Absolutely Magical at Mount Fuji
It was a rough start. I won’t lie. All the anticipation had led up to this moment. It began from the moment I started packing to fly to Japan. The keep-calm experienced traveller somehow disappeared. I don’t know how but I’ve never had pre-travel jitters till this trip. Maybe it was the months of research and working on a paid project that was on Japan travel. I remember just a few years ago, I was perfectly fine travelling solo for the first time to cities like Paris, Cannes, Nashville, London and at the time, Hong Kong to Beijing too. Except the last two cities included dragging a band along as well, in a previous life as a solo musician and self managed tour manager. So, travelling solo, wasn’t a foreign experience. You’d think I’d have everything down pat, down to packing light, packing appropriately and knowing how to navigate with ease, throwing caution to the wind.
The truth was, I was packing till the wee hours of the morning, the night before my flight. I was that confused packer. I couldn’t decide which warm or summer clothes to pack. I was also travelling through 4 different cities, and I soon found out, each with different climates on different days. On top of that, I was checking in and out of a total of 6 different accomodations - a combination of airbnb apartments and capsule hotels. And to make it even more complicated, I was bringing 1 large suitcase, a smaller carry-on suitcase, a camera bag and one big backpack. The backpack will be for the 7 day solo trip across Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, starting with a day trip to Mount Fuji. The suitcases were to contain the backpack with clothes for my solo travel as well as a seperate compartment for the second part of my trip; a family holiday back in Fukuoka for another week. In a word, or words, I overpacked, complicated packed, packed bags within bags, with bags to be repacked when I arrive… I was pack-ceptioned.
07:00 Shinkansen Bullet Train
Hakata - Shin Osaka - Odawara
I arrived two nights ahead in Fukuoka so I could pick up my Japan Rail Pass, pre-book my train seats and leave my big suitcase with my partner in his hotel while he started his work week before meeting up again for our family holiday.
The first day of my solo adventure started relatively well riding the bullet train from Hakata, Fukuoka at 7.00am in the morning. Followed by a smooth transfer at Shin Osaka to another Shinkansen to Odawara for connecting services to Hakone, one of the vantage points to see Mount Fuji. Well, it probably didn’t translate as much in the video, but I got increasingly flustered by the time I arrived at Odawara. The plan was to stow my bulky backpack into station luggage locker. Then, head up to Hakone to explore and sightsee before coming back to pick up my backpack and head into Tokyo for the night.
I had arrived by around 12.30pm and spent 15 minutes wandering the lower halls of Odawara station with my bulky backpack trying to find the tourist information office that sold the Hakone Tourist Day Passes for connecting buses or trains to Hakone. It felt like half the day was gone by the time I found the office. The tourist information office told me that it takes approximately 90 minutes either by bus or train from Odawara to get to Hakone where there’s a cruise ship ride or a cable car experience to see Mount Fuji. After getting the Hakone Day Pass, I proceeded to stow away my backpack. And that’s where the drama began.
Luggage Locker at Odawara
You should have seen me. I was unhinged, cursing and swearing (in hokkien!) at the damn luggage locker automated machine at Odawara station. A bit over-react, but read on. The cost was ¥500 for one day’s storage. I had no coins and the machine did not accept anything larger than ¥1000 note. And, the smallest note on me was ¥5000! FML! By this point, my massive overpacked backpack had already been crammed into the locker. I suffered a minor panic attack holding my notes while the machine voice over (it was loud) ‘demanded’ I pay the correct amount and kept timing out with a buzzer warning to remove contents. There was also no one around the locker area to seek any coinage change. The nearest human existence was in the bookshop next door. So I left the locker ajar with my luggage still crammed inside with the warning buzz ringing and ran into the bookshop to try to get some change. I could get no help. I turned around and made another 100 metre dash to the cafe across the bookshop. I tried to ask for change, in strange broken vowels of Japanese sounding phrases (I don’t know why I even tried). Only to draw blank stares. At one point I was literally walking in circles like a lost auntie/ headless chicken, panting, guffawing, gasping, panicking in a bundle of annoying high pitched micro-screams complete with flailing arms.
Took a good 10 seconds for the pin to drop. It’s a cafe, I could just BUY A COFFEE!
I eventually did. Although, coffee was the last thing I needed, being hyper aware of how much time I had left.
So, I got my locker situation sorted. Now that I am several kilograms lighter on my bag situation, I was ready to get going. Except I had no idea what was to come.
