In a pouring rain, I made it to the fish market of Tokyo. I follow the organized mass from the subway exit and find the maze that Tsukiji is. I missed the auction that takes place daily at 3 AM, but I am not too sorry about it. It is now 7 and the alleys already are crowded with fast short legged umbrellas. I feel tall in this place, which is to me a new dimension of cuteness. I am so happy here, I refrain myself from picking up people to make them circle in the wind. Around one of the many corners, I find the sushi place my host recommended. Around a big counter made of soft wood, a few chairs are arranged, facing the chefs. I just took a sit when a waiter hands me a glass of water and a hot towel. Each time one enters the restaurant, all crew members cheer him up. As it happens quite often, the repetitive salutations start to sound like a song.
In front of me, all the goodies for sushi eating. I feel 5 years old again, just like when we used to play our favorite game with my cousins : Le Petit Restaurant. We would have all kind of mini plates, glasses, bowls… as long as it was tiny, it would be part of the game. We would cut in – tiny – pieces all the food Grandma would provide: fresh and dry fruits, chocolate, biscuits, cheese… As one was playing the client, the others would cook and serve. And we would switch turns until we were not hungry anymore. That was long ago but the memory is still alive.
I filled up my tiny blue plate with soy sauce and I am drooling already looking at all the fresh fish in front of my eyes. Behind the counter, a team of cooks busy as bees. Cutting and cleaning fish – fresher than fresh –, smoothly preparing orders, smiling and singing their salutations each time the door opens. Within a few minutes after I placed my order, my dedicated chef places a wooden plate in front of me. Then come the ginger, the freshly prepared sushi’s, one by one, and finally the wasabi. Each bite takes me closer to heaven: the balance is perfect, the freshness unbeatable and the taste unreal. Contemplative and grateful, I stay for a little bit longer enjoying the unique vibes of this place.
My legs carry my satisfied belly out of this place before my greed orders more unnecessary food, and I head up to Tokyo station. Another kind of maze. The central station is as big as a small village, and counts more souls than that same village. I do not have much time to stroll around, I have to make it on time to my train; but I promise myself to check out one of these shops on my way back this evening.
I shamelessly slept the all way to my first stop, and when I open my eyes I am surrounded with cloud-covered high mountains. I am in the heart of the Japanese Alps, and I am impressed. From a distance, those Japanese hills remind me of curvy Hawaiian scenery. Walking through them, I discover a total difference kind of nature where trees are reaching for the sky. The forest is dense, mystical and yet inviting. A few steps, the way gets muddy, I am on my way to meet the Japanese baboons – those who soak in hot springs somewhere up this very hill. About 30 minutes walk before I can see the entrance; a very simple wooden house, and a board with a few golden rules. Dogs and cats are not allowed (I wonder for a minute who would think of bringing a cat here; but then I remember seeing a couple walking their rabbit yesterday in the park so…. Do not eat in the park, or the monkeys will steal your food – try me monkey. Do not carry a plastic bag, or the monkey will steal it – I like to imagine them dressing up with suits they would make out of plastic bag. I once saw a movie in which a suit made of a plastic shower curtain saved a life; so you never know. Do not attract the attention either scare the monkeys – But what if I really really want to cuddle them? Keep your distance while taking pictures and do not use selfie sticks – I’d like to know the story behind, and to see the footage taken by the monkey/thief.
I get a free sticker at the entrance – win! and walk in. The cliff on my right has many bushes, where I can hear something going on. On the path between the cliff and the river, I see two monkeys – no wait! Three; there is a baby tucked in the belly of one of them. As I carefully walk down the path, I spot monkeys everywhere. Each time I turn my head, I see other ones. So many of them, and so close! Most of them are scratching, their babies, friends or themselves. On the wooden bridge a bit further, they chase each other, crawl under and jump from rocks to rocks. Down the river seems to be the nursery. Quiet and peaceful, except for three babies fooling around, the atmosphere is relaxed. Two of them fell asleep while hugging. Their head fell down on the other shoulders, as they kept their arms locked around each other back. Up the stairs is the hot spring, which the mainly use in the winter when the snow makes the river side a lot less cozy.
Still, there is that one monkey; the only one I haven’t see socializing with any other. He believes the pond is his and will not tolerate the presence of any other monkey in the water. Near the water is okay; but not in it and not on the rock in the middle of it. When no one tries to defy his pond authority, he eventually gets bored and goes around looking for trouble. He obviously is my favorite.
