Saturday, March 9, 2013


So today I joined a tour group to go and see Mt Fuji. This was an excursion I was really looking forward to and I have to admit, Mt Fuji is certainly something to experience.
Boarded the tour bus mid morning, a time designed I assume so the tourists could sleep in and the weekday tours avoid some of the traffic. Our guide/announcer has a name that means Spring and she was quite well versed with not just English, but keeping the group entertained. During some of the travel legs her humor had the bus laughing and the constant repeating to make sure she was understood lead to a few snickers down the back of the bus as well.
So on to Fuji. The first stop at the Mt Fuji visitor centre about 90 minutes after leaving Tokyo had four bus loads of tourists jostling for space to take a photo of the mountain partially obscured by the bare winter trees. So many chose to see the rest of the centre, browse the gift shop, or stand and chat before finding some space to try some photography again.

Back on the bus.
As winter has just ended much of the mountain is still snow bound. As a result it had been deemed to dangerous by the park to have the road open beyond Step 4. No worries, we made it to here instead of another 300m altitude to Step 5 for another photo opportunity. This time the aim wasn't for pictures of Mt Fuji, we were to far up to really photograph the summit. Instead the view was back to the mountain range to the north with its snow capped ridge.

Back on the bus.
And away from Mt Fuji. That's ok, we were now on our way to Hakone which is in an old caldera at about 900m elevation. On our way up to gain entrance into the caldera, there were some amazing full mountain views of Fuji-san from the bus. If only we had stopped and been allowed out for a minute to take advantage of this. But into the caldera and a late lunch at what appeared to be a hotel. As the only tourist bus it was a surprise that some people were still waiting for their food 40 minutes after arriving. Not so surprising was the sub standard quality of the food. Having eaten nothing but good food between back alleys and higher end locations, to remember that a tourist destination will always cater to a lower common denominator was a shame.

So I didn't get enough photos of the mountain (and I like taking photos), and the food wasn't so good, and at half past two in the afternoon I'm beginning to get a little disappointed at wasting my money and vowing to do it properly with my own transport next time.
Now after lunch the bus load of people joins a massive line to board a pirate styled boat for half an hour on the central caldera lake, Lake Ashi. There is nothing like some fresh air to cheer the soul. Finding a spot on the boat in the cool air made for a relaxing half hour. Watching the local fishermen cast either wading from shore or from little boats, the scenery, a swooping hawk. And all on a clear cool day just helped immensely.

Back on the bus.
This time back to a gondola ride which would take us up near the rim of the caldera to active steam vents. The air became sulphurous and out into the wind we went. The area itself is famous for the cooking of eggs in the boiling water at the vents. This gives them a black shell due to the sulphur and iron in the water.

But a decent engineering project is also underway as a large landslide a few decades back moved a lot of dirt down the hill. So they are trying to make sure the existing infrastructure, tourism and most importantly people remain in place for a long time to come.

Back on the bus.
And the bus ride back down the outside of the caldera rim to Odawara where we boarded the bullet train back to Tokyo. The half hour trip certainly beat taking another 2-3 hours on the bus back to Tokyo at the end of the day.
Next time it will need to be a summer trip when the hiking trails are opened allowing for summit hikes. And hopefully the opportunity to also take a full mountain photo :)

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