Last glimpse of Tokyo and ultimate Fuji experience

Sunrise from top of Mt. Fuji

When I am going back to the memories of Tokyo it is rather blurred, but maybe it’s better since I will write about what I remember the most. Tokyo impressed Dan more than me, I was overwhelmed by its metropolitanism. Blinking neons in super modern districts and noisy Pachinko&Slot saloons for sure give the city its nature, but it is not exactly the one that wins my heart.

“Tokyo was my first experience about Japan, country about which I thought I knew something. Let’s say travelling verifies expectations.”


Don’t get me wrong, it was an exceptional experience to be there and see it, especially after years of my fascination of manga, anime and modern Japanese culture in my teenage years. But I noticed this dependency, that if a city fascinates me and gets to me at all it is usually not a capital. Tokyo was my first experience about Japan, country about which I thought I knew something. Let’s say travelling verifies expectations (is it even good to have any expectations while travelling? That’s another issue). My visit there has thrown some light on the aspects of culture and life I have not been thinking about before. In the end those details, that are rather subjective, because everyone notice different things, create our image of the place and add a bit of relish to our experiences. Well, probably the very first of my observations was the lack of smokers on the streets. Nevertheless we light our cigarettes with Dan, while walking down the Asakusa. I’m thinking, maybe it is just unpopular, maybe cigarettes are expensive and nobody can be bothered to buy them, maybe Japanese are very aware of the bad consequences of smoking. Streets are clean, no trace of cigarette butts, when suddenly just around the corner a smoking area appears! Small rectangular space on the pavement with trash can and people gathering inside to stop on their way, wherever they were rushing to, to enjoy this deadly pleasure. Yes, I thought, that’s right Japanese are rather exemplary nation to me. The greater was my surprise when I found out that in all restaurants we visited it was permitted to smoke inside! Not in any separated smoking areas or rooms, it was OK to smoke anywhere on the premises and no one seemed to be disturbed.

    Regarding my opinion about Japanese as an exemplary nation I was not disappointed! Everything appeared to me as well organised, means of transport work exceptionally punctual even in the peak hours. Even though English language is not that popular among natives, in every tourist information and other public places tourist would use, there is no problem in communication in this language or acquiring the information you need. Despite that Japanese are the nicest and helpful people. Repeatedly, when me and Dan seemed a bit lost people would come to us gratuitously and offer help, even if it meant guiding us from point A to point B. Every time we asked for help or information we always got it (smile included) if only person was capable of helping. I won’t forget our last afternoon in Tokyo, in Kiyosumi garden, where despite our hopeless language abilities we had an amazing time with lovely old lady and a group of her grandchildren feeding tortoises together, laughing and having enjoyable little conversations in two different languages.
     We enjoyed our time in Tokyo and decided to stay there one day longer than planned and even then we did not manage to see and do most of the things we wanted. Our plans were thwarted mostly by the weather. In my humble opinion summertime is the worst possible time to visit Japan. Temperature reaching over forty degrees and insane humidity are the factors that caused us instant exhaustion, dizziness and drowsiness – not exactly desirable set for intensive touring. Despite that, one of Japan’s biggest charms are amazing gardens, deliberated and designed according to philosophical instructions, looking all beautiful during spring while everything blooms, over autumn when Japanese maple turns red and in the winter when all those whimsically shaped trees are covered in snow. During summer you can admire water lilies if there are any on the pond and lotus flowers (stunning!) if you are lucky to go to the right garden. Except those two there is a green bush of everything waiting for you rumbling with the sounds of cicadas.
    The rest of our stay in Tokyo passed on regaling delicacies of Japanese cuisine in little street bars in which orders have been taken by an enigmatic machine, or fabulous onigiri freshly from 7-Eleven. We saw imperial gardens, visited the cat café ‘Café Calaugh’. We have been extremely thrilled the moment we heard about the concept of cat cafés where you can enjoy a delicious green tea vanilla ice latte and rent a cat to accompany you! And finally we visited two really adorable gardens, which I strongly recommend to every person planning on coming to Tokyo – Koishikawa (with lovely rock pathways through ponds and Japanese maple area with red little bridges designed especially to make a great impression in autumn) and Kiyosumi (that has to offer little bit of everything, lotuses, cherries, plums, wisterias, rock pathways, and little lake with tortoises jumping there from the rocks).