A good 20 minutes later, I had only made more rounds in the station area to find said bus stop. I was the typical deer-in-the-headlights tourist holding multiple tourist brochures, tickets in hand, cap dangling off side of my head, sunglasses slipping off my face from the sweat, hot flushed face, video camera clutched underarm and holding a hot takeaway coffee, scuttling about like a confused alarmed otter. Eventually, after making multiple trips back to the tourist information office, I finally located the bus stop.
7 More Minutes
So, you’d think I’d be on the bus by now, right? Wrong! Just as I was approaching to enter the bus in the queue, the conductor at the bus stop stopped me in my tracks. Remember that coffee cup I was holding? He pointed to the sign that says ‘no food and drinks on the bus’ and nonchalantly proceeded to say, ‘7 more minutes’. So, as one frantic traveller to another would, I inhaled my hot coffee and asked if there was a bin nearby.
‘No bin, no bin on bus also’
I looked at him with blank stares while witnessing at the corner of my eye, the bus filling up with tourists… ‘uh, I won’t drink on the bus, i just hold, ok?’
‘Ok ok’ he replied. To which I thought, alright, I’ll do just that, and proceeded to get on the bus, only for him to raise his hands and say ‘chottomatteh’, stopping me yet again in my tracks!
KNN WHAT NOW!!!!
He magically pulled a small trash bag from his fanny pack and said ‘for you’. Complete with a slight bow.
All this time, he had trash bags but only chose to give to me after like… what? I cannot… All I want to do right now, after the drama in the last hour, is to be on my way to the damn mountain! So I took it, said thank you and you won’t believe what happens next.
A strong gust of wind swept in and the now empty coffee cup, including the trash bag flew right out of my hands!
ARE YOU KIDDING ME!
I swear, my life slow-mo-flashed before my eyes as I lunged forward to try and grab the bouyant items, while a sad soundtrack played along with the echo of the bus conductor saying ‘7… more… minutes….’
As chance would have it, I actually manage to catch the flying objects and was allowed on the bus, finally.
Yes, in case you are wondering, Japan has limited trash bins. That’s why one of the takeaway travel tips for Japan is to have a bag to contain rubbish.
90 minutes later. Yay, I have arrived at Motohakone! Got my cruise ship ticket and boarded the pirate themed ship. Lake Ashi is beautiful and breath taking. My heart was racing in excitement as I got my camera ready and started rolling away. The anticipation is real.
45 minutes later, Mount Fuji was still not in sight. I should have expected it as I was told by the kind staff at Odawara tourist information office that it was a cloudy, hazy day and we probably won’t see Mount Fuji. Yet, I pressed on, hoping to be lucky.
I was starting to feel really bummed out. I had such grand expectations of feeling overwhelmed by the sheer epic awesomeness of the snow capped godzilla of a mountain coming into view between the parting of clouds. In absolute 8000K slow motion reveal. I imagine tears rolling down my eyes in gratefulness to behold such epic beauty. Glorious orchestral soundtrack wafting through the air as I get down on my knees with hands clutching my bosom as I let out an excited whisper in japanese…. ‘such kawaii beauty…’
You could say it turned out to be absolutely magical. Cos, all I got was some disappearing magic show I didn’t ask for! It’s like someone kicked over a big bucket of ICI DULUX and painted over Mount Fuji, hiding it from plain sight forever!
I did get beautiful hazy shots of Lake Ashi, mountain ridge lines and breathtaking views of the setting sun. All the entrees without the main course. It’s like the cook wasn’t feeling well today and we could only load up on tapas. It was still a good experience but I am disappointed. Not at the weather but at my naive insistence. In hindsight, I could have just turned around after hearing about the weather and head to Tokyo and come back a few days later on my way to Osaka. I mean, I had the Japan Rail Pass. It means I could jump on the Shinkansen anytime I want. Why didn’t I think of that?
A few days later, in an exhibition in Tokyo, I read a quote that helped me process all this chaos to appreciate the beauty of the journey. As cliche as it sounds, it really is the process of getting to the destination that makes you richer, than arriving itself. Sometimes, things are just out of our control.
Not my time, so I guess I will have to sashay away with my head held high. Just means I gotta be back. Fujisan, I will see you someday sometime soon. Don’t you be coy again ok!
See my journey in my travel vlog below. More japan travel vlogs coming. Comment and subscribe for more upcoming videos!