Wintry Japan: February 2018 (Part 8-Mount Fuji)

In my Michel Thomas Japanese course on CD, a phrase I learned was appropo:  Nihon ni ittara, Fuji-san o mitai desu.  (When I go to Japan, I want to see Mount Fuji.)  The glimpse from the plane to Kyoto was a good a glimpse as I had ever had.

Nice view of Fuji-san’s cloud-crowned cone, from the flight to Kyoto, courtesy of the Iphone.

After an early  morning shoot at Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, we continued on in the van towards Tokyo, arriving at the Fuji-san Station Hotel (www.fujisanstation-hotel.com) in the afternoon.  It was a comfortable accommodation, across the street from the bus station.  Any hotel with signed Noguchi lamps in the lobby is all right with me!

It was looking like we might miss our Mount Fuji sunset shoot, as we zoomed around in the vehicle in the afternoon, assessing and rejecting possibilities along the way.  Although Fuji wasn’t shrouded in clouds, it appeared hazy from Lake Kawaguchiko, the largest and most developed of the 5 Fuji area lakes.  Along the western shore of smaller Lake Saiko, I caught a glimpse of a possibility over my shoulder, a kayak launching area heading down to the lake shore, with a full reflection of Fuji.    Turning the van around, Susan muttered “I can’t very well drive and look at the same time”, as though someone else finding a location other than her was a personal reproach.

Fuji-san from the shores of Lake Saiko

It turned out to be perfect, with hardly any company and plenty of parking, even a picnic table on which to leave the camera bags.

Panorama of Lake Saiko and Fuji-san

We had a wan sunset for our Mount Fuji send-off.

Fuji-san and motorboat at dock, Lake Saiko, Japan

Mount Fuji reflected in Lake Saiko: This Hokusai-toned palette appeared when I corrected the color cast.

Iconic Fuji-san, splendid in any palette.

Our farewell dinner proved to be an appetizer, at least for Greg and Steve, who ended up having a more satisfying full second meal later in the evening.  The choice was fine, a Japanese BBQ cook-your-own meats and vegetables restaurant called Yakiniku Tatsugaoka (yaki=grilled, niku=meat).  Our tatami room had a leg well and two hibachi grills inset into the table.

As usual, Susan exhibited complete tone deafness to the appetites of the guests in ordering.  The initial choices were tasty, beef, pork and vegetables, including carrot, leek, onion, sweet potato, and mushrooms.  The problem was the amount of food she ordered wasn’t enough for every person to have a taste of each item or enough overall.  When a round of tongue was ordered, I asked for another plate of mushrooms.  Muttering something about how the idea was to “share” food, she abruptly disappeared and paid the bill.  Steve, Greg and I were actually still hungry.  We had joked on numerous occasions during the trip about going out afterwards for sushi (which Greg actually did at least once).  Back at the hotel, I was tired enough from my coughing jags that I stayed in, nibbling on sembei (savory cracker-like snacks) we had picked up in Kyoto, while Steve accompanied Greg on a foray to a konbini (convenience store).

While they were out, they happened on a little (small bar and 2 tables for 4), homey and welcoming restaurant, Kame-yama (www.kame-yama.com), whose owner spoke a little English.  From the outside, it didn’t look likely and they weren’t even sure it was open, but once inside, they were served multiple small courses, including tofu two ways (marinated and fried), and skewers of grilled meat and vegetables, including chicken neck and wing and leeks. Beer was included.  They were unsure at the outset how many courses were coming, but the amount was perfect and the price agreeable (about $20 US/person).

Saturday, February 10, 2018

I enjoyed the breakfast of make-your-own ochazuke (ocha=tea, zuke=submerged), rice topped with your mix of a selection of pickled vegetables and salmon, over which dashi broth is poured.

Peter, Karen and Greg were all staying at least another day and elected to peel off for Tokyo by the 9:40 am bus, to avoid having to shlep into Tokyo from Narita,  an utter waste of time.  Greg had extended his stay a day for the express purpose of eating, so starved was he by the lack of Michelin stars in the culinary aspect of this trip.

Earlier in the trip, I had inquired about our final travel day by van, thinking we might be taken into Tokyo to a train station, from which we might travel by train to Narita.  I was trying to come up with a plan to intersect with our new Sugimoto souvenir, which was now prepared for travel.  Asako-san at the gallery had helpfully offered to meet us if necessary at Tokyo Station or elsewhere.  Susan’s response, indicating we would be driven to Narita and would not be stopping in Tokyo, was typical:  “It’s in the itinerary.”  As though there had not been numerous alterations to the itinerary along the way, predominantly in our shoot locations.

Accordingly, I had asked Asako-san by email if there weren’t services which could convey our purchase to Narita.  This was arranged and the gallery nicely even covered the cost.  She even emailed a map of where I should present myself to pick it up, which went flawlessly.

All told, this was a memorable trip, both amazingly good and profoundly bad.  It was the best of trips, in terms of amazing wildlife encounters and stunning scenery.  For me personally, it was also the worst of trips, largely because I was utterly miserable by the end, racked with intercostal muscle-straining coughing of mysterious origin.  This misery was further compounded by a lack of access to pharmacies and medications which might have alleviated some symptoms, thanks to Susan-san’s indifference.  Strangely, I still had a wonderful time shooting and didn’t miss any shoots.  I was thankful my sprained ankle at least happened after the snow monkey shoot, which required a mile hike in on a snowy road.

At this writing, a month later, my ankle is still sore, still mildly brawny in color, but most of the swelling has resolved and I was able to do short, easy hikes in Sedona.  My cough led to a battery of medical tests, which were essentially negative.

I was even able to recover a misplaced set of earrings, a lightweight favorite set of small silver Tiffany hoops, which I suspected I had left at our first hotel in Hokkaido.  I was so distracted by my ankle and the coughing, I didn’t ask Susan to call until towards the end of the trip.  I presume she forgot or didn’t. I suspect the latter.  My Tokyo friend Mari called for me after I returned home, and sure enough, they had them!

Would I do this trip again?  I would do some version, sans Susan-san, in a heartbeat!  This trip was unusually well-priced at $6500 (comparables range up to $11 thousand).  Our friends Nancy and Gerry did a version on their own (even driving themselves on the opposite side in snowy Hokkaido!), trailing us by a few days and loved the animals and scenery as well.  Mo-ichi do-Maybe in 2020??!

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