3776, 28

3776m. We had a two day window to get up the highest peak in Japan and typically the day we were there the forecast was for thick cloud, moderate rain and a chance of thunder.  So less than ideal. As we couldn’t even see the mountain and down in the town it was already drizzling we decided to wait in the hope that the weather would improve.  Instead we hired a couple of bikes from the hostel to ride around a couple of Fuji’s five lakes. Compared to the last bikes we hired back in Yangshuo, these were amazing. Mostly because they had gears meaning we could go up hills and get up to a reasonable speed on the flat. We somehow managed to avoid any heavy rain as we cycled about despite finding some large puddles see we must have just been lucky.  We were hoping we might catch a bit of a glimpse of Fuji but it never really emerged from its dark grey shroud. 

Although we hadn’t scaled the mountain we still had cake as it happened to be my birthday. Hopefully we would get to the top on my birthday boxing day. Not that there was any real doubt as we would be going up more or less whatever the weather decided as we wouldn’t be getting another chance. 

The morning arrived and the forecast seemed indecisive depending on which one we looked at.  Nothing suggested that the world was ending so we set off from the hostel at a blissfully chilly 6a.m. to catch the bus to the start of the trek. When we got off the bus we descovered our patience had been rewarded and we were above the clouds with a clear view of the summit and for a long way out across surrounding land. It was also about the coldest we’ve been since leaving the UK. The sun is still powerful though and we soon heated up as we started the long walk up to the summit. I have to say that Fuji isn’t a mountain you do for the walk itself as the 1600+m slog upwards is a fairly unrelenting upward path mostly of winding volcanic gravel interspersed with the odd rocky scramble and an impressive number of mountain huts for people making an overnight ascent.  The reason you do go is for the unparalleled views of Japan if you are lucky enough to get a clear day. We were lucky enough and the views are incredible. Arriving at the top to see the you get a good sense of how big this very solitary mountain. When the summit is over 500m across you know it’s big. We spent almost three hours wandering around, which was longer than it had taken us to get to the top, having lunch and admiring the volcanic scenery while walking the route around the top. 

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Getting down is a more route than the ascent,  presumably to help reduce erosion and avoid any particularly steep bits.  It was also all gravel which means you can treat it almost like scree running so we made rather good time getting back to the bus stop covering the 1600m or so in about an hour and a half. The last section back to the bus stop was very different to when we’d gone up as the clouds had crept upwards slightly to shroud the path in a thick fog giving it a very eerie atmosphere but with a very pleasant cooling effect having more or less just run down the mountain. 
Fuji is definitely worth visiting if you get a chance.  It’s not a technical mountain just a long walk up a step hill but with a very rewarding view at the top. To celebrate our success we had more cake back at the hostel before our real treat to ourselves for my birthday.  A stay at a Ryokan.

28 years. A Ryokan is basically a traditional Japanese style Inn. Ours was an onsen Ryokan, without would have seemed a waste, located in the mountains of northern Honshu. We were greeted by the staff and taken into the riverside dining room to be served our welcome tea and informed of how our stay would work. We were then shown to our room. A tatami matt floor and a balcony looking out at the river held a large table and futon chairs on which to enjoy more tea and a free bottle of sparkling plum wine. So we settled in and donned our Yukatas, essentially a Japanese dressing gown, and proceeded to ruin a pot of tea by leaving it for two minutes,  forgetting that it only needs about 20 seconds to brew. The attempt worked much better though. After tea we had the wine which was deliciously sweet and fruity but still light before heading to the onsen. 

Am onsen is essentially a hot spring bath to soak away the aches and of everyday life. Not that there’s much stress in our lives right now. Possibly the most Japanese part of Japan is the onsen culture, they are quite proud of it and understandably so.  The Ryokan gave us a very easy introduction into this culture which could be a bit intimidating for first timers in other public onsen. An onsen is bathed in wearing nothing more than your birthday suit and carrying a small face towel where in some mixed baths you can use it to cover your modesty. Otherwise the towel shouldn’t touch the water.  Before getting in you must wash yourself from toes to tête whilst sat down to avoid splashing and ensure that the water doesn’t end up in the onsen. Then you get in to the hot water gradually and relax. In the Ryokan there were a selection of eight different baths,  some inside and some outside with the largest bath being mixed gender and beside the river looking at the waterfall. Somehow,  despite there being plenty of guests we barely saw anyone else in the onsen which helped make it all the more relaxing. 

After spending quite a long time soaking in the various pools we could stand the heat no more retreated back to the room shortly before we were due to have dinner. I’m very fond of good food so this may take a while but in short,  wow. If this were served anywhere in the UK it would undoubtedly have a star.  That is the level this food was at.  A good dozen different dishes, mostly locally sourced, and so delicious we could have eaten the whole lot twice despite being quite full at the end. Several types of fish, grilled and fried, thin slivers of roast beef and the most amazing mushroom soup I’ve ever were some of the highlights. We even got a second serving of the soup it was so good. To wash it down we had a glass of plum wine and soda which was also an absolute delight and wonderfully refreshing.  All in all,  outstanding. 

Fully sated, we shuffled back to the room where, whilst at dinner,  our beds had been laid out for us. But before selling down for the night we had to have one last dip in the onsen. It would have been rude not to really. 

Come the morning we woke and decided to have a little extra sleep rather than overheat in the water before breakfast and the point is to relax so no need to overdo anything. Breakfast was interesting. When we arrived to the breakfast room the table was arrayed with a number of plates and boxes and no instructions on how to attack what was laid out in front of us.  Thankfully after a couple of minutes looking confused the host noticed and came to lend us a hand. Now I’m sure that if you are used to more Japanese cuisine then the breakfast would be spot on, however for us it was all a bit odd with the exception of the bacon and egg that we cooked ourselves in a small clay pot over a little flame. It was an interesting experience though and for the most part tasty enough with the one exception of a particularly sticky dish that was like eating some sort of seeds held together by something with a consistency somewhere between honey and hot glue. 

I can’t recall ever having anywhere nicer than this and love to be able to afford more than the one.  The downside would probably be that you’d never leave the place to see the rest of the amazing country. 3 weeks won’t be enough really.

This marked the end of our stay on the mainland. Next it’s off for a week in Hokkaido with a climate more like the and far fewer people than most of Japan as well as driving a car for the first time in over two months. Can’t wait. 

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