Holiday, Photography, Travel

Japan Day 7: Tokyo, Fuji (02/04/2015)

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One of my main reasons for visiting Japan was a desire to see Fuji. I was disappointed when I found out that it wouldn’t be possible to actually climb Fujisan while we were visiting, there is too much snow as average temperatures at altitude don’t get above freezing until June. In a way I’m glad that we couldn’t climb though as we got beautiful views of the mountain from Chureito Pagoda instead.

While we were planning this trip back in the UK, I was surprised to find that although you can see Fuji from Tokyo on a clear day it takes quite a long time to get near to it on the train. From our hotel in Shinjuku it took about 2 hours on various trains to get to Shimoyoshida station from which we can walk up to the pagoda. Although this trip was very simple in the end, it was tricky to find much information about it, especially the second part which was the first time we had used non-JR trains outside the Tokyo metro.

The first part of the journey is very simple: take the JR Limited Express from Shinjuku Station to Otsuki. As ever, the JR trains are new, comfortable and clean. At Otsuki station you need to change to the Fujikyuko line and take the train to Shimoyoshida Station. This involved standing in a massive queue of confused looking tourists to buy a ticket from a vending machine and then queueing again to show both our JR pass and Fujikyuko tickets to guards on the station. Since you are changing from one company’s platform to another without leaving the station, you have to show a valid pass or ticket for both companies when you pass through the gates both on the way in and on the way out. It was impossible for us to work out which of the two tickets the machine gave us was “out” and which was “return” so we had to hand over both to the guard and see which she clipped. The Fujikyuko trains are a lot older and more rickety but this seems like a natural progression as you travel away from the big city and into the countryside.

It is quite a long way into the journey before you get your first view of Fuji from the train. Much of the journey is spent in cuttings or tunnels as you climb up into the mountains. As soon as the view opened up, all the tourists leapt up and moved to that side of the train (which happened to be where we were sitting) to snap pictures. I’m surprised the train didn’t tip over from the change in weight distribution! I was surprised at the reaction as this train only goes to places close to the mountain and presumably all these tourists were, like us, heading off to see the mountain from a much better vantage point. People were literally running up and down the train shouting and gesticulating in excitement. I felt sorry for the local people who actually use this train to commute. Despite my confusion over this behaviour, I still took a couple of pictures for myself!

Shimoyoshida Station is a small station in the town of Fujiyoshida. After the stations in Tokyo this one is very different. There are no barriers to stop you falling on the tracks and to get to and from the platforms you have to walk across the tracks, looking both ways to make sure there is no train coming. This is the kind of area of Japan that I wanted to see when I originally decided to visit. The beginning of the walk up to the pagoda is not very inspiring, passing over the train tracks and under the Chuo Expressway flyover both of which are just as picturesque as they sound! However, there are also nice quiet streets between small and mostly neat, well kept houses too. Soon you leave all this behind and begin to climb the steps up to the pagoda.

Shimoyoshida Station, our stop for Fuji viewing.
Shimoyoshida Station, our stop for Fuji viewing.
Where we are, where we are going.
Where we are, where we are going.

The day was bright and although the air was cool it was hot work to climb up all the steps to the pagoda. Fortunately there are numerous stopping places on the way up, all of which have a stunning view of the mountain behind you. At the top of the nearly 400 steps is the Chureito Pagoda, erected in 1963 as a peace memorial. The pagoda is imposing and pretty but is pushed into a distant second place by the mountain that it faces. In most photographs it is pushed to one side of the picture providing the right hand frame for the image of the mountain.

The area directly behind the pagoda is a steep wooded hill. Paths lead up this hill to a covered picnic area. The majority of the tourists seem to remain down at the pagoda level and so we got to eat our lunch alone with the view of the mountain. Alone that is except for a number of monkeys who crept nearer and nearer while we ate. Deciding that they were after our lunch, we packed up and prepared to move on thinking that perhaps this is why the tourists didn’t come up here. As we were getting ready to leave I decided to take a picture of the bold seeming monkeys and at the first sight of the camera they scattered up the hill and we didn’t see them again! So, thanks to my photography hobby we were able to sit again and enjoy a tranquil lunch admiring the view.

The path is much less defined above the picnic area but continues to climb up the hill through the trees. We followed the paths up and were rewarded with some great views. We stopped when we realised that going further would mean that the trees would cut off the views (and to be honest partly because we didn’t understand the signs). Considering this to be an appropriately romantic spot, I got down on one knee, produced a ring I’d been carrying round for the whole holiday and proposed to Lizzie. Despite the fact that I didn’t actually say “will you marry me?” and that the ring was far too large, she said yes. We stayed on the side of the hill for some time happily admiring the views and enjoying the peace and tranquillity.

All the while we were there only about 5 or 6 people passed on their way up the hill.

Walking back down the hill we took the winding road rather than descending the 400 steps again and encountered a group of people running intervals up the hill! We also got to see the Arakura Sengen shrine which we probably wouldn’t have noticed from the steps.

We retraced our steps back to the station and were pleased to find that even all the way out here you don’t have to wait more than 10 minutes for a train! This was probably a coincidence but I’m happy to ascribe it to Japanese efficiency. The return train was much older and creakier than the outbound one and was the first that we had used with no English signs or announcements. Fortunately as far as I can tell the trains from here only travel one route so as long as you set out in the opposite direction to the one you came in then you are OK. We met a lovely German couple on the train and chatted with them about our experiences of Japan so far until we got back to Otsuki.

The rest of the journey back to the hotel was uneventful but long and busy. We got back to the hotel tired and hungry and spent a while updating our families with the exciting news. We celebrated our engagement with takeaway food and a bottle of wine from the 7-11, classy!

Tomorrow will be our last day in Tokyo (until we come back on our way home!) check out my next post to see what we got up to.

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