     The day before we left Tokyo time has come for us to figure out how to get to Fuji mountain. We went to the bus station in Shinjuku, loosing our way several times on this occasion what got us very nervous and even aggressive. After finding the station we purchased tickets for the next afternoon to the 5th station of Fuji – highest point on the volcano to which you can access by motorized transport. Cost of the tickets was 2700 yen per person (approx. 15£). We planned our trip there so that we could start climbing around 8pm. From the information I gathered before it turned out that the way to the top should take approximately 6 hours. In the end it took us exactly this much to climb however, my forethought made me assume that we are going to need at least two more hours due to our physical condition and lack of preparation. We paid for this pointless precaution by curling under a rock to hide from the wind and freezing until merciful stalls with hot drinks and food and benches to sit on have been opened. Our plan was to climb overnight to admire the sunrise from the top of the volcano, what turned out to be quite a popular practice. We knew that even though the temperature in the night oscillated around 30 degrees in Tokyo, it is not going to be so cheerful on 3700 masl. Therefore we left our backpacks in the shed on the 5th station and changed our clothes to warm. Well, I did. Dan relied on a jumper and a jeans jacket and he strongly regretted it after.

“In my humble opinion summertime is the worst possible time to visit Japan. Temperature reaching over forty degrees and insane humidity are the factors that caused us instant exhaustion, dizziness and drowsiness – not exactly desirable set for intensive touring.”

Climbing kept us warm although, our mistake was that we took too little food with ourselves and needed to pay horrendous amount of money for some chocolate bars in the stalls on the way up. What I really liked was the idea of collecting stamps from every station on the walking stick with a flag, that you could purchase in the shop on the 5th station. Unfortunately it was too expensive for us, since the stick cost about 100 yen and every stamp 200-300 yen depending on the altitude. However, next time I am not going to hesitate to do this. Climbing wasn’t that hard, especially on the beginning. First kilometre was actually a nice walk, initially descending, later on somewhat ascending. Second stage was slightly steeper zigzag path that would get steeper with altitude and finally last several hundreds meters challenged with massive rocks and chains, but still doable even for elderly people. Unfortunately Dan suffered from altitude sickness which is apparently quite likely to happen there, but even then he managed to finish the climb and admire the rewarding view. We both managed, but after reaching the top at about 2:30 am another challenge was awaiting. Sunrise was predicted for about 4:30 am and we needed to cope with unbearable cold. We tried to nap under a rock but the temperature didn’t let us to do this for more than 15 minutes. Fortunately as I mentioned some stalls were open from around 3:30 and we managed to squeeze into one of them slurping hot chocolate bought for the rest of our money. Around 4:00 am it started to get bright, we left the stall and searched for some appropriate place to nest for sunrise. Between us and the ground was a layer of clouds, so we couldn’t see the sun from the ground and needed to wait until it reaches the clouds. The atmosphere on the top was amazing. Dozens if not hundreds of people awaiting for the same moment of first rays of the sun to appear from beneath the clouds, full of excitement and exhausted in the same time. When it finally happened crowd started clapping, whistling and cheering. That was for sure the most spectacular sunrise of my life.

