Thursday, 20 September 2012

Tuesday 28th August, 2012
We ate breakfast at the café next door which was good and very convenitent. Then we headed out for Arashiyama and the Hozugawa River trip. On the way to the station we stopped in at the crane shop again. Apparently the gentleman there doesn’t sell his work (he sells his book and gives lessons) but he made a special exception, framing up and selling one of his pieces for me. I felt very honoured and had my picture taken with him especially. I took the cranes back to K’s House then we continued on our way, I stopped and bought a long sleeved shirt on the way to protect my arms and neck a little more (but it’s very hot to wear as it has a lot of polyester in it).
We decided to take the Romance train from Saga to Arashiyama but we only just made it as I had to fill in forms for some reason before they would give me the tickets. GREAT IDEA!!! The train ride was spectacular – great river views and we got to see the boats heading down the river. The bus from the station to the boats was hot and crowded but we still think it was worth it to see the river views.
The boat crews were no spring chickens, I reckon the youngest would have been mid to late 40’s and the rest in their late 50’s to 60’s but they were very. VERY fit. They kept up a banter and sort of running comedy routine, unfortunately I couldn’t understand enough to get the gist of it.
There were great views, fun rapids and a lot of wildlife to enjoy. I saw lots of birds, turtles (I think I may have been the only one to spot those) and a red deer drinking from the river. There were a heap of people rafting (wish we’d have known that – next time I’m there in summer perhaps) and others picnicking and swimming in the river. Someone had stopped at a rocky section in the middle of the river and had built a heap of rock cairns or stacks which looked really cool.
We had our photo taken by a photographer on the bank and could buy it if we wished (we wished but it was a little difficult to organise – we needed a Japanese address to have it sent to – luckily I remembered I had Naoko’s Dad’s business card in my bag so the boatman said he would ring and organise it with Michio).
Just before the end of the cruise we pulled up next to a boat selling food and drinks. I bought BBQ squid cooked fresh in front of us, jellies dusted in soy flour and drinks. Fran was amazed at how efficiently I managed to sort out and organise the purchases and how quickly the squid was cooked and served up.
To maximise the coverage of the local area (with weary bodies, blisters etc in mind) we decided to hire a rickshaw. Our rickshaw man spoke good English and had a great sense of humour so it was a great half hour tour to top off the day’s sightseeing in the Arashiyama area. He told us lots about the local area and we also asked a lot of questions about his job.  He said he had to train for two months before he was able to take passengers. There is a certain amount of skill in pulling and steering a rickshaw and you have to be fit and strong. He said his company was one of the few companies that employed a girl on the rickshaws (He said she had great heart and spirit - he also said she was very cute!).  His company had been going for 20 years (and 20 is a significant ‘birthday’ in Japan) so he had special stickers to give us and discounts on future rickshaw rides.  He was impressed that we had climbed Mt Fuji, even more impressed that we made it to the summit (so many people don’t). He said his girlfriend was going to climb it in the next week or so with friends but he wasn’t sure she’d make it.
We went to Nijo Jo but the last intake is 4pm and we were too late for that so we looked around the outside and then headed back to the station. We bought boxes to post our climbing stuff home but were disappointed to find that the ¥100 shop in the Tower was closed.  We ended up buying a thank you box of jellies for Miki (for all her help with the rail pass), some other mocha for the other staff who were also great and lots of t-shirts to send home with the climbing gear for presents. We were looking for calendars for Jack but couldn’t find any so had dinner at a French restaurant in Isetan before heading back to K’s House to pack boxes and arrange for them to be picked up. Too tired to do anything else we crashed again and slept really soundly.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Saturday 25th August, 2012
One foot in front of the other, torches, hundreds of lights above and below, people of all sorts – old and young, fast and slow. . . . . .

