Three words: food, sleep, onsen. This is the Japan-prescribed solution to everything. Especially near-death experiences, perpetrated by an icon of Japanese culture: Mt. Fuji, or “Fuji-san,” as it is affectionately referred to. Fortunately, these three things can all be found in one place, another icon of Japanese culture: the ryokan (Japanese-style inn).
Before I get into that, though, I should probably briefly recap the Fuji-climbing experience. Astroviper covered it in detail, but here it is again, in case you missed anything:
That about sums it up. The Fuji in these pictures is literally the only view of Fuji we had in our whole trip. Poor Fuji-chan (who in real, non-photoshopped life is only about four inches tall), took a lot of abuse during the course of our collective psychological recovery – he got frequently yelled at, pummeled, and thrown in frustration. But in some ways, he also saved us, as he became the centerpiece of much of our comedic discourse. And humour is, for me at least, a most reliable coping mechanism.
After safely reaching the base of Mt. Fuji, we had to kill several hours before we could retreat to our ryokan room. Some people in our group, still frustrated at the outcome of our mountain quest, wanted to kill more than just time, so we also had the task of cheering people up, or at the very least assuaging murderous inclinations. So, the first place we headed, after filling our stomachs with delicious Chinese-style food, was the Teddy Bear Museum.
This, unfortunately, did not work out as I had hoped. Rather than smiles and happiness, the teddy bear museum caused a moderate amount of sadness and a few tears, shed by both us and some of the teddy bears themselves. See my post on Sora Bear’s incredibly sad Global Warming story for details. At least, thinking about bigger and more serious issues puts some perspective on how small our own troubles are in comparison. Maybe it helped a bit, in an unexpected sort of way.
After that we wandered around Kawaguchiko Lake for awhile, trying not to think about how beautiful the view of Fuji-san would be, if it weren’t for the fog. But of course that came up a little too often. We walked, and sat, and waited, and I complained about how no one would go in the swan boats with me. Then, finally, it was time to head to the ryokan.
Ryokan time! For those who are unaware, a “ryokan” is a Japanese-style inn, that usually includes an onsen (hot springs/public bath), meals, and Japanese-style sleeping arrangements (i.e. tatami and futons). The particular ryokan we went to also boasted of a view of Mt. Fuji from the rooms and from the onsen. Except, in our case, the “view of Mt. Fuji” part never really happened. We put little Fuji-chan in front of the window, as a sort of memorial of the non-existent mountain. To some members of our group, Fuji-chan’s smiling face was a little too taunting, which resulted in him getting hurled across the room on several occasions.
After a pre-dinner visit to the onsen to bring our collective smell-level down to a bearable level, (our room’s air conditioning/purifying unit actually had a smell-metre, that was maxed out when we first entered the room), we donned our ryokan yukata, and sat down for what was possibly the most epic Japanese feast I’ve ever partaken of. My food alone took up about the same amount of space as my desk at work. Food for the four of us covered the entire table, and wouldn’t even all fit! It wasn’t even so much that there was a lot of food, but that there were a lot of dishes, each holding just a few meticulously placed morsels. I am a slow eater, even slower when eating involves making choices and setting priorities (what to eat first, and in what order, etc…), so I thought I was doomed, but I managed to consume nearly everything set before me.
After dinner, the awesome ryokan people cleaned up our carnage and made our beds for us. We thought it was a bit early for bedtime, but it didn’t take long for us to fade…
In the morning, we partook of a delicious breakfast feast, and then paid one more visit to the onsen before packing up and heading out. We were hoping we might get to see a view of Fuji-san in the morning, if the fog cleared a little, but little Fuji-chan remained our only hope. I will never forget the look on my friend’s face as he eagerly looked out the window to see Fuji-san, and asked me (who had just been at the window),
“Did you see it? Where?”
“Down and to your left,” I said, and he strained his neck and eyes to see what he was missing out the window. “No, more down and more to your left,” I said, and when he followed my directions and saw my innocent stuffed Fuji-chan sitting there, he almost lost it. Fuji-chan got thrown once again, and I got told again for the umpteenth time that weekend that I was a horrible person and that was the worst thing I could ever say, ever, and I wasn’t allowed any cookies. It was worth it.
After checking out, we wandered around the town in the drizzling rain for awhile, and had a hearty lunch before setting off for home. Yamanashi’s “special dish” is called “Houtou,” and is a delicious miso-based soup with large fat noodles and loads of yummy vegetables. It was so delicious, I would eat it every day if I could. Sadly, my own region’s special dishes usually involve a lot of meat; vegetables, if included, are a disappointing afterthought, or at best, a pile of shredded cabbage.
After that, we headed back to our respective home sweet homes. It had been quite the adventure, and while everything didn’t turn out as planned, overall I thought it was still worth it. After all, anyone who reads adventure stories knows the best adventures are not all about candy, flowers and unicorns. Personally, I was pretty impressed with us for getting as far up Fuji-san as we did in the conditions we were in. Some of our crew dealt with disappointment better than others, but I think by the end, we had managed to get everyone cheered up, and looking forward to Take Two next summer.