherever we stopped, we kept asking which is the best viewing point to see Mt. Fuji. Got all sorts of answers. On the bridge, by the lake, down the road and so on.The day became misty and colder, and when we were about 10 kms away from the hostel, it started raining. The kind of rain which promises not to stop for hours. We waited it out for a bit and then did what we had to do. Cycled back 10 kms in freezing cold cursing the sun and the sheer lack of good sense! Back in the hostel, hot shower and hot sake gained a new level of respect. Evening was spent in Mochi’s bar discussing where to go tomorrow. Forecast promised a sunny day.

Next day, woke up early and picked up bikes again. The route was chalked out and yesterday’s rain was forgotten. It was a beautiful sunny day. We still hadn’t seen Mt. Fuji and people had started giving us curious glances when we asked them where to see. So, we started cycling and stopped a small way down the road. S had stopped her cycle and was facing us. I and Dipa were poring over the map. And then S laughed and pointed to something behind us. There it was! Huge and magnificent. No matter which way you go, you cannot miss it. We must have come across as a bunch of morons yesterday for the number of questions we asked for viewing Fujisan. Our route for the day was to go around Kawaguchiko lake till Oishi Park and there was an important breakfast stop at this famous bakery called Lake Bake (Mochi’s recommendation).

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Cycling on a sunny day
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View of Fuji from Oishi Park

The cycling track around Kawaguchiko is brilliant and you cannot stop enough to click pictures. Lake Bake is right before Oishi Park and was yet to open when we reached. The park is beautiful in the lavender bloom season. When we went, there were just a few shrubs. So, as soon as it was time for the bakery to open, we headed back. There is something sinful about the smell of fresh bread and freshly brewed coffee. It is a beautiful bakery/cafe with an open sitting area facing Mt. Fuji and the lake. The milk butter bun and quiche were divine. Spent a few hours there and then headed back. There was another Mochi recommended stop on the way back – Ide sake retail shop. The only place which sold the umeshu Mochi had been serving. We were so smitten that we took a pic of the bottle, just to be sure that we bought the right one! Another hour in the sun and a few bottles of sake later, we left the cycles at the hostel and headed to the bus stop to catch the bus for another lake around Fuji called Lake Saiko.

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The view from Lake Bake
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The umeshu we wanted
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Ide Sake retail shop

We went to Saiko Iyashi-no-sato Nemba, a preserved traditional Japanese village. Spent half an hour walking there. Pretty thatched roof houses and a beautiful view of Fuji. We still had some time to spare, so from there, we walked to Lake Saiko. Pretty as a picture! That was as close as I could get to getting a picture of Fuji with its reflection.

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Saiko Iyashi-no-sato Nemba

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That night we left for Tokyo. It was a two hour train ride. We still hadn’t seen cherry blossoms in full bloom. Tokyo seemed promising. Teen hottie had messaged that sakura season was thriving in the many parks in Tokyo. Chango was on his way. It all added up well. Someday, I shall come back to Kawaguchiko during the Fuji climbing season – I promised myself as I drifted off to sleep in the train.

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