In the Shadow of Mount Fuji
We ventured out from our hotel in Shibuya, Tokyo with a few too many bags and headed to the train station for a high-speed train to Otsuki, where we changed to the Mt. Fuji railway for a scenic ride towards Kawaguchiko, a serene lake-side down in the foothills of Mt. Fuji.
We chose to stay at Onsen Rakuyu, a traditional Japanese inn with its own hot springs. Upon checking in, we selected our yakuta robes that we would wear inside for the duration of our stay, including en route to the spa and hot springs and for the traditional multi-course dinner we would enjoy later in the evening.
Our first stop was the gondola at the base of the lake, which would take us up to a viewpoint and shrine overlooking Mt. Fuji. We collected tickets and waited for our number, picking up some takoyaki (gooey octopus dough balls) and walking along the lakeside. We piled in as tight as possible, and enjoyed the quick gondola ride to the top. We spent our first bit of time just taking in the views, then we picked up some roasted kushi dango (savory sticky rice balls) and matcha ice cream cones to share while watching other tourists pose for cheesy images with the famous mountain backdrop.
Traditional Ryokan dinner
In the afternoon we took naps, and enjoyed the steam, sauna and hot springs, ensuring to follow the many unwritten rules and etiquette practices of the onsen. We hung out on the tatami mats in our traditional rooms, gazing at the picture window views to the sun setting over the lake below. Once it was time for dinner, we dressed in our yukuta and slippers and headed down for dinner, in a private room where we were served with a more than ten course dinner, with every aspect of each course delicately presented. Though we didn't recognize many of the dishes, we all had varying levels of success being adventurous and tasting each of the new dishes (though the kobe beef was a hit for everyone).
Full and tired from all of the newness, we headed to our rooms for a night of sleeping on futon beds on the ground (though the Brauns had a little extra help of extra layers of mattresses and pillows, as Marc is a "pillow diva"). We all made it through the night and woke up early for another multi-course breakfast before venturing out for our full day of exploration.
Fuji Sengen Jinja Shrine and Chureito Pagoda
After breakfast, we hiked a few hundred steps at the Fuji Sengen Jinja Shrine to reach Chureito Pagoda, where the bright orange and white pagoda provides a perfect contrast to the backdrop of Mt. Fuji. We shared some dumplings at the foot of the shrine before walking through local farmlands and country houses to a picturesque antique train that took us back into town. We spent a little time shopping for magnets, t-shirts and other typical souvenirs, and then headed back to the hotel for a picnic lunch of Japanese convenience store onigiri (rice balls wrapped in seaweed with various fillings, kind of like giant sushi sandwiches).
For dinner, we ate traditional hoto noodles, a local speciality, in a large open restaurant that felt like we were on the set of a Tarantino movie. We all drooled over the hearty rice and wheat dumpling soups and enjoyed being surrounded mostly by Japanese tourists, feeling like we found an authentic local spot.
The following morning, we hopped on a bus toward Mishima, which took us past the anime adventure park Fujiland, on our way to the bullet train to Kyoto. As we waited on the platform, trains passed in a blur, so quickly that Dave's dad lost his train ticket. With a little sweet talking in Japanese (thanks to Dave's quick Google Translate skills), we were off to Kyoto, our last stop with the Braun fam, for a few days of food and temples.
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