This past weekend, SMS and I headed out to the Fuji Five Lakes region to explore a new area and, in SMS’ case, take beautiful pictures of Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san). We were going to go to Tokyo but we decided to branch out and see someplace new. Of course, we’ve seen Mt. Fuji a lot (and even hiked it) but it was very beautiful to see it from the shores and hills around Lake Yamanaka.
|It IS shaped like a whale!|
Lake Yamanaka is the highest of the Five Lakes and is shaped like a blue whale! This makes for some very nice anime cartoons. It seemed similar to Big Bear Lake, CA in that it appears to be a Summer playground but there are things to do all year-round.
I went to the office holiday party on Friday afternoon, which was a nice gathering featuring lots of cookies. Although I had fun, I wanted to get out of there to hit the road! SMS and I left the apartment around 4 p.m. and apart from a small amount of traffic east of Yokohama, we were in the clear.
|My new favorite chair! It may not be much to look at but it’s awesome!|
We checked into Yamanouchi Guest House on the south shore of the lake. It was a nice hotel with tatami mat rooms, shared bathrooms and the hottest onsen I have ever been in. It was a painful experience but I did feel squeaky clean afterwards! The air temperature was cold in most of the rooms but the heater in our room was efficient and we were quickly toasty.
Other highlights of the hotel included an old chair that had two black knobs that acted as massagers- I loved it and want one! The innkeeper was a spry old lady who spoke only a few English words but we managed to get by with our Japanese. Although she seemed to think my Japanese comprehension was way better than it was- maybe I should stop nodding so much. She cooked breakfast every morning, which was kind of a strange creation. There would be an egg (cold fried egg day 1 and cold Japanese omelet day 2), salad with mayonnaise on the cucumber, deli meat slices, hot dog, thick cold bacon, rolls, yogurt and soup. So there was a ton of food but it was a funny hybrid breakfast. I’m always grateful for food but maybe it was too early and I couldn’t completely embrace the concept of an early, Japanese/Western brunch plate.
|View from our room!|
After breakfast, we hopped in the car to explore the area. Although there seems to be a great, although slightly infrequent bus system, we were happy to have our car since it gave us more flexibility and shelter from the cold! Also, despite the picture on the booking website, the hotel was actually on the South shore nearest to Fuji so although we had a great view of Fuji from our room, we had to drive to the other side of the lake in order to get the lake and Fuji-san in the same picture.
First, we drove to Fujiyoshida, which was the traditional starting point for pilgrims trekking up Fuji-san via the Yoshida trail. We pulled into a little shopping area/rest stop where there were several small stores and, on the left side, several spigots tapping the Mt. Fuji water, “blessings of Mt. Fuji.” SMS and I each filled up our Nalgene bottles. The scene was pretty crazy as there were people there filling dozens of bottles, each 2-20 gallons. I’m guessing it was for commercial use but it was pretty impressive how dedicated people were to stocking up on the water.
|First, find this market (near Fuji-Q). Next, eat tacos.|
We drove around for a bit trying to find the torii gate that one can drive through (no luck). Then we went over towards Fuji-Q Amusement Park to find a hiking trail, also unsuccessful. But, we walked past a small food truck that looked like it was selling little Fuji cakes. Then I noticed it was called Tacodor with a little Chili anime drawing and I thought, “Isn’t that weird that a Fuji cake stand is in a taco cart?” Well, it was also a taco cart! The fairly young guy inside had been to Mexico and learned how to make tacos. SMS ordered a delicious, chorizo-like taco that came 2 to an order on small corn tortillas. It was so good! We also had Fuji cakes for dessert and they were also awesome. It was a great serendipitous find and the best Mexican food (and cheapest!) we’ve had in Japan so far (ok, ok, it’s not like we came expecting great Mexican food but it’s nice when we find it!).
|This was an amazing hike!|
At this point, SMS was getting antsy about going for a hike. We decided to head back to Lake Yamanaka since the panoramas were likely prettier since the area was less developed. We hiked up Mt. Hirao, part of the larger Mt. Ohira hiking course. We parked in the town of Hirano off the 413, just down the street from the Ishiwarinoyu onsen. It wasn’t too long of a hike (but don’t worry Mom and Dad, like many places in Japan there were still lots of stairs!) and the summit vista was breath-taking.
After the hike, we went to the photo spot for SMS to set up. He had a clear view of Fuji-san and it really happy with his photography set-up there. Apparently we were really lucky because the innkeeper said that Fuji had been obscured for the last 4 weeks. Hooray for perfectly timed trips!
We warmed up with an early dinner of Yoshida udon, the traditional pilgrim’s meal. The udon is characterized as “thick and chewy” and the noodles are a little more flat and wide than regular udon. It was considered a purifying food (white noodles, clear broth). It was tasty, especially with the addition of kobocha squash.
That night, we decided that we would go back to the photo spot in the morning to take advantage of the “alarm clock filter,” aka, the beautiful light at sunset. Sunday came and it was cold, but SMS had another great photo session. I took some pretty pictures of a swan that swam towards us although I started to get scared as it got really close. I know that sounds ridiculous but after seeing geese attacks in Newport, RI, bigger birds scare me! (God forbid I ever see an emu or ostrich!).
|A foot onsen at a museum- brilliant! See all the people coming in to join me?|
We headed South towards Hakone and went to the Open Air Museum. I was so happy! I went so many times last tour and I hadn’t been yet this time. I was excited to show it off to SMS. Old favorites were there, although the fried egg had moved locations. It seemed a little smaller than I remembered, which was strange because that usually happens to things I remember from childhood, not adulthood. Also, can I just say that a foot onsen at a museum is an amazing idea?! When your feet get tired and achy at a museum, refresh them with a hot soak and carry on! Sagoy!
On the way home, we stopped at Ebina SA, “The World’s Best Rest Stop,” as proclaimed by SMS. We shared a nikuman (Chinese steamed bun), dumplings, a sushi rice bowl and an affogato. Eclectic but all of it was wonderful. There was no traffic on the way back and we hung out at home for the rest of the afternoon/evening. It was a wonderful mini-holiday and I had a great time. Next up, Christmas decorating and shopping!