Sayonara, Japan.

I left Kyoto determined to get more than a glimpse at Mt. Fuji. I didnt need to climb it- especially after Mt. Ontake had erupted earlier in the week. I just wanted to see Fuji. So, I hopped on the Shinkensen for a few hours, transfered to a tram to head up into the mountains near Hakone.

I arrive in Gora after dark and found my hostel (Hakone Tent) and had some dinner.

This was a traditional Ryoken, so my dorm room had a woven tatami floor and futon mattresses for beds.

It also had an Onsen, which is like a natural hot tub. I had a lovely soak before bed and slept so soundly.

My hostel also had a turntable… in the kitchen.

In the morning, I got the 8am bus from Gora to Hakone to catch an early glimpse of Mt. Fuji.

I had a nice walk along Lake Ashi…

…and stopped off at a forest temple.

Then, I got down to business- where is that big ol Mountain hiding? Is it by this pirate sihp?

Hmm, couldn’t find it. Must walk further… yay! I found the viewpoint park!

Well, shoot. Mt. Fuji is just behind those clouds somewhere. It should look like this.

The viewing house did have a cool 1930’s light fixture…

and a manicured shrub that looked like a pile of stones.

I had a 6pm flight out of Tokyo and so I give up the hunt for Mt. Fuji and head back to the bus station. The tram up had cost me $7US, so I figured the bus must be cheaper… plus, the map showed the bus traveling a more direct route back to the Shinkensen. So I made the obvious choice and jumped on the bus.

I spent a long time in the front of this bus and figured out what all this is for. The orange/white machine dispenses tickets with a # on them- you take a ticket when you get on the bus & then you follow a chart to tell you how much to pay at your destination.

The next machine scans people’s bus cards. When you get off the bus, you use the next block of machines.

The one with the red arrow is where you pay your fare. But first, you put your tiny ticket into the front of the machine.

Anyway, I finally got to the Shinkensen station via bus and made it out to Narita airport with time to spare! I had a United club pass and enjoyed my last few hours in Japan eating free snacks and drinks in the airport lounge.

The next time the wheels touch the ground, I’ll be in Bangkok, Thailand! Sayonara, Japan!



Biking around Kyoto

Biking is so fun! I paid $7 US to rent a bike from my hostel. The first thing I noticed was that it doesn’t take much to deter a Japanese bike thief. Most of the bikes had a short, thin chain through the back wheel. My lock was a crecent, built into the back of the bike frame and just slid through the back wheel and locked. No one locked their bikes TO anything. Just put up your giant kickstand, slide the lock into place and off you go!

(Kid-carrying bike photo for Hillary Mull!)

Umbrella holster!
I rode 10 minutes up the street when I spotted a lovely temple gate and headed in for a look around.
The Yakasa Temple grounds cover such a large area (and there was so much going on!) that I stayed for 2 hours and ended up having lunch there! (Ymmmm, Squidballs!)

There were vendors selling coins (I bought a few), TWO weddings going on and in the back there was a temple up on the hill that offered a great view of the city.

Wedding #1 – the girl with the golden forehead is a ceremonial dancer.
There were many guests and attendants at this elaborate wedding. The guests all wore black.
The woman helping the bride also attended to the bride in the 2nd wedding.
Wedding #2- Just a simple affair.
This guy makes some stellar Squidballs!
This is the last known photo of Joey- who was lost in a last minute stand-off with airport security.
I ended up checking a bag to keep my tiny (but too pointy) scissors, but lost Joey in the shuffle. 😦

While I was eating my Squidballs this lovely man approached me to ask if I was from Vietnam…

He just wanted to practice his English & show me his ‘study guides’. Exibit 1- The lyrics to the ‘What a Feeling’ from Flashdance. Exhibit 2- ‘What did you expect from Mardi Gras?’ Uhhh…

Next, I peddled around the Imperial Palace grounds, the wide ‘roads’ are all gravel so people stick to one thin trail where the gravel has been compacted by bike tires. It’s pretty hot but there are lots of little, shady spots to explore. I found a children’s playground, a bunch of bird photographers & an outdoor library full of nature books!

The day is half over! Off I go to the Golden Palace! After you buy your ticket, you just follow the crowd around the lake and back out again. Luckily, the weather was perfect & the sun was reflecting off the palace. It went by so fast that I just went through again. No charge.

There is a Phoenix on top!

I treated myself to some Red Bean ice cream & biked back to the hostel. As soon I walked in the door, I heard a cheery voice asking in anyone wanted to go out for dinner. I sure did! A few of us walked downtown to a Conveyor Belt Sushi restaurant! There were little touch screens to choose your sushi, then they showed you a photo of it when they put it on the conveyor in the kitchen so you are paying attention when it comes around.

I was sooo tuckered out! Back to my Santiago Hostel for a shower & a sleep!




















Konichiwa, Japan!

The first time I called Delta to work out the details of my trip, I asked if there was a possibility of staying in Japan for a few days. I was informed that any layover longer than 24 hours would cost more Skymiles than I had. The second time I called, I asked again and heard, “Sure, how long would you like to say?”

What started off as a layover, has turned into a love affair!

You may recall, I spent my first 2 nights in a Tokyo capsule hotel in the Shinjuku area.

On my very first morning, I met an American and invited her to breakfast … later we find out that she is friends with my little sister! Jana flew into Tokyo to meet up with her husband who has taken a JET position teaching English in a rural Japanese village. Even better, Jana has a friend, Brent, who is a guide on Mt. Fuji and he’s taken the day off to show her around… would I like to come? YES!

We visited a local temple and Brent taught us how to use the fountains to purify ourselves before going into the temple. (Use the ladel to rinse your left hand, then right hand, then mouth.)

Gates to the Senso-Ji Temple and market.
For $1 you could get your fortune (Omikuji) at the temple by shaking a stick out of a wooden box, then matching the symbol to the drawer full of paper fortunes. My fortunes: The lost article will be found later. The person you wait for comes late. Building a house and removal are both good, but a half fortune. To start a trip is all right. Marriage of any kind and new employment are both half fortune and gets better later.

We stop at the everything store: Don Quijote to buy a snack and check out the strange food, like Matcha KitKats or seaweed flavored potato chips.

Next, we take a Tokyo Canal tour, ending up at a tea house in Hamarikyu gardens.

It was a very hot and humid day, but the rain arrived while we were enjoying out matcha and cooled things off.

Matcha is made by grinding up tea leaves and stirring it into hot water… I’m more of an Earl Grey fan.

We rode the train out to Kagurazaka for dinner & a Shinto Shrine. The shine was much smaller than expected but dinner made up for it. The waiters wore paper hats and aprons like a 50’s diner but you ordered your meal from a vending machine! Yummy dinner for $3!

Joey orders for me and appreciates my tempura/noodle bowl.

On the way back to the capsule hotel we wandered through the entertainment district to pass by the Robot Restaurant. It cost $60 for dinner and a show- which involved scantily clad women operating these robots and other such nonsense- all accompanied by super loud music and a million flashing lights. Yikes.

Back to the hotel. I was beat and tomorrow I’d take my first ride on the bullet train!

I’ll leave you with a lovely painting from the ceiling of this morning’s temple. Her skirt reminds me of something Gustaf Klimt would paint.