Japan Round 2, Part 2: Fujisan + Tokyo

Early next morning, fresh off the night bus Ben joined us in Tokyo. He and Tom hadn’t seen each other since 2012 (not that you could tell) so the morning was spent shooting the shit. As we ventured out into the streets of Tokyo the first order of business was taking Ben (the hipster…) to get good coffee – Fuglen cafe in Ebisu was just the spot for that. Not only were we supplied with good coffee but also delicious pastries and granola as well. Moving slowly on we ambled through the chaotic main street of Harajuku where we found useful items such as…

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Naturally I bought a shipment load of this

From Harajuku to Ueno we continued to meander through the streets/metros of Tokyo with no real purpose to our day.

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In Ueno we went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum where we tried to go into a gallery and were told we had to pay… bailing on the idea (as the gallery didn’t look terribly exciting) we turned to leave when an old man came up to us and handed us two postcards explaining that if we signed them we could go into the gallery for free… Not your typical gallery entry but hey it worked for us!

Our day concluded with a trip to the supermarket to buy snacks and water for Fuji and having dinner with my friend Shigeki who helped organise our whole Mt Fuji mission. Dinner with Shigeki was slightly more of a brief food tour of Nishi-Ogikubo.

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Taiyaki being explained to us

We started with Taiyaki – a fish shaped pastry (bread.. unsure) filled with red bean paste. We then moved on to sampling some green tea. Stopped in at an izakaya (Japanese pub.. where salarymen go after work) for some yakatori. The yakatori was probably my least favourite of all the Japanese food I have tried – these are skewers (kebabs) of liver, tongue, cartilage, chicken skin, minced chicken…. not really any food I like to eat! While the boys did a good job of eating most of the food, Fi and I did an equally good job of shifting food around the plates to make it seem like we had tried everything! Finally, after our brief stint in the izakaya we finally went to the restaurant where we were having dinner. It turned out Fi and I hadn’t done such a good job disguising our dislike of the yakatori as Shigeki’s ordering this time contained nearly exclusively fish and vegetable based dishes!! Our dinner was spent discussing the impending trip up Fujisan and Shigeki’s plans for us for the next day – 6:00am collection to start driving to Mt Fuji… we discovered the next day Shigeki had perhaps anticipated we might be slower walkers than we were!

6:00am rolled around quickly and we 4 giant humans (by Japan’s standards) clambered into Shigeki’s brother’s people mover (he decided his car despite being a 5 seater was not big enough for us). After an hour and a half of driving and a 20 minute bus ride we reached 2000 metres and the 5th station of the Subashiri Route. After a few photos and our first “pay per poo” loo stop (I just mean you have to pay to use the loo… not anything weirder) we were on our way just after 9:00am.

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Team Fuji and our amazing helper Shigeki!

Shigeki estimated that it would take us 5 hours to reach the 8th station where we would be staying… that was not the case! Our walk started through forest with a volcanic rock floor and as the forest fell away endless volcanic rock continued (it did lead me to question the intelligence of those who carried bear bells as there was just no way a bear’s life could be sustained on Mt Fuji!).

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Within 45 minutes we made it to the 6th station and began to cotton on that perhaps the Japanese time estimates were quite generous. We continued parambulating up the side of the mountain, stopping at all the rest stations for a snack and drink… and sometimes just to put a bit of space between us and the very annoying American Army guys who were exceptionally loud and obnoxious.

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Team Fuji taking a rest

By 12:30 we had reached the 8th station where we would be spending the night. Dinner wasn’t till 5pm so we had a lot of time up our sleeves. After more snacking and taking advantage of the free wifi (yes Japan has free wifi 3,500m up a mountain!) we decided to go up to the summit and walk around the crater rim. (When we arrived at the 8th station, both Ben and I were feeling a wee bit light headed but after an hours rest we were right as rain).

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The walk to the summit took about 45 minutes and was relatively uncrowded (not what we would experience in the morning).

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A disused hut on the Fuji ascent
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Ultimate tourists

When we reached the summit we were greeted by even more volcanic rock and absolutely no snow (despite not seeing any snow the whole way up I was still somewhat surprised). As we circled the crater rim we were treated to spectacular views of the inners of the crater that was coloured by beautiful reds and greens.

Crate Rim Mt Fuji style

The quiet of the Fuji summit that afternoon certainly gave us no indication of just how busy it would be the next morning.

