Thursday, May 30, 2013
Japan - A Bit of Tokyo & Mount Fuji and Hakone
My last leg was Tokyo. I promptly drifted off as the plane took off and kinda napped all the way until it was time to land. This Japan trip was really strange indeed that I was able to sleep during the journeys. Arriving in Narita again, I got rather confused in finding the counter for the airport bus limousine. It's all because I was in the domestic area. After some asking around, I managed to find it and I was still early that I didn't miss the next bus. The hotel I chose was Shinjuku Washington Hotel. Chose that simply because there's the airport bus service as well as pick up option for the day tours that I wanted to take. The hotel itself wasn't that amazing. I arrived before 2 pm and somehow was told to wait until 2 to check in, sigh. Luckily I didn't have to wait long. The room was the smallest I had in Japan. The biggest was in Kyoto, where there's enough space in the room for 1 long sofa. The most horrendous thing about Shinjuku Washington Hotel though was the long queue for breakfast even though there are 3 different restaurants to choose from. Anyways, after I put my things, I decided to proceed with the plan.
First stop was Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. My research told me it's like 10-15 minutes walk from Shinjuku station, but Shinjuku station itself is humongous and there are the Shinjuku subway station (green line) and the Shinjuku train station. I just got lost badly here. What supposed to be 10-15 minutes, I think took me 40 minutes to figure out and I was bounced off here and there, going back and forth and kept on checking the map. I just couldn't get it. I even asked 2 different policemen in 2 different posts to help me with direction. At the second post, the policeman pulled up this really old (it was brown looking) map of the area and I thought it wasn't helpful at all :( Also all of them didn't speak english :( However I do have to count my blessing, because at the second post there was this tourist who was accompanied by someone whom I think maybe she just met who helped her to report that she lost her bag. So I could be really tired then, but at the very least I still had all my thing and was alright. I think the reason why I had a hard time with the direction was because if the direction required multiple steps, I just couldn't follow it well. I attributed it to being tired. Also, when I think I had to walk a little but ended up walking a lot, I lost my confidence that it's the right way and I would end up not following through with the path. Eventually, I made it to the park, around 1 hour before its closing time :( I had walked a lot and I didn't have much energy :(
As is the tendency with me, I rarely consult the map of a place and just walk whichever way I feel like it. So I didn't really see the map of the park to decide where I wanted to go. I went to the direction of a french garden, but I wasn't sure if I found it or if it was already closed when I was there. I did make it to the green house and it reminded me of the domes in Gardens by the Bay, but it was in a much smaller size and it was hot inside it! I'm not sure if a greenhouse is meant to be hot. It could be because they're hosting tropical plants inside it which didn't interest me much. A papaya tree is maybe interesting if you have never seen it, but for me it's not. I did see this little strawberry plant which I found interesting. It's all because I haven't had the chance yet to visit the many strawberry farms in areas just outside Jakarta.
Then like any other gardens in Japan, there are ponds and I saw at least 2 of those. There's also a nice clearing where there were a few people lying there enjoying the sun or having a picnic. I saw poppies too, which made me glad but then it made me rather sentimental because there weren't any red ones which reminded me of Spain and Italy :( These ones reminded me more of the poppies in France, Avignon to be exact.
Now as I was googling about this garden as I'm writing this, I found out that I did make it to the French garden. There were many roses there. I wonder if they're always there or it's just some sort of exhibition. The roses were big and reminded me of the little rose garden in Rome near Circus Maximus. Anyway, there were many different species with interesting names. I found myself loving the ones with patterns in them instead just 1 colour. It was great seeing them and I just couldn't help it, I always try to smell roses whenever I can.
