After starting our tour in Tokyo, it was time for us to head to some other cities and attractions in the southeast of Japan.
Mt. Fuji (富士山, Fujisan)
Mt. Fuji is one of those attractions that you just have to make time for. Located a couple of hours away from Tokyo, this sacred mountain is an active volcano that is popular among locals and tourists alike.
The best times to catch a view of the mountain is either in the early morning or in the late evening hours. The weather was quite dreary and overcast that morning, and it only got worse as we drove up the mountain. It got so foggy that park officials had to close the roads after the first checkpoint. The entrance fees were already collected and we couldn’t return another day, so we had to turn back and continue on with our tour. Our tour guide mentioned that this year’s weather pattern is a bit off, so I suppose we just have to come back and try again during our next visit to Japan.
There was a bit of snow around where we parked, but it was quite cold out, so we were glad to get back on the bus. We headed to Gotenba Mihana Garden (御殿場美華ガーデン) for a buffet lunch and to shop at the gift shop. The restaurant has a great view of Mt. Fuji, but the entire mountain was covered by a thick blanket of fog.
— Dennis Pang (@DennisPang) April 20, 2014
Peace Park (平和公園)
After lunch, we made a stop at Peace Park in Gotenba City, which is located near Mt. Fuji, just outside of Hakone. If you go to Japan at the right time of year, you will see Sakura trees in full bloom. We just caught the tail end of it, so that was an added bonus. This park is on a hill, so walking to the top provides a great mini workout. It’s also a great place for photos and for those looking for a spiritual escape.
As the name suggests, it is a peaceful place to visit, as there are religious statues and a large stupa at the top (seen above), the symbol of the park.
Oshino Hakkai (忍野八海)
Our next stop was a small village called Oshino in the Fuji Five Lake region. There you’ll find a tourist attraction with a few restaurants, souvenir gift shops, and small food stands selling freshly made snacks. As we explored the village, we couldn’t resist buying some savoury BBQ mochi and a red bean pastry.
Aside from the commercial side of the village, you’ll find 8 special ponds that are filled with spring water from the melted snow at Mt. Fuji. These ponds are rich in minerals, and most are filled with fish. Next to one of the ponds is a drinking tap that gives you direct access to the fresh waters of Mt. Fuji for a nominal fee.
We arrived at the Hamanako Royal Hotel in the late afternoon in time to have dinner at the hotel and to experience a Japanese bath house, or sentō. If you’ve never been to a Japanese bath house, it can be quite a culture shock. This particular bath house is sectioned off into male and female areas, but there are bath houses in Japan that are open to both genders. Nonetheless, you go into them fully nude.
In Japan, they stress cleanliness, so before going into the bath, you are expected to clean yourself at a seated shower station. Shampoo and body wash are provided at each shower station, but you’re welcome to bring your own. Some people will bring a small wet towel with them into the bath and place it on their head to help control their internal temperature. At this bath house, there was an indoor and outdoor bath. The indoor bath felt like a sauna, so I spent most of my time in the outdoor one, which was more relaxing and comfortable. There are several pools of varying size, depth, and temperature that you can soak yourself in. Once you’re finished, you then shower again before you leave. It was a great experience for us both, and one that we would try again in the future.
Left: For dinner, we were treated to a traditional Japanese meal that consisted of many small dishes, including salad, rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables, sukiyaki, sashimi, grilled eel, and chawanmushi (savoury egg custard); Right: Here we are in the traditional robes that are provided by the hotel. Many hotel guests chose to wear this around the hotel like a house coat.