We watched the sunrise at the original 7th station followed by a nap on a bench in our sleeping bags (no accommodation at this station). There’s nothing like sleeping on a hard bench with your feet hanging over the edge of a mountain! Off again. Fran was feeling the altitude so we rested for a couple of hours at the 8th station to acclimatise better (¥1,000 for an hour if we didn’t sleep - ¥3,000 for as long as we liked once we closed our eyes! We closed our eyes and paid the price). The bonus was that we were able  to let people descending get past and climb with less traffic later in the day. The downward track is shared for a short distance then veers off away from the ascending track.

The 9th station was abandonded (which would have been nice to know – no drinks/food/oxygen or toilets as the building had been swamped by a landslide at some stage.

We met up with some of  the American service guys and girls that we had met earlier. Some of them had to turn back before reaching the summit (so close!) as they had to meet time schedules to return to base but others made it for the dawn.
There were so many people on the track, concentrated in a small space and all moving relatively slowly but continually upwards. It was hard going – I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of another – 70 steps before a rest at best, 4 at worst!  I slipped and fell at one stage – getting wedged between a couple of big rocks. Not much damage, a big graze on my arm and some potentially good bruises on my hip and legs. I was pretty firmly wedged though and needed a hand to drag myself upright so I could wiggle out of the gap I was wedged in.

The 200 metres to the top sign was a welcome sight (but that is 200 metres of altitude not distance) but the altitude really started to kick in and create problems. Fran really felt the thinness of the air at this altitude, so bad at stages that she was unable to talk even, and had to sit and breathe deeply to draw enough oxygen in (this is where that non-existent lodge at the 9th station would have been handy, we’d discussed buying an Oxygen bottle as a precaution as lots of others were using them). She wasn’t alone with this and people started turning back and heading down but with copious rests we continued on making the summit about 2.30pm.

We had photos taken, our sticks stamped at the shrine, ate ramen and not much else as most things were closed or sold out. The post office closed at 2pm and there is no mailbox because of the weather conditions so the postcards went to the summit and then came back down again with us.

We left the summit and headed back down about 3.30pm. The track wasn’t too bad to begin with and we made good time until dark. The tracks diverged and then criss-crossed back across the upward bound tracks at some (but not all) of the stations until just on dark. We entered a soft, deep sandy patch which continued on and on and ON! It was really hard going, like skiing sideways in foot deep loose snow with boulders to catch you unawares. We caught up and started leapfrogging with an American couple (Will and Sarah) and their daughter (Olivia – whom Will was carrying!). Fran and I had decided to stop and sleep on the mountain again but there was no accommodation available at the 8th station so we went on – only to discover that on this descent track the 8th station was the last until you reached the 5th station starting point! Sarah and Will were on the wrong track, their track was supposed to go to the other side of the mountain where there car was parked but they took a wrong turn at one of the stations (which is a common thing to do) and ended up stuck with us in the endless soft sand (think walking down a sand dune for 7-8 km in the dark!). Finally we came to a break in the soft sandy stuff only to find out that it was worse! Big rocky sections in the dark were much more difficult to deal with (as you couldn’t see your feet or the rocks easily, let alone figure out which ones were stable enough to tread on). Will’s torch died so I gave them my little spare (I think I lost my other headlamp somewhere – or maybe it will turn up somewhere . . .). We were actually glad to see the sandy stuff again after that little interlude!
We found a sign that said there was a toilet 40 minutes ahead, it took us about an hour to reach that at our pace – the light was like a homing beacon. Just as we arrived it went off, it was only a toilet and drink stop and closed at 1am but opened again for us and another party who caught up with us. The 5th station was still another 40 minute (hour for us) walk away. We bought drinks then asked the guy running the place if he could take us to the 5th station if we paid him. The guy wanted ¥20,000 to take us all to the station.  Will and Sarah had no cash left but the rate was not negotiable so we said they should come with us anyway as it was going to cost the same no matter how many of us went. Sarah (who hurt her knee) almost cried when we said that. The owner closed up, got out his caterpillar truck, loaded the girls in the back then put Will and Olivia in the cab (which was at the back of the vehicle) and off we went. Apparently the guy was drunk but the caterpillar truck was like a homing pigeon and it took about 20 minutes to drive down the dirt tracks to the 5th station. Once there things went smoothly, Will (who is half Japanese) organised a taxi for them to the other side of the mountain and a ride for us with them to a “convenience” hotel which turned out to be an onsen with a large, group rest room – which would have been great except the bathrooms were shut and we weren’t allowed to shower until morning! We washed the best we could and changed into the onsen yukata (in this case shorts and shirt) and headed off to sleep in the relaxation room until the baths opened at 7 am. Poor people who had to share with us!!! It was hard to get to sleep as there were so many sore spots to try and avoid, but once I slept I really slept and didn’t wake up til morning.