I think around 30 minutes before closing time, there was announcement that the park is closing and they repeated this announcement 15 minutes later. The french garden with the roses were the last one I saw and I decided to just leave. I found out there's a subway station nearby. I could have taken a subway from the station near my hotel and it would have saved my energy and all the confusion, aarrrghh! I felt rather idiotic. I'm not sure why I didn't find out about it during my research. Anyway, next on the plan was Yasukuni Shrine. It's a controversial shrine because of the soldiers which are enshrined there. They're considered as heroes and are highly respected in Japan but for countries, like Indonesia for example, who had to experience Japan occupation during the war, it's kinda a touchy subject that these people whom the victims suffered under are honored as heroes. For the record though, I don't think Indonesia has ever made any objection if any Japanese politician visits the shrine, but for countries like China and South Korea, it's a big issue for them. So anyway, I was just intrigued and curious to see what it's like. I got out the station and followed the direction, but when I was in the street level I was rather confused. I was thinking if I would be lost again, but thank God it wasn't that painful. It was a long walk, but I wasn't really lost. I remember having to pass a very big torii and another big torii before finally reaching the compound. It was near closing time and there weren't many people. I felt that it's rather formal compared to the other shrines I've visited but my impression could be very well influenced by what I know about the shrine. I didn't feel like I can take pictures freely because there's a security guard there and basically there wasn't any other tourist :( A group of Japanese asked me to take their picture. I did and I realized the sun was behind them so their faces were dark and I explained in english while pointing a lot to the sun and my face that it's better if we changed position. The gesturing helped and they agreed with my idea. It was much better and they thanked me profusely. Japanese are so cute in their politeness. Since I didn't feel that comfortable in exploring the shrine, I didn't really stay long and I just decided to call it the day.
Well next on the plan was actually to go to Tokyo Tower before calling it the day, but since I had walked so much, I decided that it's enough. Anyway, I may have a long day the next day and so I thought I better rest. The next day, I took a day tour to see Mt. Fuji. I gave myself 1 hour for breakfast but the queue were crazy. I finally got a table around 15 minutes before I was supposed to be picked up. I had to wait for the food to come and I think I just gulped as much as I can within 7-8 minutes. It wasn't fun :( Went to the meeting point where there were many other tourists waiting to be picked up. Saw a couple whom I suspected to be Indonesian. Just because they're muslims and Indonesian looking, I thought they're Indonesian when I could be so wrong and they could be Malaysian or others. Luckily I was right :) I greeted this tante and om (aunt and uncle) and I was right to call them that since they're perhaps only slightly younger than my parents. They're from Surabaya. So it turned out, all of us will be taken to the actual meeting place where we would be sorted into the different tours for the day. In the bus, I also heard some Indonesians from behind me, but I didn't introduce myself to them.
Arriving in the bus terminal, we found out which bus was ours. Again seats are assigned. I got window seat. Next to me was this Philippino dad who was traveling with her 2 daughters. I found it amusing that Philippines kids call their dad, "daddy". I was expecting something more local. It was quite a long drive and the guide talked the whole way, except on our way back to Tokyo. I have a suspicion that it's inside their task list and so they have to do it. Before I went to Japan, I read an opinion of a blogger who said that one shortcoming of the Japanese is that they're not very flexible. I began to see where he's coming from. I often see people really carrying their job without any deviation. That actually can be seen as a good or bad thing. What I'm trying to say is, it was a long drive and I wouldn't mind some peace and quiet, but didn't really get that. I think the guide still did an excellent job though. First stop was Fuji Visitor Center. Nothing much to be said here. It was good to get out of the bus for awhile and we did get some nice pictures of Mt. Fuji. This picture below though was taken from the bus, I think.
Then it was some drive again to Mt. Fuji 5th Station. This is where climbers would start their ascend. It was cold there, windy as well. The mountain was white with snow. There are shops and a small shrine. Other than that, nothing much to be explored. When I was exploring the shrine, a girl asked my help to take a picture. When I turned to see them, I knew they were the Indonesians from the bus earlier this morning, so I straight away started to talk in Indonesian. They're childhood friends from Jakarta. One of them is leaving for home the next day and so the other would venture on her own to Kyoto. They're doing this Mt. Fuji tour too. Apparently as well as the couple they talked to in the bus that morning. It's just all of us were in different groups, so we weren't in the same bus. It's kinda nice talking to them in our usual Jakartans way :P It's also interesting that we're actually staying in the same hotel.
Anyway, I had to part ways with them because I had to go back to my group. We went for lunch next and it turned out even during lunch, the table had been arranged for people who's traveling alone, in group of 2, 3, and so on. So I ended up sitting with the other solo travelers. There's a guy from Australia, a guy from America, a Chinese Malaysian who's perhaps Australian now, a Swiss girl but from the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, me, and the guide. Everyone weren't that chatty but we did make small talk a bit. I spoke a bit of Italian with the Swiss girl, but honestly my Italian is not awesome. Lunch was great though. Tried 1 slice of tuna sashimi. Managed to get it down, but I didn't really enjoy it so I didn't finish the rest.