The others are as peaceful as one can be. Mothers carry their babies everywhere, nursing them to sleep. When they are awake, they climb all over them and ride them with confidence. I was not excepting to see so many of them, and to get so close to them. I am over the moon and I never want to leave this place. I changed my mind when it stars raining again.
Back at the train station, I have 40 minutes to kill… Inspired by the monkeys, I go to the onsen which is just a meters away. It obviously is my first time in a Japanese bath and I am a bit confused. I master at the ‘’no shoes’’ policy’’; but once I arrive in the changing room I feel a bit stupid asking for confirmation to a lady there ‘’we go in there naked, right?’’. She laughs and asks me where I am from before she wishes me a good time. I have the all place to myself; I sit in this natural hot tube and relax. Few minutes later, two young boys will come in together with their mom. The youngest one really tries to make conversation and I feel very bad not being able to react to his stories, which I suppose great.
All cleaned up and zen, I make it back to Tokyo. The head of the train is an actual car; the driver seats on top. First row is all mine, and I experience the way down the mountains as if I was driving. The scenery is consuming, stunning. Kilometers long smile on my face.
Once in the city, I decide to walk back to the guest house. Strolling in the city by night is quite a cool experience, not scary at all. I go through a few parks, walk along a water stream, surrounded by unlighted buildings. I imagine how busy these streets are on day time, and I enjoy having the all path for myself.
Dancing my way up to Akasaka, I find a place to eat a Yakisoba I have been dreaming of for ages. The taste takes me back to the Sundays with Mimi in Groningen. How much have we achieved since… I am so happy I made it here. Not only to Japan, but to this state of mind. I am just happy.
Good night of sleep in my cocoon: bunk beds at the guest house are very well arranged. It looks like mini wooden rooms on top of each other. I have a small space with not just a bed. There is enough room to keep and arrange all my stuff in there. And I can close my own curtain for privacy. It is brilliant.
I woke up before my alarm, maybe a tiny bit too excited to go to Mount Fuji… Quick shower, I check if I am not losing my pink color already. All set for another Japanese adventure! I am on the way before the coffee opens its door, so I’ll have cold green tea for breakfast. I am two trains away from the volcano, and the blue sky I see by the window keeps my hope high for a good view on the Fuji. About 2.30 hours of commute later, I step in the valley of the five lakes under a cloudy sky. Not losing faith, I start walking up to the Kawaguchi lake.
The first part of the hike follows the main road, but the traffic is not too heavy. The second half goes follows the lake’s curve; and its around one of them that I finally spot the snowy nose of Fuji! All mountains around have lost their heads in the clouds; but Fuji flies above. The majestic view does not last, but my eyes are sparkling already. I keep on walking, chasing another sneak peak of the volcano; but it will not happen. The scenery makes up for it! It does not get more peaceful than this… Green hills, protecting a valley where lakes and ponds host fish and water plants I had never seen before. I hear birds I have never heard before; I smell perfumes that are unknown to my memory.
The sensitive experience that is Japan has a huge effect on me. I am perfectly lost; I neither know nor understand anything around me. As challenging as it is, I appreciate the thrilling effect of the small victories that each further step make.
Where the next curve ends I see purple shadows. Intrigued, I decide to make it till at least this point. Lavender fields. Right at the foot of Fuji. I would also have my head in the clouds if I had such a garden in front of me all day. I do not blame you Fuji. With lavender smell all over my hands, I sit in the sun showing up just as I eat a blueberry ice cream.
With the bus that showed up few minutes after this perfect moment, I go to Yamanaka lake. Fiasco. The sky turns grey, heavy; and everything is closed. I stroll around. Up there I find a small garden, pretty enough to spend the hour before the next bus arrives. By the shore, real swan swims around the swan boats, desperately empty.
I haven’t had the chance to fully enjoy Fuji and its snow cap; but I saw the Oshino Hakkai, a park with 8 springs filled with Fuji melted snow. A crystal clear water, which blue is intensifying with the depth of the ponds. Daylight was not helping to take picture; and by daylight I also mean the hundreds of Chinese tourists pushing everyone around for a selfie. Funny enough, the cutest ponds were a few meters away from the tourist information desk; and no one but I was there.
I am exhausted, but happy to have seen many of the facets of Fuji. I am a bit disappointed to have missed a chance for a one to one moment. A sentence Erik told me in Hawaii takes its entire dimension now: ‘’you are a traveler, not a tourist’’. I do not need to check Fuji on my list. I had a good day, I have made my own experience of this place and I will keep my very own memories. One proof – if needed: the garden I have preferred happens to have nothing to do with the must see’s of the area. I just walked the wrong way – what a surprise really…
Get lost, there is so much to find!