Sunday 26th August, 2012
Up and in the onsen promptly as soon as it was open! We soaped at least twice to get most of the Fuji dust off but there were still traces in ears etc. Fran had developed a huge blister on the bottom of her right big toe and the whole toe was red and inflamed. The blister had burst and was incredibly sore so we had to make sure we bandaged it well. Then it was back into our dirty clothes and hiking boots (all our clean stuff was in our main packs – we only took warm stuff to layer with us up the mountain) and a taxi back to the Subashi 5th station to collect our stuff. The mountain lodge ladies were pleased to see us and congratulated us on reaching the summit (our poles tell the story to all who can read the stamps). They waived any extra fee for keeping our baggage an extra night and we were just a about to order some zaru soba when the bus announcement came over the PA  that our bus was leaving in 5 minutes. I checked and the next bus wasn’t for hours so, reluctantly we apologised to the lodge ladies, cancelled our lunch order and lept aboard the bus, well- as much as we could leap onto a really crowded bus with tired, sore legs and big heavy packs. The bus was so crowded we stood or sat on our packs all the way to the station at Gotemba. We had 20 minutes to get organised in Gotemba before the train left so we still didn’t get a chance to change into cooler clothes. We went from Gotemba to Mishima, Mishima to Shizuoka, Shizuoka to Kyoto – we had great connections so it wasn’t a hard or harrowing as it sounds. We took a taxi from the station to K’s house but discovered that Fran had lost her rail pass somehow between the station and the backpackers. We spoke to the desk about it and they were fantastic! Miki (one of the girls) rang the station and told them which route out of the station we’d taken, the name on the pass, the time our train arrived etc and gave them contact details in case it was handed in. She also called the police on our behalf – both jobs far beyond my ability and language skills to do by phone. A little later we had a message, the pass had been found! I think that the station people went looking for it even – and armed with directions of where to go and how to reclaim it we headed off back to the station.
We met up with Liam and wandered round for ages looking for a restaurant before finally settling on a “fast food” joint – actually not such bad food but fast because the ordering process is streamlined. You choose your meal from the vending machine, pay for it and pass the paid coupon to the staff who assemble your food for you. We headed to the subway for me to discover I’d dropped my wallet in the restaurant – headed back and it was waiting for me (people are so honest in Japan). The WiFi is great at K’s house but we are soooooo tired still we can’t seem to make good use of it. We crashed as soon as our heads hit the pillow!

Monday 27th August, 2012
We’re tired and sore still, the blister on Fran’s foot is really bad and my sunburn is too so today was a slow rest day. We slept late, did washing, journals, photo downloads and planned out the next few day’s activities. Lunch was at the café next door – pizza and apple pie with ice cream. On the way to the station we saw THE most impressive paper crane origami. . It was a tiny little shop with a fellow who had a book to sell or lessons to give in how to make the most amazing designs using joined paper cranes all made from only one piece of paper.

