August 21, 2007

We got up early and headed out to the bus station to get on the tour bus to go to Mt. Fuji. We had purchased the “Mt. Fuji Hakone Full Day Return by Shinkansen Tour” from Sunrise Tours (an affiliate of JTB). The bus ride took about two hours to the Fuji Visitor Center and our tour guide was entertaining us throughout the trip giving us little facts and tidbits of information about the surrounding areas that we were passing through, as well as how to go to the bathroom in a Japanese toilet. We stayed at the visitor center for a short while, about 15 minutes, just enough time for a bathroom break and then proceeded up to Mt.Fuji 5th Station which is at an altitude of 2305 meters. We arrived just in time to get a few decent pictures of the peak of Fuji-san (what the Japanese call Mt. Fuji) and spent the rest of the alloted free time shopping in the souvenir shops.

Going back down we stopped at a restaurant which was inside a very large, expensive looking, hotel. We had a “Japanese-style lunch” which, while good, was not worth the 3000 yen charge for it, but it was an experience that we had not had before so we took it in stride.

Leaving the restaurant we travelled further on the bus to Lake Ashi, or Hakone lake, near the large city of Hakone. Once there, we got off the bus and went on a sightseeing boat from one side of the lake to the other (it was an extremely large lake). We also learned of the legend of the lake. Apparently, a dragon lived in the lake and he terrorized the people living near the lake. They were required to offer a human sacrifice, mostly young (virgin) girls, to the dragon every year to appease him. Hearing the story, a Priest named Mangan made stone stairs leading into the lake and exorcised the evil spirit of the dragon with his magical power. The dragon consented and has never bothered the people since. He is believed to have changed and began to live in the lake as the guardian spirit. The tour guide told this story as we were passing the torii of the Dragon, he also mentioned that they have a matsuri (festival) every year to commemorate the event called Kosui Matsuri on July 31st.

After getting off the boat we took a ride on the ropeway up Mt. Komagatake. It was rather scary as the wind started to pick up and we are suspended at a long distance from the ground, above the Great Boiling Valley. From the ropeway car we got a great view of the 大 character burned into the side of the mountain for the Obon matsuri which happened the week before. Thankfully, we made it to our destination safely despite the wind conditions which had gotten progressively worse. We didn’t have much time to explore the surrounding area but we did go to more souvenir shops. Hakone is famous for a local delicacy; kuro tamago (black eggs). They are eggs that are hard boiled in the local hot springs, because of the sulfur the outside shells turn black. Eating one of the eggs is supposed to prolong your life by seven years and you can increase your life by, at most, 21 years. We decided not to eat them though, oh well.

When our free time expired we got on the bus yet again to go to Odawara, to take our return shinkansen to Ueno. It was the first time we had ever ridden on a shinkansen, which was exiting. We returned back to the Katsutaro Ryokan for our final night in Tokyo. Next time I will detail our first day traveling up the Tohoku region, until then!