Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Japan Trip - Day 14

The ryokan breakfast was another amazing feast, but I cannot remember much about it (except that an egg was involved) because I think my brain was fried by the mind-blowing taste. It was a vegetable soup thing with a whole bunch of Japanese appetizers and very, very salty ikan bilis but I think pickled instead of deep-fried.

Our destination that morning was the small town of Hakonemachi, a settlement on the other side of the lake which offered excellent views of Mt Fuji. We took the cable car to to the top of the mountain, the San Francisco kind; then the Sentosa kind to get through the peaks and sulphur mines; and then a ferry across the caldera lake to get to Hakonemachi. It was very interesting: I had never seen a real mine before, and as we were passing over, we were trying to guess what type of mine it was, and when we smelled the sulphur it seemed obvious. It was slightly discomforting to know that you were suspended over a huge hole in the ground emanating the smell of rotten eggs so far below that you can't actually see any people walking about. Perhaps they were all below ground, holding their breaths.

We never get a decent fog in Singapore. This one might actually have been a cloud though.

Nobody walking around with huge baskets of yellow stones.
The highlight of the journey was seeing the iconic Mt Fuji, and over the odour of brimstone we caught a glimpse of the elusive mountain, just a speck of snow-covered tip between white clouds, so camouflaged that you can't exactly see it there.

Our caldera ferry, as modeled by Bryan.

It had pirates! Arrr!

Nothing like standing at the bow of the ship, the wind blowing through your non-existent hair...
We got to Hakonemachi just in time for lunch, and I had another tempura udon and after that, a soft serve caramel ice cream to beat the heat of the afternoon. Hakonemachi, for being a small town, was still very big, and we wandered through the souvenir shops and came up against a temple with an entry fee, so we turned around and headed up to the castle.
Never had overpriced cheap ice-cream tasted so good.

Also, Evangelion coffee. Oh, Japan.
The castle was actually upstaged by its gardens, which were huge and sprawling and offered no less than six different vantage points for famous-mountain-spotting. We climbed through the flowers and across gravel paths and past long grassy fields and up to the observatory, a low building at the top of the hill which overlooked the glassy lake and mountain range.

Singapore why aren't you beautiful like this
Any Japanese girl named sakura has a lot to live up to.
Imagine a horde of zombies lurching towards you, a line of lawnmowers just out of frame, and you with a bunch of sunflower seeds and peas...

We camped there longer than a sniper waiting to get a headshot on a 4km-tall rock, mainly for Bryan to get his "perfect shot". Our plans were foiled though, and we might have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those meddling clouds. The brilliant white of the sun reflecting off snow peaks is not that much different than that reflecting off the evaporated supercooled condensed water vapour in the air, and almost equally blinding.

The majestic explorer waits impatiently for his companion to take the photo of the elusive mountain range.

That's the most we ever saw of one of the most famous natural wonders of the world.
We spent a lot of time wandering through the beautiful gardens, enjoying the flora that will never exist in our tropical climate.

If you were like this, Singapore, I'd walk everywhere, all the time.

Xi Min just had to do this.

I have never loved trees so much as I did here.

There was a comfortable spot a little way from the observatory with wooden benches, and you could just spot a small gigantic torii gate in the distance, at the edge of the water or, as it might have been, in the water itself.

Floating inja torii is watching you.

The path led away to some sparse forest, were the keen otaku eyes of Bryan and XM spotted a few cosplayers having a photoshoot between the trees. They didn't go up to talk to them, though, or even to take photos, but the ever-vigilant observer XM pointed out that they were cosplaying from the Touhou project.
Also taken from a hidden spot in the bushes, so this is an authentic photo.
On our way back we passed by the ninja museum, which we did not patronize because of funding issues. There were a bunch of brightly-dressed ninjas outside, though, and I remember thinking that they were quite hilarious because no ninja would dress up in a bright pink outfit. It was like a mix of Power Rangers and Disneyland, because they were very obviously a tourist attraction.

There are no fewer five real ninjas in this photo. Can you spot them all?
A return to our ryokan early for dinner prompted a short expedition to the town of Gora, at the base of the mountain; except that when we went to dump our bags we left our rail pass in the room, which made taking the cable car out of the question. We decided to take a walk, down the sloped incline, and I caught a sakura petal in my hand.

Dinner was another sumptuous spread of classic Japanese cuisine. A plate of small appetizers, tempura, sashimi, tofu, and a huge crab hotpot with glass noodles.

Five seconds before it was all promptly devoured.
We spent the night watching Japanese television again, and had a lot of fun commenting on their variety shows, because that was mostly what was showing. I remember that one of them had this game where they tested the blowing power (I am not joking) of the celebrity guests. They lined up fifty lit candles in a row, and the guest had to stand at one end and blow as hard as they could, and the number of candles you extinguished with your breath would be your score, and you'd compete with the other guests and stuff. It was pretty hilarious.
Also, this girl was bloody annoying.

Before we turned in for the night, I managed to persuade the gang to take the Suntory Boss photo in our yukatas. It went a lot better than expected.


*All photos in this post courtesy of Bryan.

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