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It’s not often I feel short in Japan but…

After circling the crater we descended at pace (thanks to the deep pebbles that allowed us to run down without injuring ourselves) to the hut. Dinner was Japanese curry, rice, hamburger meat and essence of salad. We considered this quite a small meal and also ate the breakfast we were given, much to the horror and amusement of the Japanese watching us. After a “shower” facilitated by wet wipes and a repack of our belongings we sat around watching the sunset until lights out at 8:30pm! 

The sleeping arrangements in the hut were intimate… and not in the way that anyone desires. Between the four of us we had two futons… Ben and Tom sharing one and Fi and I sharing another.

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Three bunks high, in the shape of a U… Made for a sleepless night.

I estimate there were 50-60 people in our room.. all very squished. Sleep wasn’t something that any of us had a lot of, while Fi was mashed against the wall, I kept been knocked on the head by the woman sleeping near me, Ben was constantly caught between Tom and myself and Tom kept waking up uncomfortably close to the Japanese man next to him! While people started to get up at 12:30 to start their ascent… absolute madness in my books given that the sun doesn’t rise till 5:19am! We held out until 3:15am to start our very chilly and slow ascent(despite Shigeki’s recommendation that we start at midnight). The temperature itself wasn’t that chilly but there was a horribly bitter wind and the slow pace due to the sheer number of people climbing made it quite a cold walk.

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A poor photo of the number of headlights to the summit of Fuji

We started with great gusto covering the first 100m at serious pace this was however short lived. We quickly found ourselves wedged within a cast of thousands walking to the summit for sunrise. The pace slowed to a standstill in many places and in a very unjapanese manner we cut the queues where ever possible shooting up the side of the line and scrambling over rocks! Thanks to our queue cutting skills we managed to make it to the summit with a bit of time to spare before sunrise.

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Many, many humans

Perching on the side of the mountain we watch the sun rise up over a blanket of clouds… as cliched and corny as it may sound (and be) it was SPECTACULAR!

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Ball of fire
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Ball of fire got higher
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So happy I couldn’t keep my eyes open

Despite the amazing view the wind had a real bite to it, so given our adventures round the summit the previous day, once we had confirmed that the sun had yet again made it safely into the sky we opted for a rapid descent.

Descending Mt Fuji is a lot of fun for the first 10 minutes as you are able to run down the scree without losing control. However after the novelty wears off the skidding and flying rocks becomes mildly frustrating.

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Walking down the many switchbacks we eventually came down to the green plateau that marked more or less the conclusion of the descent… it was only 8:00am!! (Thankfully we had changed our bus booking back to Tokyo from 3:00pm to the earliest of 10:00am otherwise it would be a very long wait). Stopping at the first cafe we saw that had a sign saying coffee we stopped there for food and coffee and sat in a zombie-like state for 2 hours until we could board the bus.

When we made it back to Tokyo we were all zonked, a lot of climbing and not a lot of sleep suddenly took quite a heavy toll. After about 4 hours of napping we finally pulled finger and left the AirBnB for what ended up being a lot of beers around Tokyo… Quite a few of which were consumed at tables so small they looked more like they were designed for one Japanese person… not 4 westerners!

Forced out of bed due to check out a bit groggy we were up at nine tidying up the AirBnB. Once we had fulfilled our obligations we all agreed we wanted the most western brunch we could find… A cafe next to Fuglen called Bondi delivered on the western brunch… it just took about 3 hours from the moment we requested a table to the moment that we left the restaurant (something which had I not felt quite so tired might have generated serious annoyance on my part). We then enjoyed a bizarre day with a serious range of activities.

We first came across something called Shibuya Bosai which turned out to be an earthquake drill to help citizens learn how to cope with earthquakes. We watched the police, army and some other group (I can’t remember who) go head to head in a race to rescue people from earthquake stricken buildings.  We then walked to Meiji Shrine where we got to see a couple of Japanese wedding parades as well as hilarious votive tablets and beautiful sake containers..

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Our next adventure in Tokyo found us watching a “band” of Japanese people play a variety of “instruments” (including a recorder piano that was played while wearing a cat puppet).. The music was very catchy (we were humming for the rest of the afternoon) and the band paraded down the street that had been covered by a patchwork quilt!

Continuing to wind our way through the streets of Tokyo we eventually came across a jazz festival that Tom had found out about – turns out the Japanese have quite the love of jazz. While having never been an appreciator of jazz in the past it was a very relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

We completed our day in Tokyo with a trip up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to see just how dense and endless the city was!

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Finally we parted ways with Fi – Tom, Ben and I took the night bus to Sakata, where Ben lives, and Fi had one more day in Tokyo before she returned to NZ.

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