We looked at a Ginza walking tour but we did a test run to the station and were moving so slowly that we would never have gotten back in time. Instead we posted postcards (the ones that had been to the top of Mt Fuji and back) and bought boxes to post back our mountain climbing stuff. We went looking for the ¥100 shop at the tower but it seems to be closed down so we bought some souvenirs at the Tower stands on the ground floor then had Chinese for dinner in the basement restaurant before heading back to pack boxes, do more computer catch up and BED!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Friday 24th August, 201
Up by 5am to photograph the dawn then down in the onsen (with waterproof camera) by 5.15am but the onsen was packed so no photo opportunities. Who would have thought that it would be so busy so early in the day - especially when it had been so quiet at 6pm?
Finished addressing postcards to post on top of Mt Fuji and arranged transfers to the station after we do the Lake Ashi cruise. Fujisama is now hiding behind clouds and you would never even know there was a mountain there!
We went down the ropeway to the lake cruise. It was a different ship this time, the green one and had different pirate statues. There were lots of different boats on the lake, the pirate ships in varying shapes and colours, jet skis, fishing boats and speed boats. The funniest thing was near the ferry terminal at the other end of the lake. There were a heap of small boats with people fishing in them, stationary – actually anchored in the bay. The people were towed out by a speedboat, anchored to fish then towed back into shore.
We headed back to the hotel for our transfer to the station. This would have to have been the best idea of the day (and a service not widely publicised as most people drive to this onsen or take a tour bus). The next bus arrived a few minutes after we arrived and the transfer was smooth – hopefully  sign of things to come.
We arrived at Gotemba in good time and caught the bus to the 5th station – unfortunately not the one we were aiming for . we were at Subashi not Kawaguchiko. A nice girl at the information booth there helped cancel our accommodation on the other side of the mountain for tomorrow night and booked us some sleeping space in a lodge for tonight. We left our main packs at the Subashi 5th station mountain lodge and set off at 3.30pm.
The accommodation booking was good but meant we had a schedule to keep to or we missed out on the dinner we had ordered and had to pay for regardless. We walked 15 minutes and then had a 5 minute rest. This was as much to help us acclimatise as to keep us moving at a good pace and it worked well. We arrived at our accommodation an hour early (but only because my watch was playing up and had moved itself so it was running nearly an hour early). Fran had one fall and hurt her wrist a little but nothing serious. We bunked in what looked like a rustic style capsule hotel until about 11,15pm then got up, ate tea and headed off in the hope we would reach the summit by dawn. While we were sleeping the track had become quite busy and we woke to find about 100 people outside our accommodation all waiting to go up the mountain.
Thursday 28th August, 2012
Had to wait for washing so reorganised packed and left stuff for Keiran and Emma at Kimi to collect on the way back through to Sendai and Shirakawa.
I got the ticket to Odawara but need to remember to check which platform (so I don’t need to go all the way back to ask!). Arrived at Odawara and bought Hakone Free Pass but we need a different bus company to get to Ubako. The bus dropped us literally in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road so we had to walk down to the station. The track was very rough and rustic. The hotel was the only other thing in the vicinity so no hope of missing it or looking for other accommodation or meals (good thing I had booked the package). The hotel was pretty classy, grand piano pianola playing western classical music in the foyer, welcome drink, lots of willing helpers to fetch trolleys etc.
Went for a walk and ride on the ropeway – Mt Fuji was co-operating beautifully with us for some great photos. Took the cable car to Owakudani but didn’t look round much because the cable car was finishing up for the day.
Watched the sun set behind Mt Fuji from our balcony – simply stunning! Then we went to use the onsen before dinner. The views from the onsen were fabulous too – shame we thought it would be busy and left the waterproof camera in the room. As a special treat, between 5-6 pm, there was free hot sake served to you in the rotemburo (outside bath). That’s service!
Our waiter was a source of great amusement and dinner was a multi course food fest of traditional Japanese food featuring local produce.

The only complaint really about this place was the lack of coverage for the advertised free WiFi – you had to sit in the lobby opposite the service desk to get more than a  one bar signal. This makes blogging difficult!