We woke up very early due to jet lag and the fact that we actually needed to be up early to meet our tour bus. The drive over to Mt. Fuji area took about an hour and a half. The highways are flanked by opaque fences so that the views from the bus were quite limited on the drive over. The guide was useless today and barely told us anything. At least we were transported around safely! We arrived at a visitor center. Crowds of school children were there gathered around a tourist stamping station. We later noticed a location in our brochure for a stamp. We guessed that they must provide proof of their trip for school or something. (Schools here run longer into the year and some students even have to go to night school till 11 p.m..) We got some ice cream at the visitor center. When you entered the restaurant you ordered from a vending machine that printed food tickets. You then were supposed to bring the food ticket to the lady at the register and she would prepare your meal. This system seemed to confuse some tourists but I thought it was a great idea (no language issues!). I got a grape ice-cream and it was delicious! Wes was boring and stuck with vanilla. From this visitor center we were supposed to be able to see Mt. Fuji but it was so overcast all we saw were clouds.
After the visitor center we headed up the mountain to the fifth station. When climbers start, they always start at the 5th station (which was 2,000+ meters high). The ride up took a long while, the bus driver was amazing and was able to take those sharp mountain turns at high speeds. There were many cyclers headed up the mountain. The bus driver was a pro at swerving into the oncoming lane to avoid them. Basically, the ride up was horrifying. Not to mention we were in a thick layer of fog for most of the way up. In fact, Wesley and I both got pretty nervous that we might not be able to see the mountain once we got to the fifth station. Parking at the fifth station was a nightmare. I think there are fewer cars at Disney. The guide told us that during the official climbing period (now till sept) there are 300,000 climbers who reach the summit! Although it was raining and we were in a cloud, we still could see up the mountain quite a ways, not to the top but still pretty high. Looking down, we could see maybe ten trees and then just white. We took some pictures and bought some souvenirs. Japan is very expensive – the cheapest souvenirs we could find were about ten dollars. They had every mt. Fuji souvenir one could imagine, complete with hats, socks, keychains, walking sticks, post cards, plates, socks, Mt. Fuji plush toys, and even our Lady Mt. Fuji figurines á la lady of Guadeloupe. I bet those stores at the fifth station make a fortune. After only 30 minutes on the mountain we headed over to a hotel for lunch. The hotel was next to an amusement park with two roller coasters. The view from the lunch room was none other than our lady Mt. Fuji herself… covered in clouds. We were able to deduce it was her because of the gradual slope up. Needless to say we were pretty bummed out and have decided we will have to make it back some other time (and maybe climb her!). You can pay about $100 to take a horse up, I might opt for that! Lunch was a Japanese buffet. We do not know what we ate- small worm like fish, chicken paste, noodles with something smelly, unknown meats, and fruits. Dessert was even more unknown – with beans and jelly (which tasted like sweet wax), and small servings of what was perhaps green tea slime. And of course this was all for 30 bucks a head. We were supposed to go back down to the bus by 2 but I could not figure out how to flush the toilet at the bathroom so we were late.
We then took a long bus ride through the small villages growing rice to arrive at lake Ashi in Hakone. We were shoved onto a large catamaran and took a short 15 minute ride over to a resort area. This area, Hakone, is known for hot springs and is a popular tourist location. When we got off we took a gondola ride up to the top of a smaller mountain that had an amazing view of Fuji (or so we were told). Visibility was 60 feet so instead of breathtaking panoramics we have photos that look like they came from a zombie flick. At the shops at the bottom of the gondola we bought some little trinkets but I was more interested in what appeared to be slices of string ray. I didn’t have any, of course, but after a few minutes of gestures and noises we were able to confirm with the store clerk that it was indeed sting ray – her favorite! There were also giant stuffed animals that children could ride for a few coins. They moved around and played music till the timer ran out at which point the children would begin to scream for more.
We took the bus through the mountains to head towards the bullet train. Hydrangeas are wild here and grow all along the winding mountain paths. They are beautiful deep purples, blues, pinks, and whites. At one point on the ride down we noticed that visibility got a lot worse, maybe 10 or 20 feet. In addition, the slope was an 8% decline and there were caution signs that had pictures of monkeys. Then the bus started taking sharp and fast turns. This lasted for approx. 10 minutes and everyone in the bus breathed a sigh of relief once the fog cleared and we had not been attacked by the killer monkeys (or rather, we had not gone careening off the edge of the mountain)! The bullet trains are fast (and loud) and in thirty minutes we were back in Tokyo. Wesley and I decided to walk back to the hotel so we could see the city at night. We deduced we were in Ginza, the fancy shopping district and used the city maps located every block to make our way back to the hotel. As we walked we noticed that on every intersection there were workers sitting with a a set of clicker counters, counting cars. We could not decide if they were counting the numbers of cars in each lane, or certain models, but they were everywhere! Wesley found the way back and again, too tired for dinner – after figuring out what time we needed to leave in the morning for our 11 a.m. flight – we conked out.