Mount Fuji and Hakone

Trip Start Aug 05, 2007
Trip End Aug 20, 2007

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

August 12, 2007
Tokyo-Mount Fuji - Hakone First leg of a four day tour.
We were met in our hotel lobby by a staff member of Sunrise Tours. We had to leave our 2 larger pieces of luggage in the hotel, to be picked up by a shipping company and forwarded to our hotel in Kyoto. We took one small rolling suitcase a small bag on the bus. Each of us was presented with a plastic fan (from Sunrise Tours), and an orange pin to put on our clothes, so we would be recognized as part of this particular tour group.
We started out with a four hour bus tour to Mount Fuji and Hakone. Normally, it takes less time to get there, but it was the Japanese national holiday of Obon and the streets were fairly packed. The biggest holiday in Japan is New Years Day. Obon is the second biggest. Everywhere, people are going back to their former homes to visit the graves of their ancestors. They will dance, sing, and eat and at the end of the holiday, will light large bonfires especially on the mountains surrounding Kyoto.
O bon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one's ancestors. It is believed that each year during Obon, the ancestors' spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives. Traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestors' spirits, obon dances (bon odori) are performed, graves are visited and food offerings are made at home altars and temples.
At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes and seas in order to guide the spirits back into their world. The customs followed vary strongly from region to region. Large bonfires are lit on various mountains as well. Obon is celebrated in mid August in most regions of Japan, while it is celebrated in mid July in other regions. The Obon week in mid August is one of Japan's three major holidays with many of its citizens traveling on the roads and on the trains.
The plan was to drive to Mount Fuji and ascend by bus to the 5th station, take a trip on the Kachikachi cable Ropeway, and take a boat ride On Lake Kawaguchi, one of five lakes at the bottom of Mt. Fuji.
We first stopped at the hotel Fujiya Highland Resort to have a Japanese box lunch. There was a beautiful panoramic view of Mount Fuji from the restaurant, and we all went outside to take pictures. Mt. Fuji is a perfect symmetrical shape, caused by repeated volcanic eruptions. The last eruption was 1707-1708. It is now considered a dormant volcano. Down below, next to the hotel was a large rollercoaster. We understood that the wait to get on was about 3 hours. After lunch, we went up the Kachikachi Ropeway (a popular cable car ride) The view from the top was a spectacular panorama of the lakes at the bottom of Mount Fuji and of the mountain itself. We then took a boat cruise on Lake Kawaguchi.

We ascended by bus to the 5th station of Mount Fuji. 2000 feet high. That is usually the starting point for climbers and there were hundreds of them-dressed inshorts or long pants and boots and all were carrying long sticks and backpacks. Mt Fuji is 12,388 feet high. It is a fairly easy climp from the 5th station. Mount Fuji lost its designation of "World heritage" because the many climbers left a lot of debris at the top. Loads of volunteers go each year to clean up the mountain.
On Mount Fuji can be found lava trees, lava caves, the Aokigahara jukai (sea of trees)at the base, and the Narusawa ice cave formed during an earlier eruption.
There is actually a sign at the base of mountain telling people that it is illegal to commit suicide at the sea of trees. They have found many bodies there.
See this article:
We wandered around, took pictures, and sent postcards home, before going back to the tour bus. There is a post office at the 5th station-for the many tourists who send postcards with a Mt Fuji postmark. After Mount Fuji, we continued with our tour bus on the way to Hakone. Unfortunately the mountain road was extremely narrow and there had been a very serious car accident in front of us. It took us an extra hour to arrive at Hotel Kawai-en, our hotel in the mountains. The hotel is know for its hot springs and many of the guests were wandering around in yukatas. We were very hungry, after a long bus ride, and checked out the hotel's restaurant. We decided to go to the hotel across the street to eat as there was more variety of restaurants at better prices. That hotel was really huge. There were gaming rooms with slots, several restaurants, and a huge gift shop. After dinner we browsed in the gift shop, where I found a tiny glass canine playing the violin maybe inch high, which I couldn't resist, then walked back to our hotel. One could hear the waterfalls and smell the sulfur from the volcanic springs outside. The next morning after breakfast, we were escorted down the mountain to the nearest train station by taxi to Odawara. Japanese taxis all have white lace covers on the seats and many times the drivers are wearing white gloves as well. It seemed odd at first but we got used to it. We boarded the shinkansen which would take about 3 hours to Kyoto. By now we were really enjoying the shinkansen trains. Passing from car to car was so easy, as automatic doors slid open as we approached them. Much easier than LIRR trains, where you have to yank the doors open and aren't supposed to go from car to car while the train is moving. Can you imagine people pushing carts down the isle of LIRR trains, or buying your dinners on the trains?
Our destination now was Kyoto, which was the former capital city. Kyoto means city where the emperor lives. Kyoto is definitely the cultural capital of Japan with more shrines, museums, handicrafts than anywhere else in Japan.
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