    For hiking enthusiasts who are willing to conquer Fuji I recommend visiting http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6901.html website where you can find plenty of useful information, like bus timetables, ticket prices and climbing trail tips. Descent took us about 2,5 hours, 5th station we reached around 8 am and the entire climb we did in about 12 hours. On the bottom we had a surprising wave of energy and excitement, high-fiving each other for completing our challenge and taking smiley photos. Although, it didn’t last long, immediately after boarding the bus to Kawaguchiko we lost consciousness and felt asleep. After reaching bus station in Kawaguchiko we checked our possible options for getting to Kyoto. We planned on hitch hiking but the exhaustion weakened our enthusiasm and we had two options left. Shinkansen for 11,000 yen which would get us to Kyoto in 2 hours or overnight bus for 8,000 yen. We chose the bus since our budget was running low and in this case we had the issue of an accommodation sorted for that night. While I was purchasing tickets, Dan accidentally met the nicest American couple working in Kyoto. They had been spending their holidays in the 5 lakes area (Kawaguchiko and surrounding cities nearby Fuji). It turned out that they needed to come back to Kyoto earlier than planned and had two spare tour bus tickets for the whole day and offered to give those to us for free. Thanks to them we could have spent our day on exploring 5 lakes area and save money we didn’t have already. We went to the other side of the lake that looked quite nicely, lied down on the shore and fell asleep in the accompaniment of intensive sounds of working excavator. The weather caused me a lot of disappointment since I was hoping for some good shots of Fuji from the ground. Thick plain layer of milky white clouds covered the sky thoroughly and the volcano, unfortunately was not visible at all. After recovering a bit from our intensive night we hopped on our tour bus again to explore volcanic cave by Saiko lake. After nice stroll through the forest and crawling in moist Bat Cave we returned to the bus station and ‘showered’ with dry shampoo and wet wipes before the journey. It was as well the moment of realisation that we had already spent most of our money therefore we needed to resign from most of our plans apart from Kyoto, we did not expect Japan to be such an expensive country and that was our mistake. We wanted to stay in Ryokan and experience traditional Japanese accommodation on Koya mountain among temples, shrines and monks; hike the trails of Kumano Kodo or trek antique pathway from Tsumago to Magome from Edo times. We regretted it a lot, but at least we’ll have plenty of adventures for the next time in Japan. The bus has come, we took our seats in amazingly comfortable seats (or shall I say nearly beds!) with blankets and curtains to separate from the rest of the bus and departed to Kyoto.

Tokyo under the sign of cicada

Gardens of Kyoto

So my dad was right, Tokyo looks better after I had enough of sleep. On the very entrance to Japan we have been stopped by a Japanese reporter with cameraman and translator asking where are we from and why Japan following with question to Dan ‘you are so handsome, are you a model?’, that’s a good one.

 My first impression about Tokyo and probably the rest of Japan are giant merciless cicades sitting almost on every tree. In park and gardens noise is that bad that I cannot hear my own thoughts and all this tick-tacking and screeching it’s driving me mad. Our second day in Tokyo we begin with too late visit in Tsukiji fish market. Traders were already closing and there were no fish left although, breakfast in one of the nearby bars was irreplaceable! Supertasty sashimi Anago dan after which my love to the Japanese rice has become eternal. I could live here only for rice and fish. Next metro ride to Shinjuku which looks amazing almost empty at 9 am on Saturday. Walk around the Central Park which probably brings to one’s mind images from New York ^ green space surrounded by skyscrapers. In that park we have eaten the best, most tasty, sweet and furry peach in the world.

       After 9:30 (at that time Tokyo Metropolistan Government Building is being opened) we reachedthe observatory on the 45th floor, from which there is an amazing view on skyscrapers in Shinjuku, Meiji Jingu park and center of Tokyo. Architecture is impressive, both height as well as appearance. In the observatory there is an exhibition dedicated to victims of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and event ‘Thousand paper cranes for Sadako Sasaki’ girl, who was 2 years old when the bomb was dropped nearby her house, delectable old man gratuitously offered me help with origami and after two trials I was able to make a crane by myself.

        From TMGB we went to Meiji Jingu garden admiring on our way sights of Shinjuku – boards, neons and first in my life view (and nosie!) of Pachinko – arcade gabmling machine. First shopping in Japanese market, bento – lunch box and onigiri – triangle made of rice and stuffed with meat or fish followed by liters of bottled green tea. Another delectable Japanese disinterestedly guided us to the garden as we probably looked a bit lost looking on the map in the middle of the street. Japanese people are so nice! Garden or rather park, beautiful and full of trees, was dedicated to Emperor Meiji. Nearby the entrance to the Inner Garden there were rows of wine and sake barrels sent by brewers from Japan and France, as gifts in the memory of the Emperor, who managed to reconcile tradition of the East with culture of the West and endeavored to the development of Japan. In the Inner Garden there is a temple devoted to the honor of the Emperor as well. To give the proper respect there you need to throw a couple of coins to the wooden box, bow, clap twice in your hands and bow again. Respect given, we move on.
    We head toward Harajuku, crowd is merciless and temperature doesn’t allow to breathe and function. We get around the main shopping street Takeshita-dori but unfortunately I see only two pink lolitas and one gothic lolita – apparently 35 degree heat doesn’t favour dressing up. We escape to the chilly metro which takes us to Ueno where we are going to visit Tokyo Zoo in which first time in my life I see Giant Panda and Polar Bear. On our way to the Zoo we pass by a funny amateur comedian who was entertaining the audience with mime a’la Mission Impossible and after the show even shook my hand ;).