After lunch, we're supposed to go take a cable car in somewhere and a boat cruise in Lake Ashi. It turned out the weather wasn't that great. We did kinda get blue sky in the morning, but it got quite cloudy during the day and I think the wind made our original cable car plan to stop its operation. So our cable car plan was changed to another one, I think its name is Hakone ropeway. While waiting for our turn for the cable car, I decided to greet a couple in my group whom I suspected to be Singaporeans. They are indeed. Then I made a huge mistake. I told the lady, oh you're pregnant and she said, no, not really. AWKWARD!!! It's just she really looked pregnant and her husband was like always holding her and making sure she's okay. The positive side could be she just gave birth but I think she just lost her baby and that made me feel so bad, aarrghh!!! What are the odds :( I was speechless after her response and just diverted the conversation to other topics. I saw them again because we were flying back to Singapore on the same day and we were taking the same bus to the airport. At that time, I just waved and said, hi!
Back to the story, we got off the cable car to this place, which I think is called Owakudani Valley
. Seeing the smoke rising from the sulphur vents and hearing about how people use the hot water and smoke to boil eggs, I basically thought that it's the Hakone's version of Tangkuban Perahu
. It's interesting that even the egg thing is the same. Different country, different place, different culture, but how did people think of the same thing? I didn't try the egg here though. I heard when it's boiled using the hot springs, the egg' shells turned black. I'm not sure why that is so. It's not like that in Tangkuban Perahu. Another funny thing that came to my head was that, when I visited one of the crater in Tangkuban Perahu and my brother was getting the eggs for us, I saw some Japanese tourists doing the same. In a way, it was kinda a role reversal for me :P
Last stop of the day was the short boat cruise. I think we did it in Lake Kawaguchi. It wasn't anything special for me. I think because I had done this kinda thing before. I was on a boat in Lake Garda and last year I was on a boat through the Bosphorus strait. It was just a lake and green hill all around. Perhaps during autumn, it would be pretty cool with the different leaves colours. Most interesting highlight was perhaps seeing a torii by the edge of the lake and seeing this pirate looking ship.
So that was it, the trip to Mt. Fuji. I didn't think it was an exceptional trip or anything. I did see Mt. Fuji, but I wonder if there are other better places to see it from. Sometime it's better to see a mountain from some distance than to be actually near it, if you get what I mean. Well at the very least, I think I crossed that very Japanese thing off my list. For pictures from the trip, you can go here
There are different options for this trip. I chose to go back by the bus rather than the shinkansen train. Reason was because I guessed I was rather cheap, but more logically was that when I was looking at the different options, the return time was around the same time, 7-8 pm, regardless if you choose the bus or train. I ended up reaching Shinjuku before 7 pm. I heard from the Indonesian couple the next day that they reached Shinjuku around 9 pm even though they took the shinkansen option. So good for me, I guess :) Of course I got badly lost trying to find my way to the hotel, so I still ended up reaching my room way after 7 pm :( It's quite an interesting ride to Tokyo. It seems unbelievable for me to be saying that I found the roads in Tokyo to be incredibly amazing. Tokyo is just so big and with the flyover criss-crossing everywhere, it was a real something. One of the most incredible thing was that I think we went through this tall circular tunnel. That's not very descriptive, but you know how it's like when you go to a mall and you have to park your car and the parking lot is another building and you ended up driving your car up and down most probably in some sort of circular direction to navigate yourselves among the levels to find a free spot, now imagine that structure and the cars are going in that circular tunnel like up or down and then they can exit to the freeway that they want. I'm not totally sure if what I'm explaining is correct or if it exists, it's just that's what my perception of the tunnel was when we're inside it. Maybe I'm totally wrong, but it's just the roads, the structures in Tokyo impressed me deeply. Yes, it's busy. Yes, it can look so chaotic, but I found them to be very fascinating and it took me by surprise that I can be fascinated by a city's engineering :P Okay, that's the story for now. Hope that I can write the next part soon and hope you're not that bored yet.
:) eKa @ 9:28:00 PM •