We are in Japan! Our first stop is Tokyo, where we will visit with Ted’s brother (Brian) and two friends of Pamela’s who were exchange students in the U.S. back in high school (Eiko and Akie).
2012-07-21: Walking Tour of Tokyo
- Spent the flight sleeping an attempting to learn to read Hiragana.
- Arrived around 5am, rented a phone, killed some time at the airport. Found our way to Brian’s.
- Met Eiko and Akie at Hachiko’s statue at Shibuya Crossing. Left their gifts at Brian’s. =( Watched thousands of people cross the street. Crossing wasn’t that busy yet.
- Took photo booth pictures and decorated them.
- Ate okonomiyaki for lunch–these egg-pancake things stuffed with whatever.
- Wandered Omotesando district, a fancy shopping area.
- Started to rain. Bought umbrella.
- Walked through expensive shopping mall, Omote Hills.
- Went to Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine, got fortunes, saw wedding procession, made offering.
- Wandered Harajuku district, a hip female teen area. Saw mostly teenage girls.
- Wandered Akihabara district, an electronics area. Saw mostly men. Bought Gundam treat. Ted bit its head off.
- Met up with Brian’s friend, Tsutombu(?).
- Went to Asakusa and saw Sensoji, a Buddhist temple.
- Went to a restaurant known for its eel and had unagi donburi and miso soup for dinner.
- There are a lot of people everywhere in the city.
- High consumerism. There are a lot of people buying a lot of things with questionable value.
- Omg sensory overload.
- There are quite narrow streets in neighborhood areas like Brian’s, used mainly for pedestrian traffic with the occasional car that drives through.
- Compared to the number of people, there are few cars and bikes; mostly pedestrians.
- Everybody actually waits for crosswalk signs.
- Everybody pulls out an umbrella at the tiniest hint of rain. I wouldn’t even call it rain. Akie has a cute umbrella.
2012-07-22: Edo-Tokyo and More
- Left Brian behind because Ted snored so much he couldn’t sleep. 😛
- Met Eiko at the Edo-Tokyo museum, a museum showing the history of the city as it changed from being Edo (old city) to Tokyo (new city).
- Had lunch at the museum cafe: oyako don and tempura udon.
- Went back to Shibuya Crossing to take pictures of the crossing and Hachiko’s statue. Way more people there this time.
- Met up with Brian and went to cat cafe, a place where you can go to play with cats. Played with kittens.
- Wandered through north Jiyugaoka neighborhood, two stops south of Brian’s.
- Went to a green tea shop (Nana’s) where Ted/Brian/Eiko got iced green tea drinks and Pamela tried to practice reading all of the signs in the shop. Went in a housewares shop and looked around.
- Met up with Brian’s friends Yuko and Tsuzu for dinner at a korean bbq style place and ate nabeyaki(?).
- The museum had a lot of 3D and hands-on exhibits, with entire buildings and stuff inside. This is a good way to maintain interest.
- The neighborhoods farther from the city center are quieter and prettier.
- Kittens are cute.
- Cat cafes are more practical in dense populations with no pets allowed in apartments than they would be in a suburban area.
2012-07-23/24: Mt. Fuji
- Mt. Fuji is divided into 10 “stations” from its base to its summit. There are a series of mountain huts at each station.
- Took a bus to the 5th station, as far as the buses go. Practiced reading on the bus.
- Got lunch (ramen) and bought some supplies (headlamp, walking sticks, peanut snacks).
- Started hiking at 1pm. Spent 6 hours hiking from the 5th station up to the 8th station, where we had reservation at a hut to sleep.
- Spent an hour freezing outside waiting for the hut to check us in and show us up to our sleeping bags.
- Rested for 30 minutes, then went downstairs for dinner for another 30 minutes.
- Attempted to sleep for about 4 hours.
- Got up at 1am, started remainder of hike about half an hour later.
- Spent 2 hours hiking from the 8th station to the summit.
- Spent an hour and a half watching the sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji, walking over to see the crater, and climbing up to the closest peak.
- Rested for an hour on a bench in a hut.
- Spent 5 hours hiking back down to the 5th station.
- Got lunch again and took the bus back to Tokyo.
- Showered. Napped.
- Met Brian for dinner–sushi.
- The mountain is only open to hikers in July and August. The paths are full of people 24/7, hiking up and down in an endless line.
- The “stations” are deceiving–they are unequally spaced and get progressively harder to climb to. There is also more than one hut claiming to be at each station. Thus, we reached the 6th station relatively easily, but then passed like 4 more huts before reaching the 7th station, etc.
- We had different problems on the way up the first night. For Ted, the problem was altitude–he had trouble getting enough air and kept needing to stop and rest. For Pamela the problem was sore achilles tendons and really cold hands.
- The check-in system at the “Fujisan Hotel” was utterly inefficient and confusing. The only English word they understood was “reservation”. Oh you have a reservation? Ah yes, here is your name on our list. Please stand outside and wait. [30 min later] Please come inside. Stand here and wait. [diff guy] Why are you here? Please wait outside. [We refused. It was freezing.] Finally, another 30 min later, Please come over here and pay. Thanks. Here is the time you can come down for dinner. Here are the numbers of your sleeping bags. Why did that take an hour??!?!?!?
- Probably the worst night’s sleep ever, not even counting that it was from 9pm-1am. First we had to listen to the other hikers who weren’t asleep yet, then we had to listen to the guy next to Ted snoring, then we had to listen to the people downstairs stomping and shouting all night as they cleaned the kitchen, since they didn’t have to wake up at 1am, then we had to listen to the other hikers begin to stir and rise at 12:30am for no reason at all.
- The sunrise hike was COLD. We’d expected it to get cold (it’s like a 40 degree difference in temp from the 5th station to the summit), but were not prepared enough. Just as Pamela thought her hands were going to fall off from frostbite, she found a pair of gloves on the ground. Finders, keepers.
- Headlamps good. The line of headlamps stretching out behind us reminded us of a line of miners.
- Watching the sunrise was cool, but would have been more enjoyable had we been warm and rested.
- The trail uphill was mostly either loose rocks (bad for ankles) or big rocks to scramble up. The trail downhill was the “bulldozer path”, mostly loose dirt and steeper.
- We had different problems on the way down as well. Going downhill was painful on Pamela’s ankles and knees, until she decided to pretend she was dancing standard, and then decided to switch off each switchback with dancing forward or dancing backward. Then it stopped hurting, but the damage was done. Ted spent the hike down with a headache and kept needing to stop and rest.
- Restrooms got more expensive the higher you got. They cost 50 yen to use at the 5th station, 200 yen to use along the way up and down, and 300 yen to use at the summit. That’s a $5 potty break if you’re desperate.
- Each hut had people who would “stamp” your walking stick for a fee. They were basically branding it with a hot iron over a fire, showing the name of the hut or the altitude or whatever. We thought we’d be getting 5, one for each station… but since each station had like 4 huts along the way, the stamps ended up covering our entire stick (and becoming quite expensive). We now have proof we made it all the way up!
- Apparently we eat sushi like heathens… perhaps because we’ve never gone out to sushi before. Brian was embarrassed to be associated with us. 😛
- We have different shopping habits. So far, everything non-essential (souvenirs/gifts) that Ted has bought has been a form of sweets. For Pamela, it has been socks and postcards.