     Unfortunately legs hurt and jet lag still takes its toll so we get back to the hostel for a short nap and at 8 pm when it’s already dark we head towards Akihabara – Electric City, district of technology and manga, for a walk. We admire lights and neons there as well as walls of the buildings covered in manga and anime pictures. Shops are surprisingly still open. We enter a huge 5-floor game room in which I take my memorial turn on Dance Dance Revolution,\ however, my skills are not the same anymore. We return to the hostel hopping into a nearby bar in which by my mistake I get tempura again and I decide I don’t like it! Although, rice is still awesome. Time to sleep before next day overnight escapade to Fuji. I have no idea how we are going to hack it, we just have managed to set our bio clocks, well almost cause I can’t sleep  since 5 am anyway. Never mind we need to do this – life challenge!

Sleepless in Tokyo (Day 1)

Pachinko & Slot

Alone on the Heathrow Airport. Procedures the same apart from that terminal is bigger and reserved only for British Airways. On the plane – surprise, especially for someone who has been travelling only with cheap airlines. Three rows of three seats, like in American films. For each seat TV with selection of films, music, games and TV programs to choose. On every seat blanket, pillow, headphones and toothbrush packed in a plastic bag. 2 meals included in the price adn stewardess regularly topping up your watering place (food not recommended for people with weak stomachs).

During the flight amazing views while flying over the cloudless sky. Wild, raw and full of rivers and lakes landscapes of eastern and northern Norway, totally different from flat and chopped with fields sights of the UK. Slightly wrinkled but peaceful and impassive surface of the Barents Sea reflecting in a blue-turquoise water rays of the afternoon or maybe evening Sun. Further frozen surface of the Kara Sea, and further nothing. Nothingness on the Taymyr peninsula – only brown ground, grey rocks, furrows of snow and river. We skip the night flying so close to the North Pole that we manage to slide on the border of day and night and catch the polar day. When we are flying over the northern Russia there is completely nothing there, even with the cloudless sky all you can see is black void. Only its eastern edge shows more oriental and moist landscapes. Japan green with green fields and trees – different from those in Europe. Tall trees with long, naked trunks and short, pointed and coniferous upper branches, and apart from that a lot of bamboos much to my delight.

The time has come to revise all of my opinions, views and expectations I have had over time to this country after years of fascination. I feel its modern, technological side of huge metropolis might not meet them. I expected different airport, different trains and underground, different architecture and interiors. All of that brings to my mind the image of Poland in the 90`s. We reached Asakusa, where our capsule hostel is located. Poor and dingy as every cheap hostel I guess, in which everything seems to crumble, the shower is one for the whole hostel and the sight of Japanese toilets discourages although, every capsule is equipped with a plasma TV from Toshiba. That day despite big plans we didn’t do much because of the jet lag. Walk around the Asakusa in which we were suppose to reach, by passing very nice market on Kaminari-mon, the Senso-ji temple, but somehow we mistook it with a different one. First lunch ordered with difficulty by a machine with buttons and on the base of the picture. Noodles – soba or udon dipped in a sauce reminding the soy one with ground radish, chopped spring onion and shrimp tempura an the top. All of that cold (but good). Next trip to Imperial Palace and Garden which unfortunately on Friday were closed. Resignation and return to the hostel. Tiredness won, sightseeing tomorrow – getting up at 5 am and starting from Tsukiji fish market. Now I am sitting and experiencing the authentic Insomnia in Tokyo – 3 am and instead of sleeping I am writing a blog. Jet lag pushed me to go to bed at 5 pm and made me wake up at 2 am. Well I hope my bio clock is gonna set properly today. My dad claims that Tokyo is gonna be more beautiful and exciting when I will be rested.